It was 9 days ago that Lisa and I celebrated 9 years of marriage. We’ve had a lot of amazing times together, and a lot of really crappy times. As I’ve taken this week and a half to reflect over the near-decade spent as husband and wife, a few things I’ve learned along the way came to mind. Here are 9 of the lessons I’ve learned during the last 9 years and 9 days of marriage.
1 — Too much “new” can be too much
I remember reading a psychology article several years back. It discussed the various changes that typical people encounter throughout a lifetime. Among them are: getting married, moving (different homes or cities), starting a new job, having kids, experiencing a death of someone close, retiring, etc.
The article said you shouldn’t go through more than 1 at a time, 2 at the most, in order to not create incredible amounts of psychological stress. I think Lisa and I did at least 5 in the first 6 months of marriage.
We started packing our stuff the day we got back from our honeymoon. Within a week we moved 1000 miles away from So Cal to Oregon to an apartment we’d never seen and I started a new job. Then we moved into a home 6 months later. Lisa was sick for almost the whole first year in Oregon as her body attempted to acclimate to a new climate that was full of more allergens per capita than anywhere else in America.
While the “Honeymoon Stage” carried us through a lot of the craziness, it was a rough year. I can’t help but believe we put ourselves through too much in the first 12 months of trying to figure out what living with someone else looked like.
2 — Love Languages are a thing
I had heard of love languages before getting married, but nothing really beyond that. My eyes were opened when it was suggested by a friend that we take the test and read The Five Love Languages.
Lisa expresses love and receives love differently than me. Who would’ve thought?!
What has probably been most vital is learning about how to speak her love language the way she wants. Her primary language is Quality Time. It took me FOREVER, and a lot of discussions with her, to finally realize that sitting next to each other watching TV didn’t count.
Learn what it takes to make your spouse feel loved. It might not be what you think, and what you are currently attempting.
3 — Go to bed at the same time
I wish I could remember where I got this advice from, but it has been amazing. Whoever told me to do this was a genius. Not counting times one of us were out of town for something, there are probably less than 10 nights in 9 years that Lisa and I haven’t gone to bed at the same time.
We don’t always turn out the light at the same time, but we do always crawl in bed to wind down for the night together.
These times are immensely life-giving as we talk about our day, talk about hopes and dreams, share stories about things the kids did, and more. The last several months have been mostly filled with reading on our own, but often stopping in the middle and sharing about the article or book with one another.
And honestly, there have a good handful of times over the last 9 years that it simply turned into the pajamas coming off and going to bed wicked late.
4 — Walking out on a fight is a horrible idea
This lesson took me a LONG time to learn. There was a pretty regular cycle of fights in our house the first several years. A lot of them escalated to ridiculous levels and resulted in me exploding on Lisa and giving her the bird as I walked out the door.
Ultimately walking out is because I didn’t want to talk anymore and I just felt I needed some control in the midst of the fight. So I took control by stonewalling and then leaving. Lisa couldn’t do anything about it and I felt like I had power.
But then I had to come home…
Though I got to go feel better for an hour or two or five, there’s still a pile of crap to deal with. Someone has to clean it up or this marriage will just stay in a perpetual state of anger. Most the time my leaving just made my wife was even more mad than before. So in reality I just made it worse for myself.
Any time I just walked out it prolonged the fight and grew Lisa’s emotional volatility exponentially. Staying and actually talking things out, though often difficult, always cleaned up our mess quicker.
5 — Walking out on a fight is a great idea
This one also took years to figure out, but there’s a “right” way to walk out on a fight.
Through all the times I walked out, came back, apologized, and still had to finish the fight, I learned why walking out made Lisa so angry. Yes, part of it was me taking control and refusing to talk. That makes most most women mad. But the other piece was she didn’t like not knowing where I was going, how long I’d be gone, and if I was coming back.
Even in the midst of yelling and screaming my wife still cares about me. ;-)
Men deal with anger in ways that I don’t believe most women understand. There’s something deep inside of us that can just snap. After hundreds of times of snapping I started to figure out what triggered me when we were fighting, and how to prevent any explosions.
I needed to walk out before I blew up and take a breather.
But in an effort to care for Lisa’s heart, while trying to care for my own, I discovered how I left made all the difference.
Here’s my script for leaving in the middle of a fight:
“I’m feeling very volatile right now and not doing well. I am going for a walk and will be back in 1 hour. We can talk then. I love you.”
This didn’t magically work right away. Lisa needed to come to a place in her own self that she could let me leave when I needed to. But assuring her I cared, I would come back, and it was in a reasonable amount of time, helped ease any anxiety she had in pausing the fight and letting me go collect myself.
We’ve solve many arguments with a lot more grace after retreating to our corners for a short while, then coming back more clear-minded.
6 — It takes a long time to feel like “We”
Lisa and I went through a study called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas with a group of other couples. One thing Gary mentioned in the video series that has stuck with me is that it takes couples an average of 9–14 years to begin feel like “we” instead of “I” in marriage.
I was an individual for 23 years and 11 months before marrying Lisa. My whole entire life was about me, for me, and with me. Yes I had brothers, sisters, parents, and roommates to live with a various times. But they didn’t share my bed or my bank account. Their name wasn’t on the title to my car.
Barely over a quarter of my life has been spent married. The other three quarters were solo. It makes total sense that it would be hard to shift a mindset that has been in place for so long.
The need to tell your spouse you made plans with friends for the evening feels foreign because you’ve never had to “check in” with anyone else in your adult life prior to marriage. I’ve never signed a card with “Adam and ______” before getting married, or needed to care about another person’s opinion on buying a car.
Lisa and I have been able to offer each other a lot more grace knowing that it’s totally normal if we still miss the “we” moments. It’s a learning process.
7 — You change a lot as time goes on, and that’s OK
This one may or may not be obvious, but there are some specifics that took me time to realize and be OK with.
There was a lot of things I liked about myself when I was younger. Some of those things naturally kind of changed or went away, and I blamed Lisa for it. Marriage was the big thing in my life that changed, so anything else that changed had to be a result of that, right?
No, I just grew up. Some things I liked I didn’t like anymore. Some things I used to do I stopped doing. The way I interacted with peers or strangers changed. It’s the difference between being 21 or 31, not the difference between married and not married.
My uncle warned me about getting married too young when I told him I wanted to marry Lisa and I wasn’t yet 23. He said, “You don’t even know who you are, you’re going to change. Doing that with someone else who is also changing is really hard, especially if you’re changing differently.”
His words put some fear into me that I think was part the blame I put on Lisa for my changing. But I’ve discovered that changing together is a normal part of marriage. It’s not really “change” per se, but more growth. Lisa and I didn’t change from who we were in 2007 to who we are in 2016. We grew into the people we are now. And we’re way cooler by the way.
8 — Pray together
I don’t remember when, where, why, or how I was watching Dr. Phil, but I was, and he threw out a statistic that blew my mind. He said the divorce rate for people who pray together regularly is 1 in 10,000.
That’s just insane.
We thought we’d try it out because with those numbers it’s essentially divorce-proofing your marriage. Well… it works.
There are times we’ve been consistent, and other times we’ve completely neglected it. When we’ve regularly prayed together our relationship is markedly different, most notably, we interact with each other different.
Sharing the intimacy of prayer with your spouse will change the atmosphere of your home, and the spirit of your marriage. You’ll be kinder, gentler, and just better people. Pray for your marriage, pray for your kids, pray for each other’s jobs, pray your favorite team makes the playoffs, pray for our country. You can pray about anything. Just do it together and do regularly.
9 — Have fun
This is another one that may sound obvious. But I think we can get caught up in life and forget the joy of the beginning of our relationship.
Lisa and I had passes to Disneyland and probably spent half our 3 years of dating there. It’s where I eventually proposed. Now life is about work, bills, kids to the doctor, and scooping dog poop from the lawn. All our energy is poured out to just keep the wheel turning, and fun becomes anytime your 3-year-old doesn’t get out of bed and we can watch two episodes of a show back-to-back.
Go on an adventure. Try a new restaurant, vacation somewhere different, go on a hike, decide to drop everything and drive to the beach just because the weather was randomly nice. You’ve got to be spontaneous and you’ve got to have fun.
Laughter is the most amazing medicine. Break from your routine. Do something different. Smile a lot. You’ll remember why you got married in the first place.
Have you encountered any of these lessons in your marriage? What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way with your spouse? I’d love to hear from you in the comments at adamhillis.com. Come find me!