Peter and I are about to celebrate 30 years of marriage. We are headed off for a week in Paris and London without the kids and without my computer. This is serious.
Here’s my list of 30 things I’ve learned during 30 years of marriage.
Marriage isn’t good or bad or even the ideal because people aren’t good or bad and we are never the ideal. We are complicated and nuanced and so is marriage.
Sometimes you go to bed angry because sleep is important. Staying awake angry won’t solve things, especially if it’s the same thing that’s been festering over and over. Go to sleep, and find a therapist.
If you’re so angry you can’t stand the sound of your spouse’s breath, you or your spouse should sleep in another room.
Because of #3, invest in a comfortable couch or guest bed. Better yet, buy that king size bed so there is space for the days you’re not angry but just need space.
Love isn’t a feeling. It’s a verb. It’s action. Action takes work.
I am not lovable when I’m hungry. My dad gave Peter this advice when we left for our honeymoon: Feed Kathy and she will be happier.
Do your own inner work. Your life partner isn’t your therapist, even if that person happens to be a therapist. Mine is my dentist and can actually fix my teeth but isn’t responsible for brushing and flossing my teeth.
Which means you can’t fix your partner. You can’t love them to mental health. You can make a way for them.
For all the US reality shows, this society is not built for healthy marriages. It is built for whitewashed fairytales.
It’s ok to want and create fairytale moments. Look, as you are reading this post, Peter and I are flying off to Paris. FAIRYTALE. But the moment is fleeting because the reality is that I have a sinus infection with lots of congestion. We are flying economy, and I am super proud that we bought roundtrip tickets under $500 each. Make sure the moment is grounded in reality.
My friend Tricia asked me what I like about traveling with Peter, and that was a great question. The lesson? Friends who ask you about your marriage keep you honest and real. (I like traveling with Peter because he is up for just about anything and we enjoy trying things the other person is really excited about.)
You don’t have to like the same things, but you should be respectful of each other’s interests. Peter used to run and train for races. At some point I asked him to reconsider the hours he put into training or pay to take care of some of things he was in charge of around the house. I spent a lot of money on scrapbooking supplies, and then when Peter saw the end products he didn’t question the investment. 😉
You can teach a dog new tricks. I am the dog. (I was actually born in the year of the dog.) Because of Peter I have learned to drink beer, watch a variety of genres of film, and tolerate some classic rock.
You don’t have to do everything together all of the time, but find things you do enjoy doing together – not things you have to do like the dishes or laundry but things like going to the library and browsing aspirational reading and viewing or occasional trips to a thrift shop. Yes, those are things we like to do together.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does provide access to healthcare, housing, food, etc. and those early years of marriage were full of stress as we were paying of student loans, credit card debt, and failing at saving. This is related to #9.
Growing up in church and an immigrant home did not set me up well for a healthy understanding of sexuality and the role of sex in a healthy marriage. Sex is more important than is preached about and less important than it is preached about. It’s not a dial you turn on at marriage.
Menopause really messed up my sex drive. Perimenopause messed up my sex drive. Having children messed up my sex drive.
Good sex in a marriage is important, and “good” has to be agreed upon between partners. That said, the “in sickness and in health” part really comes into play with sex so it helps to shed purity culture notions of sex and get creative and playful and, if you have young children, quick. Good sex is mutual and sometimes you take turns. You can also take matters in your own hands, or each other’s.
My spouse doing the dishes is not foreplay. Folding laundry isn’t a turn on. Peter vacuuming the one carpet we haven’t isn’t sexy. If that’s your thing, awesome, but it’s not mine anymore.
All that talk about sex is really about communication. Over communicate. Conversations in my head do not count.
The big and little things matter, but you can only hold them against your spouse if you’ve communicated them and agreed to action. I can’t be angry at Peter for not doing “x” for my birthday if I have not told him that is what I would like. I learned this by being angry at Peter for not reading my mind. This is expanding on #19.
Learn to apologize AND repair. You can say you’re sorry but words don’t matter if the behaviors and actions never change. Sometimes the apology comes years later, but even then we have to decide if we will work together to repair the harm.
Learn to let go. I got tired of making the bed so I started making my side of the bed. Now we each have our own blankets, and it’s what it is.
Stand your ground. I thought I was being helpful when I would reorganize Peter’s closet or tidy up his office. It was not, and he told me so. I tried for a few years to convince both of us he was wrong. I was wrong. He just makes sure his closet door is always closed.
Small gestures count. Peter put the kimchi in a small dish and made Shin ramen for me the other night.
Big gestures count. A few years ago we made it to Mount Rushmore because Peter REALLY wanted to see it. Many of you can guess how I feel about that place but it was super fun to watch him take it all in. (If you’ve never been in person, it really is something.
MUTUAL respect in public and in private is important.
I still close the door to the bathroom even though I know he can hear everything. It’s just a me thing.
I am glad I kept my “maiden” name, and I still love getting junk mail addressed to Peter Khang because the patriarchy is still hard at work.
Time is very weird. I can remember so much of our wedding day – the cake topper went awol and we didn’t know the guy who caught the garter, and I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. I’m so grateful we made it to 30 because if I’m honest I wasn’t always sure we would make it. But here we are, Peter. Here we are. I love you.
This is our third anniversary celebrated during the global pancetta. It’s surreal to think that in April 2020 all three of our children were home perfecting our personal athleisure style, doing puzzles, and naively believing that it would just be a few more weeks of sheltering in place.
Today is our 29th wedding anniversary. We had a big fat Korean immigrant wedding with 1,000 people – friends, family, and church members with a buffet dinner in the church basement. He was 28 and I was 22. This year we can start making withdrawals from his retirement accounts. (Fortunately we don’t have to and won’t.) We were incredibly young and naive. It bothered Peter, but I often said I was young and stupid. It was true. Now I’m older and definitely stupid, and I know it.
I wrote my first list of this kind in 2013 to mark our 20th anniversary. The rules are simple. I don’t look at the list from the previous year. I sit down, and I write. I write what I learned about marriage, myself, and love.
Sometimes being the sacrificial mother and wife is stupid and actually harmful.
The finality of menopause is a lie. There are no more eggs in the basket yet I’m still hot-flashing and night sweating. It’s hard to feel sexy and attractive when your body suddenly feels like a burning house.
Love is a discipline and a choice.
Saying “I love you” can be a lot easier than actually loving my husband. Hearing “I love you” isn’t as important as feeling loved by my husband.
I’m grateful to be aging with someone.
It took a lot longer for me not to care about farting in front of Peter than it did for Peter to not care about farting in front of me. Now we either don’t care or our hearing is starting to fail and we just don’t hear it. Yes, sometimes we still act like we are in middle school.
We each have separate blankets instead of fighting over one. GAME CHANGER.
I regret having waited so long to buy a king size bed.
I’m glad we have the terribly produced wedding video. It took years before I could laugh at it and appreciate it.
Money doesn’t make you happy but it sure is helpful.
I have never regretted keeping my “maiden” name.
I regret not going back to school.
Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you can’t still feel hurt.
Purity culture really messed up the early years of our sex life.
Marriage and parenting have a lot of similarities. There is a lot of deciding “is this the hill I want to die on?” moments.
A coffee drinker and a non-coffee drinker can stay married.
Peter can’t read my mind.
Sometimes I can read Peter’s mind.
It’s never too late to start therapy, get a mental health diagnosis, take a sleep study, get a CPAP, or start medication.
You marry into another family and that means double the fun and double the baggage.
Your spouse’s habits, hobbies, and interests can become your own. I now read and watch sci-fi and he likes to go thrifting. For a few years I stopped making the bed because Peter never made the bed. Then for awhile I just made my side of the bed. And then I just stopped. Now that we have our own blankets I have gone back to making my side of the bed.
That probably means sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, I am the dog in the scenario. It also could be Peter and learning how to fold and put away the linens.
Having sex when the kids were little was challenging because being parents of young children was exhausting. Now, having sex is challenging because we are tired because we are getting older. Also, our 22-year-old son lives at home, and clearly I haven’t shaken off all the purity culture baggage.
I’m not sure if streaming services have been a good thing for our marriage or a bad thing.
Maintaining good friends – singles, couples, our “own” separate friends has been as important for me as my marriage.
Over-communicate not only your needs/wants but also what you love and appreciate about your spouse in ways they can understand and receive.
I really enjoy cooking and feeding my family until about Wednesday night.
In my most honest moments, I wonder what it would’ve been like if I had gone back to school or gotten divorced when our silence was so loud or put my name in the hat for the job that would’ve required more travel and time.
I still hope to grow old with Peter and be that old couple who holds hands on walks.
It seems appropriate that I share a photo of the two of us in masks. We were waiting to watch #RunMySon graduate.
Sometime ago I saw a post about how married people shouldn’t be congratulated for staying married. I tried to read it and couldn’t track with it. Perhaps it was because I have now been married for as long as I have been single, and being single between the ages of birth-22 isn’t the same as being single for those same years, nor is it legal to be married for most of the former.
I’m all for self-congratulating and celebrating every year of marriage. There is something to be said about the honeymoon period of any relationship, but in marriage the end of the greeting card images shot with a hazy filter and perfect light can be a rude awakening. It is the moment or moments when two people learn that love is a verb, a choice. Marriage is serious work in close quarters until death if I am to take my vows literally and seriously. When we hit 20 years I wrote a list of things I had learned, and I am still learning. Neither of us are dead yet.
So, here are 23 things I am still learning in no particular order. Some of them might be repeats. I don’t know. I just linked the blog post from three years ago. I didn’t re-read it. I’m too busy learning about marriage, love, and being a perfectly broken human.
I like things my way. He likes things his way. My way is still right and better. He is still learning.
My way isn’t always better, but when it is, and he admits it, things go a lot smoother.
When his way is better, and I tell him so things go a lot smoother.
I can simultaneously miss my husband and not want to go home and listen to his c-pap machine.
Speaking of c-pap machines, love isn’t blind nor is it deaf.
Sex with young children is tough because you are so sleep-deprived. Sex with teenagers is tough because teenagers stay up later and know things and we are still tired.
Sometimes scheduling sex is as necessary as scheduling date nights.
Sometimes #loveiscold, and it’s perfectly normal to do the happy dance together in the middle of the kitchen because the new refrigerator is quiet, big, cold, and clean.
Fighting fair still eludes us.
I can’t always read his mind, but it sure is funny when I can complete his sentences.
I love being married to a feminist who also understands when I have had it with shoveling the snow or moving furniture.
He is perfectly happy pointing out the large spiders for me to kill.
The concept of generational sin becomes clearer to me the longer I am alive and the older our children and families of origin get.
I have worn my traditional Korean dress (which I didn’t pick out nor know what it would look like until it arrived from Korea) more than I have my western white wedding dress (that I ended up choosing because it was the middle ground between what my I would wear and what my MIL and mother wanted), and my daughter most-likely will wear neither of them. I’m still figuring out how I feel about that.
I love that no one laughs as hard at my jokes as Peter does. And I love that.
It drives me crazy when he reads my blog posts and his first comments are about grammar or punctuation, but then I remember grammar and punctuation are love languages.
Speaking of love languages, others include empty dishwashers, folded laundry, new running shoes, the library book sale on bag day, and encouragement to go see movies with other people who share one’s enthusiasm and fandom over such movies. And we both love high-quality pens.
It is hard to teach an oldish dog new tricks. It also is harder to unlearn old tricks regardless of the age of said dog(s).
Don’t judge the quality or character of your spouse’s heart based on your dating story, proposal story, etc. Creativity for a one-shot deal is great, but sustainability is another thing entirely.
I regret how my value for frugality killed some of Peter’s attempts at loving me and made him feel foolish because I know now that sometimes lovers are stupid and foolish when in love.
When life gives you lemons, find some other citrus and maybe some strawberries and make sangria. Lemonade isn’t going to cut it.
Making only my side of the bed doesn’t look as weird to me as it used to.
You can never say, “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “I bought you some wine and dark chocolate” or “Have a great night bowling” enough.
why yes, we do appear to be floating in a dirty champagne glass lacking champagne…