10 marriage lessons learned in 10 years of marriage

We celebrated our wedding with about 100 family members and friends on a beautiful spring day in Ann Arbor.

Ten years ago today, John and I stood in front of family and friends and promised to stick together ’til death do us part.

One decade down, and with luck, many more to go.

We couldn’t have made it to double digits without learning some things along the way. In honor of our 10th anniversary, I am sharing 10 dos and don’ts that I think have helped get us here.

Disclaimer: I am not a marriage expert. I’m just one woman who feels my life is richer because of my husband. Actual mileage may vary.

Today — five I dos

1. Choose wisely – If you get this one right, the rest are a whole lot easier. “He’s really cute and the sex is good” might sustain a summer fling, but is that how you want to choose the person you might spend 60+ years with?

I think choosing a mate should be, in some ways, like the toughest job interview in the world. Of course romance and attraction are important. I still get giggly when I think about my first dates with John. But we also had many serious conversations about values, morals, lifestyle and life plans. Your life partner influences your life course in ways big and small, so if you’d check the references of a cleaning lady before hiring her, you should put at least that much effort into choosing your spouse.

I saw a great tweet this week from TomZiglar:

Many people spend more time in planning the wedding than they do in planning the marriage. Zig Ziglar

A old couple who’d been married about twice as long as I’d been alive once told me the key to a successful marriage is both partners thinking they got the better end of the deal. That only happens if you choose carefully.

2. Forgive – When you screw up — and you will screw up — do you want your mate to accept your apology and move on? Or do you want her to hold a grudge and throw that mistake in your face over and over again for the rest of your marriage?

John and I have hurt and offended each other along the way. We always talk it through after and try to figure out how not to do that again, and if the person who made the mistake offers a sincere apology, we accept it.

Now if you do the same thing again, you might have to work harder at getting the forgiveness, but it’s still there if you want it.

3. Support each other’s dreams – John really wanted to be a self-employed artist, so even though it meant a likely hit to our household income, I supported him. I really wanted to live in New York, so even though John had already lived in Chicago and San Francisco and felt done with big-city living, he supported me.

When you’re a team, you’re no longer living just for yourself. Your decisions affect your mate’s happiness.

I think one of the best parts of our marriage is that we each try to be the other’s biggest cheerleader. I’m glad to have a mate who encourages me to follow my dreams instead of holding me back.

4. Ask what your spouse needs — John frequently asks me “Is there anything I can do to make your life better?” The answer is usually something mundane like “I’d love a cup of tea,” but just the fact that he’s asking, that he wants my life to be better because he’s my teammate, is something special.

There are also times for deeper explorations of what your spouse needs. We’ve had dozens of conversations about our decision not to have children, and whether that’s right for us. I don’t want to assume that I know what John feels about that, or what he feels about where we might live after New York.

It’s important to ask and to listen.

The golden rule says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The platinum rule is do unto others as they would like you to do unto them. Don’t assume your mate wants or needs the same things you do.

5. Have separate bank accounts – This one isn’t as deep as the above, but I stand by it.

John and I have three bank accounts — his, mine and ours. We each put 80 percent of our earnings into the couple bank account and reserve 20 percent in our individual accounts.

Let’s say I want to buy another pair of shoes and John thinks I could get by with the 20 I already have, and John wants to buy a new piece of art even though we don’t have enough wall space for the art we already have. We can do what we want, with no justification needed, with our own money.

Meanwhile, we each put a percent — not a fixed dollar amount — in the couple account, so if I work hard and earn my bonus at my job or if John sells more art, our collective quality of life can go up. We have a shared financial interest in each other’s success.

Next — five I don’ts


What do you think? I’d love to hear from married folks who agree or disagree with my advice, or who have advice of their own.

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Categories: home and family, lifestyle, Uncategorized

19 replies

  1. Love this: “Is there anything I can do to make your life better” ;-)

  2. Lovely sentiments. Good guidance. Thanks Col.

  3. I could probably supply a lot of information on what not to do.

  4. Nicely done Colleen! I love what you wrote. Support Each Other’s Dreams is so crucial since a fulfilled happy spouse sans regrets is a wonderful person to spend your life with. Another “Do” I would add is a line from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, “Like your job. Love your wife.”

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