How to Approach Your Next Relationship for it to End in a Healthy Marriage
Updated: Jun 20, 2022
It starts from the time we're waddling around in diapers for us girls, society pushes the princess love stories and so begins the narrative that our lives could never be full and happy until we snag the prince. I don't know when it started for you, or me for that matter, but one thing is for sure...they sold us a line of bullshit, and I'm here to give it to you straight. What you should expect, and what you shouldn't, in a healthy marriage.
First, I just want to start this off with a couple disclaimers...my marriage isn't perfect. I don't have all the answers, and I sure as hell don't want to be anyones marital role model. I've had so many of you asking me why I don't really post about my marriage, and wanting to know if I would give tips and tricks on how Andy and I have had a mostly healthy and happy partnership for the last 14 years. For the most part I'm an open book about anything in my life, but my marriage has been somewhat off limits, something that I really like to keep for myself. If I'm being honest, it's partly rooted in fear that people will put our marriage on a pedestal...and we all know what happens to those. I've done a lot of reflecting and I've decided that I really do have a very different view and approach to marriage than most women and that maybe someone somewhere can benefit from it...so here goes nothin'.
Setting Expectations & Boundaries
Yeah, we're starting with you. You need to define what it is that you WANT in a partner before you're able to communicate that to someone else. You also need to write down what you BRING to a relationship, and make sure that lines up with the things you are expecting from a partner. I'm not talking about that list you made in your 20's detailing a man that's never existed. Sit down and really think about what the realistic MUST haves are...your non negotiables...the dealbreakers, and really be honest with yourself to see if you're in a place in your life to be able to offer those same things in return...indefinitely. It's incredibly important to do this when you're in a good headspace, ideally before you're in a committed relationship, but better late than never.
Now that you have this list you can show it to your partner. You'll both undoubtedly grow and change during the course of your relationship, but it's important to have a mutual understanding and agreement that these are the things that CAN'T change in order for you to stay in the relationship, and it's a good idea to request a list from them as well.
One thing that gets glorified in relationships is codependence. People think the idea that two people can't survive without each other is so romantic, when in fact, it's incredibly toxic. Everyone wants a "ride or die" relationship, but do I really want to die because I disagree with him, or could we have a healthy relationship where I can respectfully challenge his thoughts and decisions, and he can understand that my opposition only comes from a place of love. As long as he's riding for my happiness, I'm willing to ride for his, but neither of us has to die. I want to be a source of support for my husband in any way I can to achieve his highest self, and I expect the same support in return, as long as none of the things on my list has to be compromised in the process of him getting there. That's not to say that we don't need to lean on one another regularly. I think that IS a quality of a healthy marriage, being willing and able to bear more of the weight when your partner is going through something. It becomes unhealthy when you aren't sure if that person were to decide they don't want you leaning on them anymore and you couldn't regain your footing, or if you find that the leaning is getting a little one sided.
Maintain Your Identity
When you're in a long term relationship it's really easy to start taking one another for granted. It's easy to just assume that the other person is going to be there whether it's because you are now codependent on each other, or because you now operate as one person. A good check for this is to ask yourself "Do I make any decisions on my own?" "Do I participate in activities that don't include my partner?", and "Do I have personal goals that don't involve my significant other, and am I encouraged to pursue them?"
Questions like these help to reflect on how codependent you are on your partner, and if you in fact are still focusing on yourself. It's not selfish to maintain a sense of self in your relationship. You came into that relationship with beliefs, goals, and attitudes that attracted your partner initially, so it's okay to keep those. I believe that a healthy marriage is made up of of two individuals that support and cheer on one another throughout their life's journey, not two people that only take a step ahead on that journey when both people are present and agree.
Check out this short video on maintaining your identity once you get married.
Disagreements WILL happen and they're okay. What's important is that you handle them with RESPECT and LOVE. Words hurt, and once you say something, you can apologize, but your partner is never going to forget the way that you made them feel in that moment, and it's hard to move past that. It's not impossible, but the more times it happens, the more hardened and resentful your significant other becomes toward you. People that have a hair trigger should take a moment to calm down before responding when they get mad, and the other person should LET THEM. Don't follow them around picking until they finally say something that hurts you, when they tried to avoid it.
Don't use an accusatory tone, and constantly point the finger at the other person. It's likely that neither of you are completely innocent, and the goal is to get an understanding of why the other person is upset or doesn't feel heard, and for you to feel heard as well. Often we can think that what we are communicating is clear, but that's not always the case. It helps to listen, and when they're done talking, repeat back what you understood from what they said. Try something like, "So what I heard you say is that___________. Is that right?" Listen to understand, and not to respond.
When you're with someone a lot, you learn what triggers them and for many of us that's the go to when they've upset us. For example, if your husband has a tumultuous relationship with his father, and the first thing you scream at him is "you're just like your dad," do you honestly expect anything good to come from that? You can NOT hit below the belt, fight fair. At the end of the day you love one another, and once this blows over you don't want them to feel hurt.
Creating good memories with someone will make all of the above suggestions a lot easier. Who doesn't love to laugh, go to a stand up comedy show, play a couple harmless pranks, or watch a funny movie. There's nothing like laughing with your boo thang. Fourteen years in, Andy and I have inside jokes on inside jokes. We can see a specific person or hear a certain phrase, lock eyes, and DIE laughing. Many of these times will come naturally, but being intentional about putting a smile on your partner's face never hurt either. Try setting up date nights that will likely have you and your partner busting a gut.
We all know that marriage isn't all roses and rainbows, but you should have more good times than rocky ones right? If not, maybe don't lock that in forever. You deserve to be happy and so does your partner, allow them room to be themselves and don't force your beliefs and desires onto them. Lift them up, let them lean on you, and be clear about your wants and needs. No one can read minds, just be honest. It's worth mentioning that the way you communicate with your partner is so so so important, but we hear that all the time, so I wanted to offer some different insight. Simply put, be kind and expect kindness. Now go snag yourself a happy and healthy marriage...if that's what you want.
Just my thoughts,