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18 Lessons I’ve Learned From 18 Years of Marriage

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

Weddings have taken a hit in 2020, and the views on marriage have been changing among Millenials.

According to Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, marriage rates are declining.

Interestingly enough, divorce rates are also going down.

He attributes this to Millennials “doing marriage better” than the earlier generation.

As a part of the oldest Millennials (1983), I find his theory fascinating and heartwarming because I got married at the ripe old age of 19.

My husband, Josh, and I have been married for 18 years and just celebrated our anniversary the other day.

It got me thinking about all the things I have learned during our marriage and my adult life. 

Year 1: Eat the top tier of your wedding cake on your anniversary

Let’s talk about that old wive’s tale that says you should save the top tier of your wedding cake and eat it on your 1st anniversary… DO IT.

I know, I know, you are thinking:

“Save a piece of cake in the freezer for a year and eat it?”

It sounds gross, but it isn’t that bad.

Here are two reasons to eat this cake.

The first one is (according to the wise older women) it brings good luck.

If year one of your marriage is a little rough like ours, trust me, you will want all the luck you can find.

If you talk to any married couple, you will most likely hear that the first year is the worst.

There is just a lot going on, and a lot of things will require you to adjust. 

If you can accept that going in, maybe it won’t feel so gut-wrenching to you when you realize how challenging marriage can be.

The cake helps symbolize this.

It is kind of icky and yucky, but will remind you of a perfect day (hopefully).

However, it should remind you of all that love that brought you here. 

Second, it is a tradition.

And traditions are essential, which takes us to year two.

Year 2: Build traditions

Traditions help shape families because we use them to strengthen our relationships and build more meaningful bonds.

They also help us add a personal touch to the meaning behind celebrations.

They are a good thing, and people should focus on them more.

Keep the traditions from your childhood, but make some of your own.

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My favorite practice has been our anniversary presents.

I give my husband something from the traditional anniversary gift nearly every year.

Still, there has been the occasional time I have used the modern list because the conventional was a little too obscure.

Our 9th wedding anniversary is why Josh has a small clay bowl at his desk with loose change in it.

Year 3: Grow with your spouse, help each other be the best version of yourselves

Clay really should be the gift for year three because I feel like this is the year you do a lot of molding in your marriage.

At this point in our lives, we had a toddler, and I was only 22, and my husband was 25.

We were still growing ourselves, and yet we understood the importance of developing with each other.

I’m thankful that we could love one another when we were wild and crazy kids and then still do so when we became boring old people. 

My ‘toddler’ is almost 18 now, and I giggle every time I tell her that her brain isn’t finished developing until age 25.

It is a scientific fact, but it doesn’t escape her that I didn’t let that stop me from getting married.

Year 4: Don’t complain to others when your spouse irritates you

It doesn’t take four years of marriage to figure out that your spouse will irritate you.

Just ask my husband how annoyed he gets when I take all the towels out of the bathroom and don’t replace them.

Sorry, honey!

The thing to be careful of is continually complaining to your friends. 

It’s great to have trusted people to chat with and get valuable advice when you need it.

It is healthy to hear someone else’s perspective, but honestly, they don’t need to know all the annoying details.  

Year 5: Communicate your financial needs and goals

One detail couples grumble about is each other’s spending habits.

Talk about money even when you have little of it, probably more so then.

Fighting over money doesn’t do any good.

Also, communicate your financial needs and goals for those times when your situation improves.

Year 6: Optimism is vital

My husband says if I were one of those talking dolls with a string, one of my phrases would be, “It will get better when…”

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It WILL get better when the insurance is less because we are 25.

(And it did!)

It WILL get better when the baby sleeps through the night, gets potty trained, goes to school, etc.

This was true in some ways, and naïve in others.

To this day, I still tell him it will get better “when”… He has gotten better at not rolling his eyes.

Year 7: Savor all the moments

Patience is a virtue of which I am severely deficient.

If someone could make a patience vitamin, I would be so grateful.

Josh is much more patient.

But I am more convincing, so we rushed a lot of things.

Try to be patient and enjoy whatever season of your marriage you are in before hurrying along to the next one. 

Year 8: Think things through, wait a moment and then follow your heart

I have learned to appreciate patience.

However, I do still think that there is NEVER a right time for anything.

You will never have enough money to have kids, but you will have enough cash or resources when you have kids.

We should always think things through, but don’t let fear cripple you from deciding.

Sometimes, you have to go for it.

Year 9: Celebrate your successes

At this point, your marriage has outlasted the average marriage in the U.S. so, pat yourself on the back.

There was a ton of love, commitment, and work that brought you here.

That work has undoubtedly led to some successes; big and small.

Celebrate each other’s successes and don’t lose sight of how it feels to support one another. 

Year 10: Don’t wallow in your failures

You shouldn’t spend a great deal of time dwelling on your failures, and while we are it, stop bringing up your spouse’s.

(Josh, I feel you rolling your eyes!)

Learning this and putting it into practice are two different concepts.

I try, though, because it isn’t conducive to any kind of harmony.

Year 11: Marriage is a lifetime of first experiences

Marriage is terrific, and we have had far more glorious moments than not.

We have rooted most of those moments in activities we have never done before.

Our life seems to have become a series of the first time we went to this place, or the first time we did that activity together.

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These types of shared experiences help strengthen your bond.

Year 12: Marriage therapy can help even the happiest of couples

There will be moments that are not so great.

There will be moments where you need a little help.

Maybe even A LOT of help.

We learned about love languages, communication, and perspective that enhanced our lives. 

Year 13: Make time for romance and sex

It’s ok if you aren’t having sex at the frequency you did over a decade ago; if you are, then you should write an article about that! 

It would be best if you didn’t neglect this area altogether.

Year 14: Love is in the little details

The small everyday moments are where love happens.

For example, whenever my husband goes to the gas station for himself, he picks up my favorite bottled water brand.

Most nights, I come home, find my water in the fridge.

It has this little black tab that I always struggle to get off; I will start fussing with the lid and realize he has already taken the tab off.

Year 15: Travel

Travel anywhere and everywhere.

A weekend getaway or a camping trip will work if you can’t travel far.

Don’t stress about the money; you can make more.

Check out deal sites like Groupon. 

Year 16: Go on dates

Life is busy!

Especially at this stage of your career!

If you have kids, then your life might feel a little like a circus!

Invest time in your spouse and your relationship. 

Year 17: You can’t pour from an empty cup!

Have something that you do that brings you joy and fulfillment.

It is crucial not to lose yourself in being someone’s wife or mother.

Year 18: Take care of your health

My husband turned 40 this year, and it reminded us both that we aren’t getting any younger.

We need to make decisions that are healthy and wise for our changing physical needs.

Meditate, eat well, drink enough water, and make sure that you can keep celebrating more anniversaries

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve been married almost longer than not.

These are just a few adages I’ve learned, and hopefully, they can help you “do marriage a little better.”

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