The end of March Lisa and I had our 11th wedding anniversary. It got me thinking about what the pre-married 23-year-old me believed our future would be now that we have arrived at it.
Time is great at constructing a different picture than the one we painted in our minds more than a decade ago. Some of what I believed changed purely based on circumstance, while other things were being young, naive, and hopeful.
1) Fighting would be non-existent at this point in our marriage
I have no idea why I thought that, but something in me felt like if we made it past a decade we’d have things worked out. After 10 years, shouldn’t we have run into every conceivable problem, talked about it, and solved it? Then it never comes up again, right?
While we don’t fight as much as we used to, and certainly not in the same nasty way we used to, we haven’t stopped being human.
Growing individually and as a couple is a never-ending process. Much of our growth has come from having a disagreement, handling it really bad, then good, then becoming better next time. I anticipate 11 years from now to have even less flare-ups, but I realize disagreements will always exist.
Lisa and I are both pretty stubborn; maybe more stubborn than most. We’re finding that selfishness dies a slow death after years of being constantly humbled.
2) We would have sex all the time
I felt like I heard stories, or I would read books and articles about marriages with struggling sex lives. That did not compute with my male brain that was still in development. Why in the world would two people who had unfettered access to each other’s bodies not have sex for 2 or 3 months?
As a horny 20-something about to get married I just knew we’d have sex every day for the rest of our lives.
Obviously that’s not the case at all. Reality quickly set in.
While we’ve had our ups and downs in frequency, especially after having kids, I think the thing that has kept us from allowing problems in sex (or lack thereof) to ruin our marriage is that we’re both pretty open and honest.
Sometimes sex can be this awkward and uncomfortable thing to talk about with our spouses. We don’t want to offend them, and we certainly don’t want to get hurt ourselves. It’s the most vulnerable thing we share with each other. Naturally talking about it puts us in a vulnerable place too.
But if we can’t cross the divide of vulnerability to allow ourselves to be seen and heard in regards to the most intimate part of our lives, then we’re setting our marriages up for fights about sex. At some point the frustrations we have will boil over and it won’t be any easier to talk about once emotions reach that level.
11 years into marriage we don’t have sex every day, and we don’t go on 3-month dry spells. But we have the correct amount for our marriage, and I attribute that to our willingness to to tell each other what we need.
3) We would regularly go on dates
When Lisa and I were married without children we went out constantly. Sometimes it felt like we practically lived at the movie theater. We ate great food, went on hikes, drove or flew to California to see family, and basically “dated” all the time.
For whatever reason, I believed we’d just get a babysitter and keep living the life we did. Well… babysitters cost money. Also, kids cost money. As our family grew we saw our time and our budget shrink, as did the number of outings we went on.
This is a funny one because I believe we need to keep dating our spouses. It’s important to have time away and actually be a couple. But this stage of life seems to be the most difficult to make that happen.
It’s not just time and budget, but it’s the age of our kids. Leaving a 5-year-old boy, 3-year-old boy, and 10-month-old baby with a teenager isn’t easy. It’s not like our kids sit and do homework or just watch TV and chill. This is our regular life and bedtime nearly kills us every night. Trusting a 17-year-old to handle them is hard. And if the babysitter survived I worry it would be tough to get her to ever come back and do it again.
One of my goals for 2018 is to go on at least 12 dates, averaging one per month. That may not sound like much, but it’s a ton for us. I had the same goal in 2017 and we went on 8 dates. Lisa was pregnant half the year, then we had a newborn the other half. Again, just sort of a crazy stage of adulting.
This is something that takes purposeful decisions and planning when kids rule most of your life. Part of our lack of dating is life and circumstances. But the other part is I haven’t been as intentional about it as I believe I should.
Just getting into April and we’ve gone on 4 dates. So far so good.
4) I would be a near-perfect parent
I knew we’d have kids before age 30. So 11 years ago I was imaging this time to be me correcting all the mistakes my parents made with me. I would take all they did right and improve, then I would take all they did wrong and never do it to my own kids.
There are at least 3 times every week that the thought “Oh my gosh, I’m my parents” enters my mind. Or I see something Lisa does and think “Oh my gosh, she is her mother…”
We don’t realize how much our own upbringing is ingrained in us. It’s just natural to react the way you were reacted to.
I like to think I’m a pretty decent parent, but I’m nowhere even close to perfect. Lying in bed at night I replay the events of the day and think about how I can be better tomorrow.
Now that I’m actually living in it, my goal isn’t to be the perfect dad, but to always be a better dad than I was yesterday.
5) We would have an older couple involved in our marriage to mentor us
Allowing someone to be involved in your most intimate and personal relationship takes trust, and trust takes time.
Lisa and I began our marriage with a mentor couple, but it unfortunately ended after a few years. Finding another couple to trust our marriage with has proven difficult. We’ve met with men and women individually and together, and have had people speak into our marriage at various instances. But another husband and wife who have weathered storms and can help you weather yours is hard to find. So much of it has to do with fit, and finding a fit, again, takes time. We seem to be short on that.
I like to think I’m a pretty relational guy, and I get along relatively easy with people. The lie I believed was probably more about it being easy to have mentors in our lives.
Like going on dates, this requires intentionality. We have to carve out time in our schedules to build relationships that can contribute to the health of our marriage. Once those connections are built we should maintain them with regular check-ins.
Having marriage mentors can grow fruit in our relationships that we didn’t know existed. It can also help with pruning our idiocy.
This is another goal for 2018 that I anticipate percolating into 2019.
Perspective is a powerful thing. I love taking time in the midst of an anniversary, birthday, or new year (calendar, school, or fiscal) to reflect on what has preceded. What did I learn? What can I do better?
If you were to look back on your relationship, what 5 things would make your list?
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