Sixteen years ago, on July 17th, we went on our first date. I was 16; he was 19. By our second date, four days later, it was clear to us both that we were quickly falling for each other as we strolled through a west-end neighbourhood. Seven years later, on July 22nd, we exchanged our official vows in a landmark Toronto wedding location just down the street from where we first enjoyed getting to know each other, listening to each other’s stories, fascinated by our differences and wondering about common personality traits. Now, 16 years later, we celebrate nine years of marriage and 16 years of deep connection.
The story we share feels older than its 16 years. Our history reaches farther back, in a strange, transcendental way that feels comforting and familiar. Throughout that time, we have faced challenges sprinkled among the highlights, the pivotal moments that allowed us to grow closer together while growing up as individuals. I once wondered whether we have much in common. Now, I know that we grew into our own potential with each other’s help, supporting each other along the way, and never missing an opportunity to embark on adventures.
I debated with myself back and forth about whether I should publish the following list. My hesitation was twofold: the list contains personal information; I don’t want to make the impression that I am trying to educate anyone through what might sound like fail-proof success tips. Every person, couple, and marriage is different. Other couples’ circumstances may be very different from ours. This list is simply to highlight what has been working for us, based on our own opinions. I would love for you to share your own tips in the comments below.
- Remembering our roots.
Before we became a couple, we each had our own history. That history shaped me to be the person with whom my husband fell in love. We must never lose ourselves or sacrifice our personalities within a partnership. That’s why it’s important to continue…
- Growing individually, exploring personal interests, and taking care of ourselves by spending time alone.
In my teens, I spent my ‘alone’ time working on my fashion design portfolio (sketching and sewing), practising yoga, freelance writing for local newspapers, painting, taking vocal lessons, and reading as much fantasy fiction as I could. Pawel spent his time designing and building robots and reading Greek mythology (he also enjoyed reading robotics manuals, but don’t tell him I said that). We continue to cultivate our personal interests and they have evolved. These days, I continue to read, knit, write, and practise yoga. Pawel continues to work on electronics, create woodworking projects, and experiment with various other creative projects that are currently top-secret. Self-care is important to us and we each have our own way of nourishing ourselves. By doing so, we continue to cultivate our own self-education while becoming more interesting, better partners for each other.
- Sharing our passions and ideas with each other.
We respect our personal interests because they allow us to explore our creativity, working in parallel, bouncing ideas off each other. I am in awe of the ideas constantly simmering in Pawel’s brain. Mine are more abstract, philosophical, and we enjoy challenging each other to think spherically.
- Making time for each other.
As working parents, we noticed several years ago just how easy it is to allow the regular date night tradition to slide. Since then, we dedicate one night per week to a casual date at home. Usually, it’s nothing extravagant. We have a special dinner with the kids and then either watch a movie, work on a puzzle together, or simply sit and chat over drinks and snacks. Upholding this tradition reminds us that no matter what comes up, as it inevitably will, we both must make an effort.
- Celebrating small successes.
Life can be full of crap moments / days / weeks. If we lose sight of what is most important, it’s incredible how quickly we can tumble down a dark hole out of which it’s difficult to get out. So, we must continue to focus on gratitude toward the basics, celebrating the beautiful people and moments that are most important in our lives.
- Supporting each other.
Dark times are inevitable. Those are the times when I need my husband to be by my side, listening to me without judgment, simply acknowledging my challenges and holding compassionate space. Sometimes, my challenges seem incomprehensible to my husband. As an INTJ, he is cerebral, logical, and brutally honest. As an INFP, I am idealistic, sensitive and emotional. When it feels like we don’t speak the same language, I sometimes need to be specific about how I want to be treated, in what way I need him to support me. I refuse to be quiet about it. The silent treatment never serves anyone.
- Honestly telling each other when we feel that an idea is a bad one.
At other times, I need my logical husband to look at me and tell me honestly that my idea sucks. I have been known to act from an emotional space that sometimes gets me in trouble. At those times, he is my anchor, providing me with a different vantage point, keeping me grounded. There are times when his behaviour is less than ideal and I remind him to tone things down. The important factor here is to hold space for each other and be open to advice that might not naturally appeal to us.
- Cutting each other some slack.
… On the other hand, sometimes we need to go easy on ourselves and each other, letting mistakes slide. INFPs are good at living and letting other people live the way they will. Sometimes, we’re too good at it, to the point of ignoring certain faux pas. I don’t like to be the nagging wife. I don’t enjoy constantly reminding someone to do something. There are times when I ignore dirty dishes in the sink, realizing that Pawel may have gotten distracted with a creative project, or is simply feeling tired. Either I will do the dishes myself or they will get done, eventually. Sometimes, the best choice is to take no action.
- Remembering that disagreements are inevitable, and keeping an open mind.
There are times when we don’t see eye to eye on a certain subject. We argue about it and either reach a mutual decision, or we agree to disagree without holding grudges. The most important factor here is whether the point about which we disagree is truly crucial to our partnership. If it isn’t, we allow each other space to hold our own opinions with no harm to anyone.
10. Remembering that dull times are inevitable.
Some days are mundane. There is no excitement and nothing happens beyond work, laundry, food preparation, cleaning, bedtime routines, morning routines, etc. And that’s okay. Pawel has taught me to be grateful for the ordinary days, for the smooth routines that we have developed, focusing on our health and wellbeing and leaving excitement to another time.
11. Celebrating the moments/days/weeks that are thrilling, exciting, and passionate.
We must never, ever overlook anything important! Whether it’s our children’s first independent steps, an award that one of us received, or a new blog post published. We do our best, together, to commemorate all those moments, no matter how small. Someday, they will be the memories to which we will return to brighten our days.
12. Allowing space for adventure, creating new memories together.
My parents used to take me and my younger sister on adventure outings. We enjoyed driving in a general chosen direction without planning anything specific. Once, we ended up on a beach after dark. The full moon shining on the sun-warmed water of the Mediterranean Sea illuminated the sand and on it, a pile of my parents’ clothing. Before my sister and I realized what was happening, we saw our parents run into the water, wearing only their underwear! We had not planned to go to the beach and did not bring swimsuits with us. As an 11-year-old, I felt mortified to watch my parents run into the water, giggling like teenagers. My four-year-old sister followed suit, deciding that my parents were not allowed to have fun without her. I sat on the sand, shaking my head, looking left and right at the several other lone couples enjoying a romantic evening on the beach, secretly thinking that I, too, would have loved to splash in the warm moonlit sea. Today, this memory of my family is one of my fondest. Times have changed, but I loved seeing the moonlit joy on the faces of my parents and my sister. Now, in our 30s, Pawel and I are the ones creating fun adventures for our kids, some of which do not impress them but just might become fond ones in the future.
13. Seeing each other through newlyweds’ eyes.
After sixteen years together, it’s easy for a partnership to become too familiar, based on friendship and lacking a spark of romance. In eastern philosophy, there is a lesson about learning to experience our world through the eyes of a newborn / beginner. Applied to marriage, I enjoy practising seeing my husband as though for the very first time, really looking at him, studying his forever smiling eyes and the fine lines around them that show his kindness beneath a hint of childlike mischief. I look at his hardworking hands, adorned with calluses and two rings: his wedding band and the symbolic iron ring worn by engineers in North America. I study him as though seeing him before me for the first time. I listen to his deep, soothing voice, smile at his silly sense of humour, and pretend that we are just now getting to know each other for the first time. The result is incredible as time and time again, I continue to fall in love in a new way.
I’m sure that I am missing entire categories in this list, and without giving away too many personal details, I’ll leave the list at this.
Every couple is different. Each relationship is different. If there is anything you would like to add about your own important lessons for a successful marriage, please feel free to do so in the comments below.