Thursday, October 26, 2017

A quarter of a Century is a long time...So get a Counselor before you need one

October 24th marked 25 years since we first started dating in 1992. That was such a fun and fresh time in our lives. I've shared our "how we met" tale on here a couple of other times, but the main thing about it is that only a few days after I turned 18, this quiet, sweet, and super shy guy had captured my heart and I just knew he was "the one". I was young and dumb, but I had one thing right.

About a year before we started dating, I was a high school Junior and he was a Senior, and an amazing basketball player. I was completely bored with the boy friend options and decided to start harassing this poor guy with a girl's name, Shannon. I was determined to "crack" him, and get him to laugh and make him talk to me in SAT Math class. All I got out of my efforts was a detention or two and a new seating assignment. But I was still determined.

Any who... A year later we found ourselves as groupies for my brother's band and he finally came to his senses and realized he'd NEVER be able to get away from me. So I dragged this college freshman to all my stupid high school functions and we both loved every minute of it. And I realized I had my life's partner in ride or die. And Oh! the fun we've had over the last 25 years! 

We often talk about how awesome it is to have seen each other through so many phases of life so far. Fortunes and misfortunes. Victories and defeats. Beauty and plain ol' ugliness. As with most couples, we've had our typical ups and downs. In recent years we've been down more than up and we've found ourselves constantly pulling "us" out of the pit. If you've ever been in the pit, you know the questions that are being hurled around. I'd be lying if I said we'd never thought about throwing in the towel. But anytime we questioned if this was even worth it, our answer has always been "yes"! It may have been a quivering, squeaky "yes". It may have been a very quiet and delayed "yes". And it may have taken someone from the outside looking in to convince us of "yes". But however it was declared, we decided that YES, it is worth it. 

The work involved in the "yes" looks daunting sometimes, and has humbled us in many ways. But in 25 years we've learned so much about the mechanics of our relationship. So we sat down and made a list of 25 things we've learned in 25 years to share with you. I thought Shan would roll his eyes and snicker at the idea, but if you just ask,  sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised by someone's willingness to participate!

So here goes...

25 Things in our 25 Years
  1. Get a counselor BEFORE you need one! Neutral third parties are vital. We have a fabulous person and we both go. Together and separately. Does it mean we're floundering and on the brink of the "Big D"? Not all. Just the opposite. It has strengthened us more than I ever imagined. Sometimes we talk about jobs, parenting, household projects, or big decisions. Sometimes we talk about marriage. It's FABULOUS! And surprisingly, lots of insurances cover it. So no excuses. If yours doesn't, it's worth saving for a monthly session at a minimum. It's cheaper than divorce.
  2. Learn your love language and his. When we got married 18 years ago, my mom gave me 2 books. She said if you don't read anything else for the rest if your life, at least read these. One was the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. If you fell in love with someone who spoke Swahili, wouldn't you try to learn the language? Same thing goes for showing and receiving love. If you don't know yours or his...take the quiz here and thank me later. 
  3. Know his needs and your needs...for real. This was the other book mom gave me, His Needs Her Needs by Willard Harley. Men have 5 basic needs. Women have 5 basic needs. They make ridiculous amounts of sense. Know them!
  4. Beware of the fantasy. I can 100% guarantee you that only the devil himself will plant a temptation in your life that will look like a great "opportunity". I can also 100% guarantee that that "opportunity" will not involve someone else's wife/husband, nor will that "opportunity" involve someone other than your wife/husband if God has anything to do with it. Accept the flattery of the attention as just that, flattery, and move on. The best way to destroy your marriage is to fall prey to the fantasy. That's all it is and it's not worth it in the end. If you're meeting each other's needs (#3) in the first place, the "opportunity" is less likely to appear.
  5. Go on a date. We were terrible about this for many years, especially when the boys were really little. What we've learned...DO IT ANYWAY! If you can't afford a big to-do with a sitter and a big night, do a co-op with friends and swap-care, go on a lunch date while they're in school or at lunch bunch after preschool, go get coffee or ice cream, or get take out and sit in the car to avoid tips and expensive drinks. We've done it all! I love a cozy date night in too, if that's all we can do, but that gets really difficult with older children who never go to bed. And getting out of the house just does the trick. 
  6. Use your words. The thing that sticks in my head the most that we've gotten from counseling is USE YOUR WORDS! You're a big kid. Tell each other how you feel! And do it nicely. Our person always says, "the more words, the better." If someone doesn't know something's wrong, they can't fix it!  I know there are some people who are challenged in this area. I married a man of few words, but he's getting better every day. And I get better at giving him a chance to use his words. 
  7. Use more words. Who doesn't love a compliment? For the love of Mary!... If it's nice, and it just popped into your head, SAY IT! And then take it a step further. "You look nice/I love it when you...because...". And guess what? That person is going to start doing that thing a lot more often! It's a win-win. Same thing goes for apologies. Don't just say sorry. Say, "I'm sorry that I...because...". If you don't acknowledge their hurt and your foul, then it means nothing.
  8. Explore your person's world. Go do what he loves to do. Golf, fishing, hunting, etc. Ask him to go do what you love to do. Play tennis, work in the garden, take a cooking class. It's fun to see your partner in their element. I feel like I've seen a different side to Shan after I've watched one of his basketball games...before his knees blew out. It gives each other a chance to show off their own bad-assery!
  9. Marriage is to grow us. Y'all may have already figured this out, but it took me a while. God designed marriage to grow us into who He intends us to be. Every single day we learn something new about ourselves and how we relate to others. If it was aways comfortable, then we'd be Jell-O. We'd never change! So let yourself grow. If God's involved, it'll be beautiful!
  10. Give 2nd chances. Our God is a God of 2nd chances. You are not above granting a 2nd chance. Unless abuse is involved, be willing to hear your person out and give grace. You may actually learn something about his or her needs. If we hadn't shown each other grace and given 2nd chances, we would have crashed and burned long ago. Plus, goodness happens when we give grace!
  11. When emotions are high, discernment is low. We learned that in a couples Bible study once and it stuck with us. When things are intense, it is not a good time to talk about it. Your pre-frontal cortex is shot! You're gonna have to simmer down in order to reason and resolve the issue. Shan is rill good at this. He's sat on things for a couple of days before. I have no idea how he does that. Me?...Nope. But I'm still trainable. 
  12. Don't say you're done, unless you're REALLY done. We have both said, "you know what? I'm done!", an obscene amount of times until we finally forbid ourselves to say it ever again. It is off-limits. And if you know it's off limits it forces you to deal with the situation and push through. So no, you are not "done".
  13. Learn all about Moody Bitches. I encourage every woman, and everyone who loves a woman, or who is raising a woman to read this book by Julie Holland. We are all Moody Bitches and you need to know why. This book just may save every relationship in the history of forever. Once you read it, pass it along.
  14. Stop Comparing. Social media has created this monster. Of course people are going to celebrate their good days on Facebook and Instagram. I don't fault anyone for that. I do it too. I only know a handful of folks who air it all (and it's super entertaining, I might add). But, no! The grass is not greener. We've learned if it appears to be, it is only for 2 reasons... 1) There's a whole bunch o' manure on the lawn. More than you want to deal with. Or 2) They are taking time to pull the weeds and feed the rough patches. So fix your own grass.
  15. Gratitude. It's a fact that people do a better job when they feel appreciated. It's also a fact that people feel better about life in general when they offer thanks and gratitude. Say "thank you" periodically. It's not hard. Same thing as compliments...if it pops in your head and you're grateful, SAY IT!
  16. Brag a little! Here I go with words again. Brag about your person. If you ate at a good restaurant you'd tell people, right? So why not tell everyone about the great meal your sweetie made? Or tell them about how hard they've been working on this new DIY project. Do it when they aren't around. It creates positive energy...a little flicker of pride and appreciation for what you have, and it'll stay with you. I swear.
  17. There's power in a hug. I love me some words, but when words fail you, give a hug. A hug says I love you, you're safe, I understand, I'm happy to see you, I'm sorry, I appreciate you, and so much more! Even people who hate hugs, deep down, they need one too. Hug!
  18. Take a trip down memory lane. From time to time, reminisce about how you met or what your favorite memories are from early on. I don't know what it is about going back to that happy place that reignites the spark and makes you feel giddy all over again. I love hearing his version! It makes me laugh and wonder why the heck I didn't scare him off. 
  19. Romantic Love vs. Mature Love Mature love is supposed to be our ultimate goal. Romantic love is fun and frivolous. It's necessary to stir passion and win over a heart. Romantic love is fleeting, but mature love is constant and unconditional. I think of how Shan took care of me after 3 C-sections and how I did the same for him after 2 knee surgeries. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else, and he wouldn't have either. Mature love is cozy and safe. But it can also be boring, which is where the struggle comes in. At some point, healthy, long-lasting relationships turn into mature love, but it's important to keep some aspects of the romantic love in play. I'm a nostalgic person and love the feeling of frivolous romantic love. I'm conflicted though. I'd rather have the safety and security of mature love, but I still crave the butterfly-inducing thrill of romantic love. Striking the balance of settling into mature love, but simultaneously keeping romantic love new and fresh is a constant challenge. So here's what we've learned... Make plans to take a trip! That's a three-fold thrill...looking forward to it - actually going - then reminiscing. Surprise your spouse! With anything from a visit to work for lunch, a special night out with friends, or tickets to an event. Leave love notes here and there, because those are always fun to find. And tell your guy to buy the grocery store flowers if it means keeping the thrill in mature love!
  20. In & Out - Over & Over It took us a while and a couple of doozies to realize you're not going to be on your "A game" all the time in your relationship. Sometimes you're in and sometimes you're out. And it's going to happen more than once. Just know that while one person is still in the game, you've still got a shot. But if both of you are on the bench, it's not going to end well. Nor is it going to end well if that one person tries to play the whole game alone. If you can just hang on until a timeout comes along, you'll be good.
  21. Stay Golden. And scratch each other's back. Literally and figuratively. You scratch his back and he'll scratch yours. And joint back scratching can only lead to good things! {*wink* And we all know that's a good thing for marriage.} Payback can be hell, but this is your chance to make it really sweet. Seriously though. Good deeds and doing for others what you'd like them to do for you is a simple, yet dynamic and effective concept. That's why it's the Golden Rule!
  22. Opposites continue to attract. If it feels like you're growing apart, you're just not leaning in close enough. The same things that attracted you in the first place are still there, they just might look a little different after 25ish years. The majority of couples are polar opposites...night owl/early bird, impulsive/planner, introvert/extrovert...etc. That never changes. Idiosyncrasies might. But do you really want a partner who gradually morphs into you? Ewww. No! If you feel distance, bridge the gap! Lean in and embrace the differences.  
  23. Celebrate your person! This may sound dumb, but throw at least one surprise party. It's even better on a half birthday or a random 33rd or 47th... and offers a great reprieve in case you accidentally dropped the ball on a milestone. Same concept as bragging but with cake...and friends and wine. Shan got a 40th and I got a 40.5! Neither of us will ever forget it and we both agree that it made us feel super special.
  24. Keep your friends. You need your friends to do your things. He needs his friends to do his things. And you need friends together. The best kind of couple friends are the ones who love their spouses and who equally support your marriage. It doesn't mean their marriage has to be picture-perfect. But it's the ones who believe in duking it out for the long haul, through the ups and downs. It's a lot harder to fall apart if you have a safety net around you.
  25. Plan for the empty nest. What do you want your marriage to look like on the other side of raising kids? Start doing those things now. The experiences and moments may be few and far between while you're trapped in these wild, hairy days of carpool and athletic fields. But don't wait to reconnect after they're gone. It'll be too late.
Wow! You made it to the end. I know there are a gazillion articles on relationships and marriage, but hopefully there was a nugget you could take away from this list.

All-in-all, I have to say Shan and I love each other pretty darn hard and well. We muddle through the good, bad, and the ugly and try to keep perspective. This whole spending-the-rest-of-your-life-together thing is completely wild and unpredictable. I know this list will change as we do, and we haven't mastered any of the above, but we keep all of them in practice on the daily. Bottom line...I am his, and he is mine, and we will continue to work on the details.

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