Anniversary Musings

My husband and I have an abnormal story. And now that I look back, I realize that getting married with intense parental pressure and control after being in a relationship for a total of 2 ½ months (including courtship and engagement) gave us a pretty rocky start.

Six years later we still love each other, and I’ve often wondered how on earth we managed to grow together through all the changes in our life!? I think it helped that we are from similar backgrounds, we are close in age and both became disillusioned with fundamentalism at around the same time. I also think that because we literally had never lived our own lives at all, (we had always been under parental control) we sort of grew up together after we got married.

Lately, as my husband and I have chatted about ideas that have helped our relationship grow, I thought I’d share them for our Anniversary week. So here are some of the “Rules of engagement” that have shaped our first 6 years.

#1 No sharing fights with family or friends.

We explicitly outlined this rule shortly after we were married. Both of us come from very controlling families, and we could sense that sharing marital conflict or asking for marital advice would be dangerous. The few times that our families got wind of disagreements between the two of us (real, or completely imagined by them) we got a range of “advice”. Depending on my parents opinion of whatever the issue was, I was told either to submit and let him lead, or (if they didn’t like his position) that I didn’t have to just do whatever my husband said to (which made no sense coming from them, since that was pretty much all they had ever taught me about marriage.) My husband’s family, would advise my husband to keep things from me and “make the decision on his own, because he was the man of the house.” In reality, they just knew how to control him better than they knew how to control me (the new member of the family) and they liked to eliminate me as a barrier so they could get him to do whatever they thought was best.

Looking back, the decision not to share our fights with them was probably one of the best we have ever made. Sometimes it was very tempting to go get the pat on the back from a good friend or family member, and be told that you are right, and that your spouse will have to come around. But by eliminating those biased advice sources, we were forced to deal with each other and actually work things out.

(That being said, sometimes a third party can be very helpful. But we’ve tried to go with someone as unbiased as possible, such as a counsellor.)

#2 No dirty fighting.

We fight. No dirty fighting means no getting physical, no name calling, and no using the words “always” or “never”. Nowadays, disagreements are usually small, and we work them out fairly quickly. Those really big duels that last all day only happen once or twice a year. But early on in our marriage, this rule was essential, since the big fights happened like every week. We were horrible at communicating when we got married. Both of us had endless expectations and unspoken rules and dysfunction coming out of our family systems. And both of us have the tendency to shut down and give up on working it out when we feel like we aren’t being heard. Making the choice to fight things out was very important in our marriage, because it forced us to communicate. Without those hours of fighting early in marriage, I’m not sure we would be where we are today. Learning how to communicate our needs and feelings and problems has been crucial for our relationship, we can even communicate without fighting now! (Yay!) Dirty fighting would have only hindered this learning process. We made the rule against fighting dirty, because we had been modeled passive aggressive manipulation by our parents, and we wanted to learn how to communicate without that.

#3 Sex is not a weapon.

This means no kicking your spouse out of bed when you don’t like them. Yes, there are always those times when one of us would love to get busy but the other is sick, or too tired to make it happen. But this rule means that having a fight that day doesn’t qualify as a good reason to avoid each other.

Sometimes at the end of a long ordeal, everything would feel so hopeless. We still disagreed just as much as ever, there seemed to be no resolution or solution. But even if we were failing miserably to connect on every other issue, we could still have sex. No, it didn’t fix all the problems, or make them go away. But it was a way we could connect even when our words failed us. Is it easy to connect physically when you are having emotional conflict? No. Is it strange to interrupt an intense argument that is going nowhere with “well, I don’t like you, but why don’t we go have sex?” Yes. But it is worth it to try and fumble through the awkwardness and make an effort, rather than let this resource be locked away until some distant day in the future when we are on the same page. (Plus if you’ve never had sex while really really emotional, take it from me, you might just be missing something.)

#4 Talk, talk, talk.

I’m pretty sure this is the reason we are still married. We talk. A lot. About everything. (And I do mean everything.) When I hear about couples having a weekly date night to reconnect, I honestly don’t know how they do it. In our marriage so far, we’ve spent hours every day talking. Whether it’s hashing out some issue while sharing a meal, calling our spouse on the phone to chat about how our day is going, sending each other emails, or talking long hours into the night instead of going to sleep. Those weeks that talking doesn’t happen as consistently, are usually the ones where we end up talking (literally) all day long on Saturday. We are each other’s closest confidant and friend. We tell each other everything, even the really touchy stuff, and that really boring stuff. And yes, that means I have to listen when he expounds on population statistics or dreams about traveling around the world in a jeep. And he has to listen to me ramble about blog friends and rant about religion. We talk about our beliefs, questions, dreams, ideas, family problems in our homes of origin, childrearing, religion, relationship, sex and money. He is the only one who really knows everything about me and vise versa.

#5 Don’t make fun of each other

Now I’m not talking about a good natured little jab in private about something we are both on the same page about. I mean belittling my spouse’s fears or dreams, or poking at their insecurities. Even in areas we totally disagree on. If you finally get up enough courage to reveal something close to your heart, and the person you are telling laughs at you, can you really feel safe to share with them again? If you tell your impossible dream and the response is just confirmation that you will never be able to achieve it, that message is very hard to shake. Since we know our spouse’s soft spots, using them against them would be fighting dirty, which is against the rules over here. Avoiding this type of behaviour can include eliminating those digs about weight or appearance as well as beliefs and doubts, and whatever else your spouse is sensitive about. It also means avoiding putting your spouse down in front of others (those kinds of wounds last a long time) and being subtle or passive aggressive doesn’t make it OK either. Open, encouraging communication is a much better option.

So there you have it.
Do we agree on everything? No.
Do we make hasty statements and judgments and assumptions? Yes.
Do we have the same dreams and ideas? Sometimes.
Do we love each other? Yes.

What are the ideas and “rules of engagement” that have helped you in your relationship?

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  • CM

    I think these are awesome! All of them make a lot of sense, but I have to say that from observing friends and such that especially 1, 3, and 5 should be used by a lot more people.

  • Libby Anne

    I love this! These are some pretty darn good rules. I really like the not sharing conflicts with family one – like you, I realized the importance of that early, but with us it's only my family that's the problem. In fact, I pretty much stopped asking my mom for advice completely, around the time that I realized that her answer to "I'm having trouble making friends in our new community" would always be "can't you make some friends at your church?" and that the answer to complaints about two year old behavior would always be "why don't you reread To Train Up A Child?" Yeah, about that.

    As to rules we have…I guess the biggest has been to not stay angry too long, but to work whatever it is out. Also, and related, if we're really stuck in an argument we both try to step back and think about what is best for us as a couple and a family, rather than just as individuals, and that usually helps.

  • Joy

    Happy Anniversary!
    I very much like your rules and am impressed by #2 ~ after 8 yrs the best I've managed is to consistently say " I FEEL like you always/never …."

  • Sandra

    I'm impressed that you two can find hours every day to talk with so many children (or any children). My husband and I were best friends, even when he was incommunicado on submarine service for three months at a time. But when the kids came–we lost that. Date night once a week? I think we've had date night once in the last year! We finally began to realize that this is probably not a good thing but we are too stuck in the patterns that led us here to get out easily–and I'm not sure we're terribly motivated. :(

    You two had a lot of strikes against you when you got married, odds were that you should have crashed and burned before now. That you have remained together and not just survived but thrived together is a testament to commitment and communication. Congratulations.

  • Amy

    Happy Anniversary to you two!! So wonderful!

    Love how you offer respect and kindness to each other. :)

  • Rebekah

    I really like this post. It is encouraging. Happy Anniversary!

  • Maggie

    Great post! I totally agree with all of them!

  • Anonymous

    We say "I love you". A lot actually, but ALWAYS: before we go to sleep, before we hang up the phone, and when one of us leaves the house. Even if we're annoyed with each other. Because you can be annoyed with someone you love and still love them.

    Besides, if my husband walks out the door and gets plowed down by a bus (God forbid), I want the last thing he heard me say to him be "I love you."


  • Pippi

    The "sex is not a weapon thing" was one of my beliefs from the beginning. Lately though I've had to establish some firm boundaries. I wish I had sooner; maybe then it wouldn't have built up to the point where I lashed out in a fury and said a lot of true, but very hurtful things. I'd be a lot less frustrated if he could actually remember the hurtful thinhs he does. But that's something I am learning to accept and work with.

  • Pippi

    My annoying touch-screen phone wouldn't let me finish the comment hehe. I was going to add that not sharing our fights was always a good thing. We never made it a rule; it was just an unspoken understanding that neither of our families were qualified to give advice. After a while I finally HAD to talk to someone, and told my mom a little of what was going on. She mostly seemed to take his side. She doesn't understand addiction, and as a codependent herself it became counterproductive for me to share with her. Talking to his mother was my first wake-up call to what kind of mother she actually was, and that ended very quickly. Since I don't have close friends, and no money or transportation for therapy, I've ended up just collecting information from various sources God has brought me. And my oldest sister has been a big help, because she listens with sympathy, doesn't gossip, and offers very little advice.

  • Michelle

    I love these. My husband and I never set out any hard and fast rules, however, we have followed almost all of these and are about to celebrate our 12th anniversary on the 24th of this month.

    Keeping arguments and fights between yourselves works for all kinds of relationships…not just marriages, too. My sisters and I have kept our disagreements just to ourselves and worked them out and it's been a very good thing not to have parents or other siblings involved.

    Also, sex has just never played that huge a role as a thing of "power" for us, but I like that idea. I do think people use it as a weapon in marriages far too often…and our society perpetuates that, too.

    Great post! Congrats on your anniversary!

  • Anne —

    Happy Anniversary!!

    I don't think we have any written-down rules, but I think all of those are on our unwritten list ;)

  • Young Mom

    Libby Anne- Yeah, I had to stop asking my mom for advice too. Like you said, she was always telling me to spank my kids, and blaming everything I was even a little bit down about on my husband for some reason. It drove me crazy. Now I just talk about the weather and what the kids have been up to lately.

    Joy- “I feel” is a great way to talk about it too. We had to add the “always/never” rule because I could hardly complete a sentence without using one of those words. Wow was that hard habit to break!

    Sandra- Me too! I have no idea how we find time to talk. I guess that is why we have a hard time getting to bed at a decent time. It is hard to break out of familiar patterns. Maybe instead of a weekly date night, you can start with sending each other a text message every day at lunchtime, or something like that.

    R- That’s a wonderful idea.

    Pippi- ((Hugs)) Glad you have some support.

    Michelle- 1 and 3 were our only “rules” to start with, the other ones kind of came together over time. Congratulations on 12 years!

    Anne- These weren’t written anywhere, but I guess they are now! : )

  • Libby Anne

    Young Mom – "Now I just talk about the weather and what the kids have been up to lately." That's what my mom and I talk about now too! Except that I have to be careful to talk about what my little one is up to without mentioning daycare, lol.

    Also – I guess I didn't say it, but happy anniversary! Mine is coming up too, but it'll only be our third. And as you say – communication is KEY. I personally think that's the biggest key to a good marriage.

  • Rebecca

    When we got married, my mom gave me some great advice. She told me NOT to tell her about conflicts between the two of us. She said, "You will quickly forget the conflict, but I will remember it because you are my daughter and it will be hard for me not to hold a grudge." I really appreciated her hands-off approach on our conflicts. It also forces us to solve our own disagreements. We have never run home to Mommy.

  • Rebecca

    I so strongly agree with #5…I see so many spouses do this to each other. I see so many negative words spoken publicly of each other. I have done it on occasion but I really try not to. You can kind of tell what kind of marriage people have by how they speak of each other in public. I love seeing spouses that brag about each other.

  • bluebleakember

    I've been married nearly two years. We definitely had a fair amount of squabbles early on, but they were made worse because the way I was determined to implement "submit to your husband in everything" was *not* healthy when combined with the fact that I had never developed much of an independent self, and that my husband naturally tends to be a bit OCD and hence controlling.

    I've had to learn to trust my instincts more as we set about to establish our unique relational dynamic, instead of relying so much on things I was taught (which were basically that the key to all marital troubles was for the wife to be more "submissive"). I made the realization very early in our marriage, that no matter how unfair or unsensitive he was being, if any of our four parents caught whiff of a dispute between us, *I* would be the one met with blame and disapproval.

    Lol, it was a great opportunity to learn to self validate. :) I've made the amazing discovery that the less I rely on marriage advice (and there is a lot out there, good and bad) and the more I simply follow my own heart, the *better* my marriage is. Praise Jesus, who renews our hearts instead of forcing them into molds!

    Anyway. Happy Anniversary!

  • Anonymous

    I've never commented before, but I love your thoughtful blog. I agree with some of the other comments that these are some very impressive, mature things to get early on. (or even ever! :)

    As I was reading #4 about talking, I got a little sad at first. I want to talk, talk, talk through all the details of the personal issues in my relationship, because that's how I process things. I analyze and verbalize. But my husband is not a talker in the same way. He finds discussions about deep personal issues challenging and draining. So for us, a weekly date night to reconnect is helpful because if we decide in advance what topic we'll discuss, he can think it over in his timing and it becomes less stressful. It's a compromise. I can't force discussions on a whim, and he must find a way to talk with me on occasion.

    And thinking through that made me realize what I think the most important idea or rule in our relationship: accept and love your partner for who they are. If I was always disappointed that he couldn't talk about personal things spontaneously and at length like I want to, I would be failing to accept him for who he is. And if he remained forever annoyed that I wanted to discuss things ad nauseum, he would be failing to accept me. After you have truly accepted someone for who they are, there is usually room to compromise.

    Thanks for writing and happy anniversary!


  • Ami

    No written rules here after nearly 31 years of marriage, but I can tell you that being 100% committed to each other, placing our relationship first and remembering that we always have each other's back is like an anchor. Or a rock. Or a foundation. Pick your comparison.

  • violet

    Hello! I've recently found your blog, and I haven't been married for as long as you have (we've been "together" for a long time but only got married a year and a half ago), but here are some things I've found to be absolutely key in my relationship:

    * The phrase "who is going to win this one?" can sometimes cut off an argument. It opens up a space for one of us to decide that actually we don't need to win, and can capitulate gracefully.

    * I want to talk everything through right then and there. My beloved tends to want to think about it first. "Can we talk about this later?" reassures me that we will in fact talk about it (and we always do), and allows my beloved needed space.