Congrats, you’re celebrating your three year wedding anniversary! A year filled with tantrums, potty training, and being told “no” more times than you can count. Those are the expectations we have for three year-old children, not relationships. But have you ever stopped to think about the age of your marriage, and how you might treat it if it were a child of that age?
Last weekend, my husband and I celebrated our three year wedding anniversary. With two little ones at home, it would have been easy to exchange cards and call it a day. However, we decided to be intentional about planning a little overnight getaway. We arranged babysitting, booked a hotel 30 minutes from home, and jumped at the chance to get the heck out of the house.
We spent the day exploring a quaint area with good food, entertainment and shopping. It was all we needed. It didn’t have to be extravagant; all that mattered to us was that we were together. We were thrilled to enjoy uninterrupted conversation, not having to cut up food for tiny humans, and a solid 8 hours of sleep.
One conversation my husband and I had over a delicious glass of wine was about the toddler status of our marriage. Think of your marriage as you would the age of a child. If you are newly married, under a year, your marriage is in the newborn stage, filled with times of bliss and adjustment. For Justin and I, we have been married for 3 years, so our marriage is a toddler. A TODDLER. Think about a toddler, they are just getting potty trained, they have tantrums when being told “no” and, more times than not, have difficulty sharing. Like the toddler stage, the reality is that marriage is hard. It is important to continue to learn and practice new skills for a relationship of any age. As you reflect on the road that led you here, my guess is that like any couple, you’ve had points where it felt like your relationship was on cruise control and other times it hit a few speed bumps and potholes.
Maybe you’ve been married 15 years, your marriage just got your driving permit—you’re experienced and practiced, but not sure where to drive from here. Common themes of frustration and exhaustion come up for couples as time goes on. Regardless of the amount of years they have been together and/or married – they are still fighting over the same things. If a teen was learning to drive, we would sign them up for classes to learn this new skill from an expert, help them learn how to communicate their intentions with turn signals, and get in the car with them to practice, practice, practice. Guess what? That is exactly what we need to do in our relationships.
Here are a few tips to give your relationship the fuel that it needs:
- Continue to learn as a couple. I cannot stress this point enough. The only way people grow is by learning. That is exactly how relationships work, too. Do not assume that because you’ve been together for X amount of years this is as good as it gets. If you want more, then buckle up and do the work. Talk about the things that are bothering you (in a loving way of course) and provide your partner with a solution. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need from them. Seek couples therapy, listen to a relationship podcast, check out a local couples/marriage retreat or seek counsel from a couple you look up to.
- Your calendar needs to reflect the relationship you want. Hope is not a strategy. You can talk about how nice it sounds to go on a date or a vacation, but if you haven’t taken the time to set a date and make a plan, it’s not going to actually happen. Think of a date night as an important business meeting. You put it on your calendar, strategize and prepare to make it happen, and you show up. As a mom of two little ones, I understand childcare can be difficult to arrange. However, what a great example to set for your kids – for them to witness mom and dad making their marriage a priority. If finances are an issue, swap with a couple by offering to watch their kids another night if they watch yours tonight. Show up for your marriage.
- Don’t leave your significant other with your “left overs.” As someone in the mental health profession, it is so important that I give my best self to the people I work with, which can leave me mentally and emotionally drained by the end of the day. But, just like the people I work with who get my best, my spouse also deserves that same treatment. I am not saying you need to be “on” all the time, but think about what version of yourself you make available to your partner, and give to them what you expect to receive from them.