It’s my seventh anniversary tomorrow! I was married to Sam Schleicher in the middle of a terrible drought, July 7, 2012. The high that day reached 107. As the sweaty, bedraggled wedding party danced into the heat of the evening, miracle of small miracles—a soft rain started to fall! We rejoiced and danced to “Rain is a Good Thing” by Luke Bryan.
Our marriage has been packed with rain and sunshine since then: two children, a dog, a home, jobs, stress, loss, sickness, grief. We have experienced so much in so short a time, I feel (barely) qualified to share some of the things I’ve learned about marriage through living my own. Seven short years, seven hot takes.
1. Pick good role models: Your marriage belongs to you and your spouse. Nobody else can make it work for you. But having other couples to look up to, especially older couples, gives you a picture of long-lasting love and helps you identify traits you want to emulate in your own relationship. My grandparents, who recently celebrated their 58th anniversary, are my marriage role models.
2. Fight, but forgive: My grandfather’s advice to newly married couples is, “Every time you argue, go take a walk in the woods. Then you’ll be really healthy.” Notice he said “every time you argue.” He even implied it would be a lot. There are, I’ve heard, mythical couples who agree about everything and never fight. But I have never met any of them. Me, I was born arguing, and so were my ancestors’ ancestors. So I say argue away, but prepare to get good at saying those three humbling words: “Please forgive me.” They are an admission in a heated moment that you still value and respect your spouse. They are an invitation to understanding. They’re an outlet from a spiral of resentment.
3. Never stop talking: This one is easy for me, because I’m a blabbermouth. But seriously, the worst thing you can do is stop communicating. Communication doesn’t have to mean non-stop talking and pestering, though. Just don’t assume in silence, don’t leave important things left unsaid, and don’t bottle up bad feelings until you lift off like a rocket and dump months of ill will. Talk. Write. Text. Send smoke signals. Just do it.
4. Laugh at yourself: While you’re busy doing all this talking and forgiving, you’re going to look like an idiot. A lot. You’re going to run over the curb while he’s sitting shotgun, or say something stupid in front of her, or realize you have no idea how to change a poopy diaper, or add a horrible ingredient that ruins dinner (cumin and cinnamon do not have a lot in common, despite both beginning with “c.”) You could get upset and defensive, and put yourself in an adversarial situation. Or, you could snicker. Then giggle. Then laugh and laugh. Together.
5. Learn from your spouse: I’m not talking about the trite, “my husband is so wonderful, I’ve learned how to be a better woman” shtick. Im talking about really learning! Especially in the areas your spouse is passionate about. My husband has taught me how to notice individual instrumental lines in a piece of rock music. He’s convinced me that video games can be art. He’s showed me how to appreciate camera work in my favorite films. And he’s taught me a lot about patience and diplomacy—two social skills I don’t come by naturally.
6. Have babies (if you can): A married couple is a family in and of itself. No doubt about that. And finances, infertility, illness, and any number of other circumstances can restrict a couple from having kids. But if you’re able, oh, my goodness, do I recommend it! Children are one of the best parts of marriage, and I have learned so much about my husband just from watching him be a father. Having kids is stressful, joyful, blessed and totally insane. It will stretch your horizons and test your capabilities like nothing else you’ll ever do in your relationship. If you can raise a child together, you can do anything.
7. Rain is a good thing: Sooner or later, it’s going to rain and rain hard. In my marriage, that rain is cancer. Yours might be some other illness, or going broke, or somebody gets struck by lightning. Who knows. But you’re going to get caught out and get drenched to the bone. All the good parts will get obscured, and all the bad stuff will seem overwhelmingly real. Please, please hold on. That rain could drown you, it’s true. But with the right care from family, friends, faith, professionals, it could just be nourishment for a strong and productive relationship. As Luke Bryan said, rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey ...