It’s Valentine’s Day. Last year, you may recall that I shared this post about how Alex and I met – our love story. While it wasn’t written for this purpose at all (I literally was just opening up and writing about us from the heart), the post garnered a lot of attention, people reacted so positively to it, and I received so many heartfelt messages. A year later, it remains one of the most popular posts on my blog.
However, this year, I wanted to share a continuation of the story because last year’s post truthfully only tells one side: the happy/love-filled side. But like every marriage and relationship, there are many other sides, and unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending. (Spoiler alert: no, Alex and I have not broken up and are doing just fine!).
I’ve been thinking about sharing this post for a very long time, and I’m choosing to share it on Valentine’s Day for a reason. This day has a way of polarizing people – you either love it or you hate it (and that’s often a reflection of your emotional state at the time). Valentine’s Day is all about love. But you see, love is not always happy. Love is complex. Love is deep. Love evolves. It weakens. It strengthens. Sometimes, love is confusing. Sometimes, love is painful.
As much as my life on Instagram can paint a picture of a perfect life or a perfect marriage, like everyone else, my marriage isn’t. We have our ups and downs, and we are still learning (marriage is actually a lifelong learning process). So today, I want to speak to the people who might not have found their ‘happy ending’, can relate to what I’m about to say, or may be going through difficult times, by sharing 15 hard truths about marriage that I learned during one of the most difficult times in my life.
To give you some context, last year (in March, to be exact), Alex and I went through a major devastation in our marriage. Something incredibly terrible happened, and the resulting explosive argument then led to an unfortunate series of events. What happened was so severe that it threatened the entire foundation of our relationship, and we were both SHOOK to the core. It’s like, one day everything was normal, and the next day, it was completely off-kilter.
We lost our way. We leaned on our families and closest friends for support.
I felt like I was stretched to the limits of what I could handle emotionally. I cried every single day and night. I spent weeks and months feeling like a shell of my former myself. It affected my work and my ability to function. I remember going away on a press trip and feeling like I was going to crack at any given second, but maintained a smile on the outside as best as I could. I felt like I lost a chunk of the year, and it’s part of the reason why I hated 2018 so much.
We hadn’t even been married for 1 year and our marriage was already put to a significant test. Truthfully, I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. The harsh reality? No matter how much I thought I was ready for marriage, or how much advice I got from anyone beforehand, nothing adequately prepared me for what I had to endure during those few months. I learned more about love, marriage, and my own emotional capacity in those few months than in all 5 years of our relationship and all of my past relationships combined!
We thankfully recovered, and I’ve obviously healed enough to be able to write about this. So today, I want to share those 15 hard truths about love and marriage that I learned – the things no one really tells you until after you’re married.
1. You can have difficulties during year 1, year 10, or at anytime.
Never mind “can”, you will. Everyone goes through something that puts a strain on their marriage. EVERYONE. If it happens early, it’s not a signal that you shouldn’t be together or that your marriage is a failure. I think, too often, people take this as a sign to give up (it’s actually easier sometimes to walk away than to work through it). No matter how you slice it, marriage is tough, so buckle up. Whether it’s the initial adjustment of living together, having children, a loss of a job or family member, the 7-year itch or anything else.
2. Marriage is a choice – Every. Single. Day.
Marriage is not just about love; it’s a conscious choice and a shared commitment. You do not just make this choice on your wedding day. You need to wake up and go to bed each day with this choice and shared commitment in mind.
3. You need to understand yourself.
To understand why you relate to your partner the way you do, you have to first understand yourself. We are a reflection of our childhoods, the relationships we had with our siblings and parents, and even the relationships our parents had with each other. We bring these relationships into the marriage.
4. You have to be a team.
Like, actually (not in a ‘fluffy’ way). The success of your marriage depends on both of you working together towards a common goal, as if you were a team trying to win a championship game. Your team is bigger than both of you individually. If your team is down, would you berate your teammate or throw him or her under the bus? Your partner doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win; you are both trying to win the game together.
5. It’s not 50/50.
No matter what society would have you believe should be the case, it’s never 50/50. If you enter your marriage with this expectation, you will be disappointed. The truth is that women usually carry the bulk of the load (careers, housework, childcare responsibilities) and assume the role of project manager for the household, and it’s actually fanciful to believe it will ever be evenly split.
6. Do not do or give with the expectation of anything in return.
This was one of the toughest ones for me to learn. Do not expect your partner to notice the things you do, especially around the house. Be giving and do things for yourself without expecting praise or anything in return. The ultimate reward is your own self-improvement.
7. You can’t depend on the other person for your own happiness or enlightenment.
You are each responsible for your own individual happiness and you should not be looking to the other person to full your cup. If you do, you will be disappointed or potentially look for your happiness elsewhere. Also, as difficult as it is to understand, you are on your own paths to self-enlightenment and self-growth. Your partner may not be at the same point as you in this journey (and may never be). You are doing it for yourself.
8. You can’t control your partner, expect your partner to be like you, or change your partner.
You are individuals. You think and operate differently and you must accept the other person for him or herself. Instead of trying to force change, channel your energy into finding your unique way of working together. You can only change yourself.
9. You have to find a communication style that works for your relationship.
Communication is a cornerstone of any marriage. Everyone has a different way of communicating – some through words and some through actions. The sooner you find a communication style that works for your marriage, the easier it will be.
10. You need to understand the love languages.
Every person must receive love in 1 of 5 languages (quality time, physical touch, gift giving, acts of service, and words of affirmation). We usually give love the way we want to receive it. Knowing your partner’s love language will enable you to give him or her love in the way he or she needs to receive it and vice-versa.
11. Marriage will make you a better and stronger person.
You will gain patience, self-discipline, forgiveness, compassion, restraint, morality, gratitude, among other benefits. Through adversity, you will be pushed to your outer limits and discover a greater emotional and mental strength than you ever thought you had.
12. Your connection is built in the private moments.
Focus on the time you spend together that isn’t photographed or shared on social media. Those are the most important moments and times for you to build and nourish your connection.
13. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think the same is true of a marriage. When shit gets tough, don’t be afraid to turn to family or friends for help. And there is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help.
14. Not everyone’s advice is going to be helpful.
Surround yourself with people who support your marriage, and don’t be afraid to part ways with people who are unsupportive. Seek marital advice from people who have been married for many years. While they may mean well, take the advice of your single friends with a grain of salt.
15. Never forget the reasons why you chose each other.
There are reasons why you chose each other. Especially on the days that you struggle, never forget those reasons.
These are the 15 hard truths that I learned in our first year of marriage (all without kids, mind you), and which help me on a daily basis. Marriage is a lifelong process of learning about your partner and yourself, and I know there will be many, many more lessons for us to learn in future.
I want to acknowledge and thank the special people in my life who helped me to understand these lessons and guided me during difficult times. You know who you are.
Photography by: Laura Clarke Photography