I can’t believe my husband and I will have been married for four years. It feels like only yesterday we eloped unexpectantly at the courthouse. No one could have prepared me for ups and downs that we’ve faced during our marriage. But I don’t believe anything could make me regret it either. The decision to make a long-term commitment to someone is one of the biggest life decisions you’ll ever make.
While I move into year four of marriage, I wanted to speak with others about what helped them make it through the turmoils of marriage. No two marriages are the same and, naturally, the solutions varied. But here are some of the things that have helped other couples through the years.
1. Your partner doesn’t need to be your everything.
“It’s romantic to say your partner is your ‘everything.’ It’s also a one-way ticket to misery, putting that kind of pressure on a spouse. It’s okay to have a funnier friend. A hotter friend. A friend who likes the same stuff you like. Your partner can be perfect for you without being your everything.” — Esther, married for 20 years.
2. Don’t re-hash old shit.
“I’d say the best thing we’ve decided to do is not rehash old fights. Once it’s over, it’s over and we don’t bring it up again” — Rachel, married for 13 years.
3. Do what works for you.
“Non-monogamy and being allowed to find love outside of marriage allows us to be good partners at home and enjoy our family together without heartbreak and disappointment or boredom. Honesty and acceptance of each other’s needs means we ultimately want the other to be happy! That has kept us together.” — Janice, married for 14 years, two of which have been open.
4. Laugh together.
“We share a sense of humor. That’s gotten us through many moves, job changes, unemployment, family stress, a hard pregnancy, and the unending ups and downs of having children!” — Carol, married for 15 years.
“My husband has always made me laugh. Even when we get mad at each other we don’t stay mad long because one of us makes the other laugh. I also really like him as a person, that helps. We also have always been willing to work on our relationship, we’ve used couples counseling twice to get us through rough patches.” — Kathy, married 25 years
“There are many things I could say, but one that I’ve been thinking about recently is that we’ve actually learned each other’s sense of humor. A lot of couples talk about sharing a sense of humor; I came into our relationship with the dry wit down, but I wasn’t very playful. He was very playful, loved to play innocent tricks. We’ve each learned — without any deliberate effort — to pick up and use the other’s sense of humor. It’s been great.” — Simone, married six years
5. Pick your battles.
“We have a rule — whoever cares the most about something wins. We may each have a different opinion about something, but usually, one of us can and does admit pretty quickly if we just don’t feel as strongly about it as the other one does. We figured out this rule when we were planning our wedding, and it has served us extremely well for 15 years.” — Carla
“Some things aren’t worth fighting about. Accepting who we are as people and knowing when it’s worth pointing out a mistake, that’s key for us.” — Michelle, married 17 years
6. Be a safe place.
“We hold a safe space for each other to be flawed and fully human. Neruda has this great line, “You among all beings have the right to see me weak.” Embodying this has seen us through some really hard moments. We also really take extreme joy in seeing each other grow and be happy. And we’ve agreed from the beginning that if there’s a moment where that’s not happening anymore, then it’s time to work on that together or to walk away without rancor and to honor the time we’ve spent together.” — Julie, married 12 years
7. Don’t split everything 50/50.
“We don’t try to split household/childcare tasks 50/50; rather, we both bring 100% to everything all the time. The trick is that his 100% and my 100% could mean different things on different days. It all shakes out, and we aren’t building up resentment or keeping score of anything” — Hannah, married 13 years
8. Hang in there.
“This is going to sound grim, but you just hang in there through the hard times. You just keep doing the work, even when it feels pointless. Doing the work means always coming back around to why you loved the person in the first place.” — Lane
“It’s not always rainbows and unicorns, but there’s no one else I’d rather navigate life with.” — Lindsay, married 6 years
“In my family, we often quote Dory from Finding Nemo: ‘Just keep swimming.’ After 21 years of marriage, you learn that sometimes things are harder, sometimes you’re closer, sometimes you fight more, and sometimes everything feels perfect. But like the tide, it never stays the same. To keep from drowning, you have to keep moving forward and adjusting to what’s happening around you.” — Amy
9. Be bored.
“We’re really good at being bored together! After 33 years. That’s the secret. Easy to hang with someone when there’s fun stuff to do and distractions… it’s the day in day out life that you have to enjoy together.” — Bethany
10. Go to bed angry sometimes.
“I stopped listening to the advice to never go to bed angry. Sometimes, I’m just cranky and what seems like a big deal isn’t in the morning. When it does need to be discussed, we’re both well rested and nicer.” — Kathryn
Listening to the suggestions of other married people gave me a lot to think about. We’re always searching for a “recipe for success.” But perhaps it’s never been that simple — or that complicated. Maybe the secret to a successful marriage is trying to create something beautiful with what you have and letting love and commitment do the rest.