We are sitting next to each other at the kitchen table planning another “this might be the last time we can vacation with all three kids” vacation. He is planning it because I spent the week prior figuring out how to maximize 160,000 frequent flyer miles between five of us, one of whom does not live at home. He wanted to me to help decide between the upper canyon or the lower canyon or both. I told him I can’t make any more decisions today.
Peter and I met in November 1992 in Appleton, WI. He was recently separated from the U.S. Air Force working on getting his dental license for Wisconsin. (No, the government didn’t pay for dental school.) I was a very green newspaper reporter in Green Bay, WI. Our friends Scott and Irene (who were my college friends and went to church with Peter) introduced us thinking Peter would make a nice oppa- older brother-type person. Awkward.
We met at the mall and he ate something from Taco Bell while we talked. I had eaten at a work function. He remembers me firmly shaking his hand. I remember he was eating Taco Bell.
We had our DTR (defining the relationship talk) two weeks later and defined our relationship as headed to marriage. We were young, though I was younger, and we were in love. We were engaged on December 26, 1992 with about 100 of our family and friends in attendance for a tradition Korean engagement ceremony. We got married on April 24, 1993 with about 1,000 friends, family, and strangers to us but connected to our parents. It was an intimate gathering.
We have moved three times, each time getting us closer to the Promised Lane – the north suburbs of Chicago. We moved into this home, our second house, almost 15 years ago. Elias decided to start potty training while we were still unpacking boxes. We have yet to remodel the kitchen. Maybe goldenrod laminate countertops and linoleum floors will make a comeback.
And here we are. We often look at each other, usually as we are getting ready to go to bed, and say how incredible this all is. It is.
- The sooner you figure out how your strengths work together the better. He paints with the roller brush. I do all of the detail work without painter’s tape.
- The sooner you figure out your weaknesses the better. I recommend marriage counseling before and during marriage.
- Maintain your own friendships, aka you don’t always have to do things as a couple. Peter and I have been really #blessed having a group of friends where the wives became friends first and then set up play dates so that our husbands would get to know each other, and now the husbands are good friends who plan their own nights out
- Every stage of marriage and life will impact your sex life. It’s called stress, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, those long days and short years, menopause and whatever the male version of that is, etc.
- Over communicate. We are still working on this. It’s not just about talking a lot. It’s about communicating details and emotions and not just the number of words.
- Remember what you enjoyed doing before you were married and keep doing some of those things. For years Peter was in a fall bowling league (that started in the fall and ended around our anniversary, which also was the cause of some tension because of the lack of over communication). I went to the lanes once to stop in and say hi. I like to get lost in a book, alone in silence with coffee or wine and the option to fall asleep.
- Learn to enjoy things the other person enjoys. Peter still doesn’t enjoy coffee. I still don’t enjoy running. I have learned to enjoy basketball, baseball, and football. He pretends to enjoy gardening with me.
- Learn to say you are sorry, what you are sorry for, and how you are going to change your behavior moving forward, and then change.
- Spend some time getting your own shit together, aka staying emotionally healthy. No money for a therapist? Read or listen to some podcasts. There is a lot of information out there to help though a therapist or counselor if you can afford it is the way to go. Peter and I would’ve fought a lot less if he had figured out why he thought his parents were perfect and why I had stayed in an abusive relationship in college. Yup. Lots of fighting.
- Non-sexual touch can be very important. There were years when my body was all about gestation and lactation and then the needs of small people’s bodies. A back rub with no expectation it was going to lead to sex was important.
- Your marriage isn’t doomed if you can’t do weekly date nights. We didn’t have the money, the time, the energy, the babysitting, etc. We felt like marriage failures, and only the last few years did we understand that was some weird unrealistic BS that didn’t fit us. And how many times can you go out to eat if you don’t have amazing ethnic food close by??
- Instead of date nights figure out what will work so that you can connect on a regular basis and have time to laugh, talk, enjoy each other’s company. It’s a lot easier for us now that we only have one child at home but also easy to forgo because we have unrealistic expectations for what family time will look like. Monday night was date night. We went to yoga and had a beer. PERFECT!
- Learn to forgive each other. I can remember many of our biggest fights, and that memory is a problem when it’s not coupled with forgiveness. Yes, there are still things I am working on forgiving.
- Try to stay physically healthy. If you are reading this blog you can search your heart out for all the little things you can do to stay fit with or without exercise equipment, health insurance (but boy does that help), fancy fitness watches, etc.
- We are both Christians so we also work on our spiritual health. Find and develop a relationships with people who share or honor your faith, faith practices and rituals, etc.
- You will change. I used to make the bed every day, and it would drive me nuts that Peter didn’t. (I still refold the towels every now and then.)
- You won’t change. My shoes are in clear plastic boxes and labeled. The shirts are organized by color and sleeve length. I don’t even look in Peter’s closet any more.
- Money doesn’t buy you love, but that security doesn’t hurt. When you can’t pay the bills the stress can be overwhelming, and it strains even the strongest marriages. Don’t pretend money doesn’t matter. It isn’t everything, but it isn’t completely irrelevant.
- Problems and strengths in the marriage can spill into parenting. Becoming parents doesn’t fix your marriage. It amplifies the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship.
- Learn to celebrate each other in ways that are meaningful for the other person.
- Have sex. When you have kids you may have to plan for it or make it super quick. If you don’t have kids already just make it a habit to sleep with your door closed and maybe even locked so that when you do have kids and they get older everyone is used to having to knock. Teenagers sleep weird hours so there’s that, too.
- If you don’t enjoy or want sex or it becomes painful, talk to your spouse and maybe a doctor. Seriously. It’s not about procreating. Sex is meant to be fun and enjoyable, not that scary evangelical/fundamentalist stuff Peter and I grew up with. (I should probably write more about menopause. Yay.) If you’re both ok not having sex, carry on.
- Sometime you go to bed angry or annoyed but don’t be passive aggressive about it. Figure out when you’re going to pick up the fight/disagreement/conflict, but for goodness sake SLEEP. Most fights aren’t resolved by staying up all night. We’ve tried.
- Say “I love you” in as many different ways as often as you can. Variations include “I trust you,” “I am for you,” and ” I believe in you.” I love it when Peter takes my car and fills up the tank. Peter loves it when I make Elias take out the garbage. He knows my current favorite red wine. I buy him his special fancy pants chocolate bar.
- Make room for each other’s dreams, failures, growth, doubt, and changes. It isn’t perfect. It may not even come close to the plan, but talk about the crazy dreams and maybe you will find or make some space. I am an author and a yoga teacher. Those were some crazy dreams.
- Don’t just look back and remember what made you fall in love or what you loved about your spouse when you first met. Gratitude is a discipline and a daily practice. If I’m lucky I’ll get to write another list next year, but for now I am so grateful that despite being groggy and tired and probably running a little late, Peter will wake up and wash the dirty pots and pans in the sink.