Last week, my husband and I celebrated our five year wedding anniversary. FIVE YEARS. I know, I can barely believe it myself. When we first married, I thought we’d spend year five on a luxurious island vacation, stretched out on the beach of a high-end resort. In reality, we spent the weekend camping with our dog, only an hour away from the home we spend every free minute trying to renovate on our own.
The way we chose to celebrate our anniversary isn’t the only thing that turned out differently than I’d expected; my husband and I are, inarguably, both very different people than we were on our wedding day. Our political views, career paths, even our general life plans all shifted throughout the last five years—but we’re still together, we’re still in love, and we’re still happy.
Marriage, Year One
Our partnership is unglamorous. We regularly get caught up in the day-to-day, don’t always kiss hello or goodbye, and more often than not date night consists of laying in bed, streaming Netflix shows on a laptop and eating pizza. If you listen to what Hollywood says about true love, you might think we let our passion die and we’re well on our way to marital turmoil. Before I got married, I might have thought that too.
Half a decade later, I know better.
Here are five lessons learned from five years of marriage:
1. Any married person who says they’ve never considered divorce is lying.
Newsflash: Marriage is hard. I think a lot of couples hear that age-old phrase and interpret it to mean “marriage is hard…for other people.” You’re in for a rude awakening, I promise. Your downs are always going to seem longer than your ups, even if they aren’t. At some point, marriage will feel like an anchor tying you down to keep you from reaching your full potential, even if that’s not the case. And when that starts to happen, a little voice in the back of your mind will start chanting: Divorce! Divorce! Divorce!
More often than not, those voices go away. But if they don’t—open communication with your spouse is just about the only thing that’s going to fix it. I think there’s a societal shame in admitting that it happens, which then prevents couples from openly talking about it. Keeping quiet about marital problems is a recipe for disaster; your silence will calcify into resentment. Chances are, if you clearly communicate to your partner that their behavior hurts you and makes you want to leave, they will want to do whatever they can to fix what’s broken. It’s when one of you stops trying that you might have something to worry about.
2. Cherish every stage.
The honeymoon stage. The pre-baby stage. The homeowner stage. Marriage will exist in a series of stages, some tortuously long and some impossibly short. You’re not required to follow any specific timeline, but be present enough to love where you’re at in each stage, regardless of your plans. If you can’t take the time to be happy together in your one-bedroom apartment, you probably won’t find happiness inside a four-bedroom house.
Five years will fly by, so worry a little less about your next big step and make sure you find a reason each day to love your spouse, love being married, love being alive.
3. Have hobbies outside of one another.
I’ve written before about the dangers of losing yourself in a relationship. It’s so easy to let yourself only exist as a couple, to disappear inside the romance until you’re unable to see yourself outside of the context of your marriage. Maintaining your sense of self is crucial to any successful partnership; you aren’t two halves that complete each other, but two wholes making the decision to navigate the world together.
4. But, maybe share a hobby or two as well.
After several years of marriage, it’s easy to fall into a routine where all you talk about with your spouse is logistics: the mortgage, the kids, whose turn it is to do what, and so on. This happened to my husband and me around year three. It felt awkward to sit down and address the problem, but we figured out quickly there were two things we really like to do together: working out and mountain biking. Those things are ours now, and it always feels a little special when we head to the gym or to the mountains.
5. Make support your number one priority.
My husband is the most supportive person I know. Whenever I feel like I’m facing some insurmountable task, whether that’s switching careers or going to therapy, he never questions my abilities or makes me feel incapable. No matter how outrageous my goal, his first reaction is always “OK, let’s do it. How do we get there?” In this respect, I am in awe of him.
As I mentioned earlier, you’re going to have ups and downs. There will be times when everything clicks, and times when you feel like you’re living with a stranger. Times when the sex is oh-my-god-everything-you’ve-ever-wanted good, and times when it’s just OK because you know what, you’re both tired and you have a morning conference call and maybe you had a big dinner earlier. When things are beginning to seem less-than-perfect, that feeling of support can supersede trivial feelings of doubt. Romance and passion are nice to have, but to me, true love is feeling safe and wanted and understood—and making sure your spouse feels the same.
Marriage, Year Five
I’m not a marriage expert. I’m not a relationship therapist. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her and also share a 401k and a dental plan. Five years of marriage have taught me countless lessons about being a partner, a lover, even just a human being. I’m not perfect, but I’m also not done learning.