It was a warm September day in 2012 – September 2nd to be exact – and there was a threat of light rain showers in the mountain air. On a crystal blue lake in Evergreen, CO, at 22 years old, Ben and I committed to this thing called marriage. We had been together for 7 ½ years prior to saying “I do” so thought we’d strut right into marriage like we knew exactly what we were doing. We did know a lot of things about relationships and many sides of marriage came together naturally. Like agreeing on how to load the utensils in the dishwasher (with the fork prong up, of course!). Or, checking in with each other before making plans with friends. But no one ever told us the more important details of marriage that we’ve had to learn the hard way over the past five years of marriage. We’ve climbed to mountain tops together (literally and figuratively) and we’ve sat in our living room together in dark silence. Because marriage is so amazing, yet so difficult, I wanted to share with you the five critical things that I have learned in our first five years of marriage.
I was listening to the Happy Hour podcast with Jamie Ivy the other day and the guest she had on brought up this point: All of our life we are studying things to become better. Whether that is studying for a test to get good grades, taking classes to get a certification for a better job, or going to a watercolor class to become a better artist.
Nobody ever really thinks about studying to get better at being a wife or improve your marriage. But, the fact is that marriage takes work. If you enter into your marriage with the thought that you already know everything you need to know about serving, communicating with and inspiring your husband, you are in for a wake-up call.
Ben and I hit a make or break moment about two years into our marriage (I’ll talk more about it in number TWO). At this defining moment, we had the choice to ignore it and hope things got better, or take initiative to learn more about each other. We decided to get a book that we read weekly together that encouraged us through a lot of difficult conversations about topics we had never discussed but were so crucial to a successful marriage. We learned that we had to be intentional in carving out time for each other. Although we are not the best at having regular dates nights (something we want to be more intentional about), we always take at least 15 minutes every night to turn off all electronics and distractions and just talk about the day.
Before we were married, we had a group of friends that introduced us to Five Love Languages book (if you haven’t read it, it’s a must-read for all husbands and wives!). I learned that Ben’s love languages, words of affirmation and physical touch, are the complete opposite of my love languages, acts of service and quality time. So, while I was trying my best to love Ben through cooking dinner and cleaning the house (acts of service), my intentions of love were going right over his head because that was not the way he best felt loved. So, I am continuing to learn over the years how to best love him with my words and touch. I try to leave him hand-written notes when he goes on trips (words of affirmation) and hug and kiss him every time he walks in the door (physical touch). Although it’s not always easy to express love in a way that I’m not used to, I can definitely tell it means a lot to him when I try to do so.
I have known and loved Ben since I was 14 years old. We grew up together, built dreams together and matured together. Ben is an incredible individual. He can talk to anyone. He is friendly and caring. He is smart and business savvy. And everyone loves him.
I put a lot of my worth in how amazing he was. But, about two years into our marriage, I started to feel lost. I felt like there was something more that I needed to do than just be Ben’s wife. We came to a point in our marriage, when I was putting pressure on him to be more than he could and Ben told me that he couldn’t be responsible for my happiness.
While that may seem harsh at first, it was the best thing he could have ever told me. It was a huge turning point in my life and made me start taking responsibility for who I wanted to be. A few months later I started on the journey of applying to go on a mission trip with Musana (an organization that fills my heart) and a few years later, I made the decision to start my own photography business. None of that would have happened if I had relied on Ben to be my everything.
When we first got married, I was the amazing wife that I thought I was supposed to be. I cleaned the house every week and spent hours cooking elaborate dinners every night. But, as our marriage grew, our dreams grew, and life’s demands grew. And all of a sudden I didn’t have the same time I had before for cooking and cleaning.
Right now, in this hectic entrepreneurial state of life, I am lucky to get dinner on the table TWO nights a week. About 75% of our dinners include chicken quesadillas and bagged ice berg lettuce because that is the most I can muster in this season of life. Our house is certainly not as clean as I would like it to be and I do laundry about every third week only when I’m forced to because we ran out of underwear.
For the past year, I have been beating myself up over being a horrible wife for these “wife-tasks” that I just can’t seem to keep up with. It’s been just within the last two months that I have finally come to terms that mac-n-cheese for dinner and dirty bathrooms don’t make me a bad wife. What would make me a bad wife would be choosing to spend what precious time I do have with Ben to clean or cook instead of sitting down with him on our back patio to talk or going on a walk with Ben and our dog, Hazel. So, just because you don’t cook or clean like society expects of you, does not make you a bad wife.
Every time Ben and I get into an argument, I always try to trace back to the source of our fight. Almost 100% of the time, the reason is not because one of us did something wrong or we truly disagree about a topic. It’s most often because we didn’t do a good enough job of communicating our intentions.
For example, I am a planner. And especially during this busy season of life, I have to plan out almost every day of the week. If Ben comes to me last minute saying he is going to go out with a friend for beers on a night we have nothing planned, I may get frustrated because in my head I had already planned a night that we could spend time together at home. But, because I didn’t communicate that intention with Ben ahead of time, he felt like we had an open night and it would be a great opportunity to see a friend.
I have learned that over-communicating results in a lot less stress and petty arguments. Even if you just want to tell your husband that you would love to spend a night watching a moving and snuggling with him.
One of the best things about Ben is he never stops encouraging me to dream. I think that our dreams are what kept us strong in high school. They are what helped us walk through college together. And our dreams together are certainly what encouraged Ben ask me to be his wife upon the Eiffel Town in Paris while we were studying abroad.
If I can give one piece of advice to any married couple it would be to never stop dreaming together. I love going on vacations with Ben because we carve out time to just talk about where we are in life, where we want to go next and what our big dreams are. It has been crucial to our marriage to intentionally talk about our hopes, fears and dreams. When we talk about these things regularly, we can better serve each other when making big decisions because we know where both of our hearts are.
One of my favorite days of the year is about mid-January when Ben and I sit down with a glass of wine and a clean white board and we write down our goals. We jot down our goals for the year, our longer term goals, our individual goals, and our “team Welch” goals that we want to achieve together. We then hang that white board up in our room so we can be reminded every day what the other person wants to achieve so we can continue encouraging each other in the right direction when times are tough.
Dreams are so important to a marriage. Even if they change over time, it is so important to never stop dreaming together – because when we get lost in the muck of daily to-dos, our dreams are what keep us moving forward one step at a time.
Marriage is tough. Life is not always as simple as it seems and dreams ebb and flow as time passes. I certainly know I have a lot more to learn than what five years of marriage has taught me, but I am so thankful to continue to learn alongside an amazing husband. If you are going through great times in your marriage, then be sure to take time to stop and just be thankful for each other. If you are in a tougher season of marriage and you feel like you’re a disappointment, or your husband’s a disappointment, can I just encourage you to start at square one again and write down your dreams together? Your dreams may start out small, but hopefully, over time, they blossom into something that encourages you both to seek each other’s help and love to achieve them together.
Images captured by the amazing Emily Schmutz at Keeping Composure Photography.