The date is May 17th, 2013. Atlanta is bustling with tourists and young professionals zooming through the city to get home or go out for the night. The time is 8:00 pm and my husband and I have just said “I Do” before walking into our reception to Jay-Z’s song ‘Encore.’ The room erupts with praise and our smiles are wide. We were married.
We were young then, him 25, me 23 – we had no idea where life would take us. A Jamaican honeymoon, 2 kids, 5 cars, 3 apartments, a basement, and a townhome later – we’ll be celebrating our 10-year anniversary.
Ten years is a great milestone for anyone doing anything, but for us, ten years means something very special. I think we’re both a little surprised we’ve made it this far. Between my threats of divorce whenever I see a sock on the floor to his annoyance with my threats of divorce whenever I see a sock on the floor, it’s a miracle we still like each other enough to be in it.
In this age of social media, people tend to think marriages are either good or bad and that is just not the truth. Marriage is complex and ever-changing. The same way our lives hit peaks and valleys from week to week, so do marriages. The same way we have happy and sad times, so do marriages. Being in a marriage for ten years simply means through all of those seasons, we chose to stay.
The first car we bought together was a 2012 silver Hyundai Sonata. I loved everything about that car. It was smooth, cute, and had an amazing sound system. We felt like adults after leaving that dealership - simultaneously proud of ourselves and sad about the vacancy in our bank account.
A few years later, my husband wasn’t paying attention and backed our brand-new car right into the brick divider in front of our second apartment. I reacted terribly, yelling at my husband for making a mistake because he wasn’t paying attention.
Weeks later, I parked on a residential street to attend a Lauryn Hill concert. She came out hours late and after twenty minutes of performing, the venue turned the lights and mics OFF. Disappointed, I walked to the place where that same silver Sonata was parked and realized it had been towed because I’d parked in a tow zone. Now I was the one apologizing for not paying attention.
Peaks and Valleys.
If I can be honest, it’s been very difficult to write a piece about marriage because my husband and I are currently in a valley. Just a few days before we celebrate our 10 year anniversary, I’m not feeling him and honestly, I couldn’t find a better illustration for marriage if I tried.
If you ask a married person for advice about marriage, they’ll likely say “communication is everything.” What they don’t say however, is how and why communication is everything.
We come into marriage with so many expectations, needs, thoughts, desires, etc. and one of the biggest reasons why we have conflict is because those expectations go uncommunicated or unfulfilled.
It’s not just about what you say and how you say it. It’s why you say it and when you say it. It’s the words you meant versus the words you said. It’s using feeling language instead of fact language. It’s listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond. It’s not saying the things that don’t need to be said - because trust me, not everything needs to be said. It’s your body language and your attitude as you walk through the house.
And here’s the thing, in order for marriage to work, the communication has to be effective. Effective communication requires you to put aside your ego, and use words, tone, and actions to express yourself while still considering the feelings and needs of the other person.
I’m no expert at effective communication but when I’m at my best, these are the things I do when trying to communicate effectively:
1. I check my ego
2. I apologize if I’m wrong
3. I take a minute to pause and assess my feelings, needs, and expectations.
4. I play fair
5. I pray
6. I talk to my friends
7. I step away for a minute…or a day
8. I give my husband space to speak and finish his thoughts. (I’m still working on this one)
9. I cry in the shower
10. I tell the truth
I’m constantly learning that marriage is a series of seasons and decisions to stay through all the things that come your way - high and low. It doesn’t matter how aligned you are, how in love you are, or how compatible you are – peaks and valleys are a part of the package. How you choose to maneuver through them will determine if, how, or why you stay in it.