Thursday, June 20, 2013

What We Learned: Year One

So, I've seen a lot of people making posts around the blogosphere about the lessons they've gleaned from marriage. And recently, I saw someone make a post about her first year of marriage and what she learned from it. I clicked on it, out of curiosity, and some of the items made me go, "Yeah! Right on! Preach it, girl!" while some of the other items made me go, "Eh, maybe . . ." A few of the items even made me go, "Heck no! That's totally not what works for me and Levi!"

It got me thinking. Some marriage advice is pretty dang true across the board. If you say things like "don't sweat the small stuff" or "communicate clearly to each other" or "make sex a priority" well, you'd be hard-pressed to find married people who would disagree with those. But really, marriage advice isn't as fun as hearing what happened to people, right?

Therefore, this is not marriage advice. Instead, I'm just going to write about the first ten things I can think of (because there are a lot) that we learned together in our first year of marriage. And I'm not going to pull any punches, so be forewarned. There will be talk about the s-e-x word, and while it won't be specific or explicit, it'll be honest. There will be talk about pooping and farting. There will be talk about the things that get under my skin or make me upset. Because we're still people, and those things still happen, and those things happen more when you put two people together for life.

And there will also be talk about mind-boggling, amazing friendship and love. Because marriage is totally that, too.

Here are 10 things we have learned in our first year.

1. Expectations are stupid-sauce (like awesome-sauce, but the opposite)

Ok, there are good expectations that Levi and I set together for our marriage:
  • Stick to the marriage vows. 
  • Treat each other like Christ would want us to treat any human being. 
  • Don't even think about asking for cable T.V.
  • Be honest, even if it means telling me my breath smells like old eggs--and it does in the morning sometimes, much to my shame. 
Then I realized a few months into our marriage that there were some days that I found myself down in the dumps or disappointed for no good reason. Levi hadn't done anything wrong, but I still found myself feeling a little resentful or ignored. 

And, BAM! I realized (with Levi's kind and patient guidance) that I was suffering from expectationitis. It's a real condition, and many of us women suffer unknowingly for years, decades, even whole lifetimes. 

Here's a hypothetical example of a day of unmet expectations:

I wake up in the morning with Levi, and he heads off to work, giving me one kiss before he heads out the door. I was really hoping for lots of smooching like he'd done yesterday, but, oh well. I spend the morning cleaning up and straightening the house, and today is just one of those days that I'm feeling lonely. Levi doesn't send me a text around lunchtime like he does pretty regularly, and I'm really down in the dumps because of it. By the time 4:00 rolls around I'm in real need of a good snuggle, a long chat, and an early bedtime. Levi comes home from work, and he wants a half hour practicing his boxing on the heavy bag. I tell him that's fine, and I bide my time playing a game, trying not to feel abandoned. Then he comes in and wants to cook a long and elaborate dinner, trying out new recipes and techniques that will guarantee a long prep time and a long cook time and an even longer clean-up. The dinner is delicious, if quite a bit of work, and I don't enjoy it very much because all I can think is that it took up two whole hours we could have been snuggling together. After that he suggests watching the latest Netflix movie we've been waiting to watch. We put that on, and by the time it's over, it's late enough and we're so tired that all we can do is fall asleep in bed. I lay awake in bed, despite being tired, feeling sad and lonely and sorry for myself because my husband doesn't care for me enough.

Written out like that, it sounds ludicrous that I was so upset about my day, especially since I didn't make the effort to let Levi know that I needed something emotionally. In the end, I've learned the less I expect from our days and from Levi the more I find fulfillment in the things that do happen. I don't excuse bad behavior or stop expecting that he'll behave like a man of God, but I also don't expect that Levi will give me breakfast every morning or be willing to watch my favorite shows exactly when I want to, etc. If I truly need something for my emotional health, I gently let him know, and he's all too happy to oblige (and I make sure that I'm always happy to oblige when he needs the same thing from me). I find myself surprised and delighted so much more when I don't expect certain things to go certain ways.

2. Play time is essential

We live pretty grown-up lives (married, working full-time, planning for a family in the future, staying in each night and having an early bedtime) by society's standards, but we don't act grown up all the time at home. I mean, we switch into adult mode when we discuss the monthly budget or have people over or get into conversations about work or our faith.

But every other time? Well, let's just say we're both totally OK with being silly. Whatever it takes to make the other one giggle or laugh is what we do. We've stopped worrying about being stupid. We build pillow forts on our bed and pretend to be baby animals squeaking and burrowing into our den for the winter. We tickle each other very regularly. We speak in our best/worst Australian/Boston/Cockney/Bronx accents whenever possible. We make up strange dances and demonstrate them for each other--Levi is the best at this.

Basically, we've just embraced our kind of fun, and we make sure to do it every day.

3. Making sex a priority is harder than we like to admit

Ok, here's where the gloves come off and we get super real. You ready?

We agreed at the beginning of our marriage on our expectations for the frequency of love-making in our marriage. They were ambitious expectations considering the normal averages for marriages, true. But we felt super confident about our ability to meet our goal. It was going to be easy, right? I mean, who wouldn't want to have sex with their spouse?

Well, it turns out that two things are very true:
  1. Married sex is fulfilling and wonderful and very, very sexy (contrary to popular belief). 
  2. Having sex with a high frequency isn't easy or second-nature, no matter how we're wired. 
Turns out that headaches, feeling weirdly gassy after a dinner of beans, stress about work, exhaustion from a long day, and many other things can zap the desire right out of us. Gassiness is a particularly unsexy feeling for me. Now, being physically unable to make with the smoochies is one thing, and we don't want to force that. But just not being "in the mood" is a totally different thing. 

Here's what we learned, though. Even if neither of us is "in the mood" it's still possible to have sex. And those times together aren't cheapened or lackluster. In fact, they become that much more intimate. When our love making is only motivated by a desire to connect with and serve each other it's such a precious thing. 

On my trip to Disneyland with my family years and years ago, we spent the entire day at the park. We rode ride after ride and watched cute family shows to our hearts' content. When it was time to go and the park was closing, my parents wanted to stop by a gift shop before we left. My sister and I were just exhausted, and I remember being pretty cranky that my parents weren't ready to leave yet (you'd think it would be the other way around, right?). While they were in the gift shop, my sister and I hung around outside in this plaza that had a large stone sphere that rolled around on a small pool of water. As we began to roll that stone around and around other little fountains of water began to spray up around us. I began to giggle and run around with my little sis, and by the time my parents emerged from the shop we were laughing hysterically and they practically had to drag us away from the park. 

That's what sex is like when we're "not in the mood." While it may start slowly, it's always worth it. It's always very worth it.

4. We are not perfect.

This seems like a no-brainer, but really, it's pretty easy to tell myself that I'm like, totally awesome. That Levi married me because I'm an 11 out of 10. And if I think that, then I can often find myself wondering how he can treat such a goddess like an ordinary human being.

Shocker of shockers--I'm not perfect. It's tempting to see myself in the mirror of Levi and realize that I've got an alarmingly healthy dose of pride and selfishness and laziness. And then it's all too easy to get mad at him for my failings.

It's like this: Levi comes home from work and the house is still a mess and nothing has been touched or remotely cleaned up. I've been at home all day playing Ratchet and Clank video games. Levi doesn't say anything about it, and apparently it doesn't seem to bother him. But then he starts making dinner and doesn't ask me to help him. He has to wash a few dishes that I neglected. And suddenly I'm feeling irrationally aggravated at him! Surely he's doing the dishes to point out that I ignored them. And of course he's cooking dinner without me to show me just how lazy he thinks I am.

What is all that craziness?! Why am I aggravated? Levi hasn't made me feel lazy. He hasn't done anything except be gracious about the fact that I actually am lazy (at least I am lazy on that particular day).

Basically, I've learned that when the mirror shows me that I have dirt on my face, I don't yell at the mirror and scrub the mirror. Instead, I acknowledge that it's my face that's dirty, I thank the mirror for showing me my flaws, and I scrub my face.

Well, Levi is my mirror. And being mad at him for my failings is just plain nuts.

5. Sometimes it's a real sacrifice to give my husband what he needs

Amazingly, Levi and I built the same way when it comes to thought-processing and talking to each other. We both need to go through things over and over and over again to work through our feelings. That's great when it's a subject we both gel on. It's torture when it's a very hard subject for one of us.

For example, Levi's work often stresses him out. We're talking losing sleep, biting nails to nubs, staring bleakly into space stress. So he often needs to talk through the different things that get under his skin, and he needs to talk through the different job options available to us just to process everything there is to process.

The only problem is that talk like that stresses me out, so while Levi's stress levels are going down, mine are rising. So what do we do? Do we compromise? Do we sometimes talk about work and sometimes not?

No. I'm not the one losing sleep. I'm not the one who feels like I'm drowning sometimes. This is simply one of those times where I just ask God to broaden my shoulders so I can give Levi what he needs.

It's not easy. I don't like feeling stressed. I don't like the feeling of uncertainty and instability settling around my shoulders. But I most definitely don't like knowing that my husband gets out of bed at 3:00 a.m. because he can't sleep. I don't like knowing that my husband becomes quiet and closed off on Sunday afternoons because he knows he'll have to be back at work the next day. I don't like knowing that I could have given him some easy help and relief just by listening to his thoughts.

Even when sacrificing is as easy as listening, it's still hard. When I think of it as a sacrifice to bless my husband's needs, it's not necessarily easier, but it's infinitely more fulfilling. I don't sigh inwardly and dread the feeling of stress that's about to creep up on me. Instead, I take a deep breath and decide to absorb the stress so he can find some relief.

*And a note: After I realized all this and decided to let him vent when he needed to vent, he was able to move past his initial block and find peace in the Lord. All he needed was someone to listen and encourage him to keep going.

6. We're even worse about judging others

Let's face it. We all judge other people. We judge them for being too coiffed and made up. We judge them for looking like they just rolled out of bed. We judge them for ribs sticking out and bony, skinny arms. We judge them for guts sticking out of the bottom of shirts. We judge them for buying soy burgers. We judge them for buying five packages of Oreos at a time. We judge them for listening to rap music so loudly it pounds your windows as they drive by. We judge them for listening to Rush Limbaugh talk radio.

Well, it's not any better when we're married. It's just added one more thing to our list. Suddenly we are the experts at marriage. I'm mean, we've been doing it for a whole year now. We're practically Jedi Masters at this whole marriage gig. And clearly we're doing it the best out of everyone.

What a bunch of malarkey. Seriously.

It's a fact that marriage has been sweet for us, and things work so well between the two of us. But I'm going with "blessed" instead of "expert."

7. People want us to talk about what's hard

But it's almost always not the kind of conversation where they want to get deep with us. They instead want to hear how Levi prefers to store dirty dishes on the counter and how I prefer to store them in the sink and how that's just so annoying. They want to hear how one of us is a morning person and the other has to drag themselves out of bed and could the other person please just stop being so chipper at 6:00 a.m.?

Well, we learned right away that we don't want to talk about those things, and we don't think it's very entertaining or amusing. Why should I giggle or shake my head knowingly with the ladies because I harbor tiny pieces of stubbornness or selfishness in my heart?

Cause, seriously, that's what it is. If I'm annoyed that Levi always leaves his dishes strewn all over the counter, what does that say about me? How on this earth is that something even remotely justifiable as an annoyance? What it really says is that I believe my way of doing things is best, and Levi is somehow ignorant or cruel because he won't do things the better way.

Does that sound extreme? It might. But our personal version of "don't sweat the small stuff" is simply this: small stuff shouldn't exist. If it's not a sin or a morally reprehensible thing or something that will negatively impact our family, then why is it something to even concern me?

So when people gently joke about nagging wives or inattentive husbands, we quietly nod and smile. Because if it was a real issue, we'd never be joking about it. And if it was a minor and regular annoyance? Well, it simply shouldn't exist because in the grand view of life, it truly doesn't matter.

8. We are best friends

And we act like it.

If I'm going to say Levi is my best friend, then I'm going to treat him like it. He'll be the first one I call or text if I see/hear something awesome. I share the best inside jokes with him. I do the dumbest things with him and I confide the deepest parts of my heart with him. I equally enjoy pigging out on pizza and beer with him on the couch and hiking through the state park for hours.

I trust him to be the one with me through thick and thin. I trust that he can see me with my glasses on and my greasy hair pulled back and my sweatpants hiked up past my bellybutton, and that he'll just want to hang with me. I trust him with my deepest secrets and my dreams.

We make pacts together and promises to each other. We make goals together. We dream together. We cry together. We laugh together.

I love him with all my heart, but even more importantly, I like him.

And, BONUS! When I don't expect him to meet my every emotional need or let dumb little habits of his annoy me and become huge issues, we can be friends. Real friends.

9. We talk to family together

We're a unit now. If someone wants one of us, that person better expect that both of us will be there (there are of course exceptions, duh, but in general, you know what I mean, right?).

Our parents and families won't ever have a skewed view of our marriage or the "in-law" half. There's no way to contact either of us in a way that is 100% private. We know all the passwords for all the stuff that either of us has.

And for us, this is just necessary because we don't live anywhere near family. They don't get much of a chance to see us together and hang out with us, so the best we can do is all talk on speaker-phone together. Instead of me being the daughter talking about her life which now includes her husband, I'm the daughter who's one half of a team. We want it to be weird if we're not instantly and naturally paired together in their minds.

AND, talking to them together not only makes us both super comfortable with our in-laws, it also makes us genuinely enjoy their company. And that is a great blessing!

10. We don't complain about each other, and we don't complain about marriage . . . ever 

You've heard it before, I'm sure, especially if you've been engaged.

"You're still engaged, huh? You can still get out of it! It's not too late!" *wink *wink

What is that? Seriously, what is that?

You've seen by now that our marriage has not been 100% perfect. But if there's one thing I've learned about the whole process of complaining, it's that when I complain about something I begin to like it just a little bit less. So, logically, if I complain about my husband or my marriage . . .

I'm not going to do it. I'm just not. Someday in our lives I'm sure there will be something that is a genuine concern that I'll need to talk about with someone wise. But until that time, I pray that a person will never hear a word of complaint about my husband and marriage pass my lips, and if they do, I better apologize right away.

And now, for a bonus item!

11. We don't close the door to the bathroom

Now, I know that a lot of people don't behave this way. There are lots of rules about keeping things "classy" or not ruining the "illusion" of sexiness or perfection.

First of all, can I just take a moment to laugh . . . OK, now that's out of my system.

Here's what Levi and I have learned:

We're human. Our bodies behave like human bodies. That means that we poop. We pee. We fart. We have smelly morning breath and stinky armpits after a workout. Being in the bathroom is not shameful or dirty. It's human.

We're not looking at each other's poop or anything (that's truly a bit much), but we're just comfortable with our bodies together. We're not going to find each other any less sexy because we know for a fact that the other one poops.

And let's face it, pooping and farting is awesomely hilarious, and being able to talk about it creates lots of opportunities for fun.


Thanks for reading our list of  what we learned. Hope you were entertained by our list of non-advice. If you liked something in particular, let me know! 

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