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Brett and I celebrated our fifth anniversary last week. I simultaneously feel like we just met yesterday and like I’ve known him forever. He is kind and gentle, incredibly intelligent, and one of the funniest people I have ever known. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.
But that’s not to say it has always been smooth sailing, because we’re certainly not perfect. There have been a lot of growing pains as we (mostly I) have learned how to navigate life with a person who has different history, opinions, and hopes for the future. And while I know we still have a lot to learn from marriage and each other, I can honestly say that the past five years have changed me for the better and taught me valuable lessons about life, relationships, faith, and even myself. Here are a few that I have found especially beneficial.
Start Important Conversations with Prayer
From the very beginning of our marriage, Brett established a habit of starting every important conversation with prayer, whether it was resolving a conflict or making a big decision. By praying together, we set a cooperative tone for the conversation and invite the Spirit to guide us toward understanding, empathy, and inspired solutions. When feelings are hurt or tempers are rising, even the act of prayer can get us back into the right mindset for resolution. When we’re discussing big choices that need to be made, praying helps open our hearts to revelation and helps us see opportunities we might not have seen on our own. This habit has made such a positive impact on our marriage and on my life that anytime I’m asked to share marriage advice for newlyweds, this is always my answer.
Pray For Your Loved Ones
Brett also set a wonderful example of praying for me when we prayed together. I was pretty good about praying for him in my personal prayers, but there was something special about hearing him pray outloud for my specific needs and desires. It helped me know that he was paying close attention to my struggles and my goals. I have tried to be more intentional about praying for him in our prayers together so that he can feel the same love and concern I feel from him.
As an extension of this, I’ve also leared to be more intentional about praying for friends and other loved ones. Instead of just leaving a generic “I’ll keep you in my prayers” comment on social media and then forgetting all about it, I try to say a prayer right away, and then I keep a small list of people to pray for in my journal so that I remember to keep including them in my prayers.
Always Assume the Best Intentions
Brett has the uncanny ability to see things from a perspective that I can’t always see. When I’m bothered by something someone said or did, he often tempers my temper by acknowledging my feelings and then gently steering me toward a different way of understanding what happened. That guidance is always led by the assumption that the offending party was acting with the best intentions. Sometimes, humans just bump up against each other in uncomfortable ways, even if they never meant to cause harm. Assuming that they genuinely meant well prevents getting upset over an imagined slight and makes navigating human relationships much more pleasant.
But feelings are valid, and sometimes even the best intentions can be unintentionally hurtful. When someone’s actions cause real hurt, it’s okay to communicate that—essential, even—so that we can open the door to better understanding for both parties and establish healthy boundaries. Those who have caused harm may not even realize it until you say something, but the approach you take can make all the difference. I am learning to say, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me with what you said/did. Can we talk about how it made me feel?” Some relationships aren’t conducive to such conversations, but I have found that those who truly care about me are generally willing to take time to talk things through. When both of us are given ample time to explain our perspectives, we can come to a peaceful resolution and plan for future interactions that we both feel good about.
A caveat here: I know from experience that not every interaction is governed by good intentions. I want to be sensitive to that, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that intentionally bad behavior should be tolerated. Some relationships can be helped with counseling or mediation, but sometimes, healthy boundaries require maintaining some distance.
Acknowledge the Good
I get really riled up by the “bumbling dad” trope we see so often in media. You know the kind: the sitcom patriarch who can do no right, his exasperated wife shaking her head on the sidelines. This character has become so widespread that to remove him from rotation would apparently leave writers scrambling to create pitch-able roles for middle-aged male actors. At the same time that the world has been objectifying women, it has been denigrating, belittling, and vilifying men. When we perpetuate these stereotypes—even jokingly—we send the message to our loved ones that such behavior is the limit of their potential. The way we talk to and about people matters.
While it’s important to talk through hard things with those we love, it’s even more important to talk about the good. Like the ten lepers healed by Jesus, we too often forget to express gratitude. And if they forgot to show appreciation for such miraculous help, how much more likely are we to forget to appreciate the everyday goodness in those around us?
I’ve seen the power of acknowledging our loved ones’ strengths—especially those they might not see in themselves—as well as their efforts to work on their weaknesses. This acknowledgement can be as simple as thanking them sincerely for something they’ve done, telling them things you admire about them, complimenting their work, or celebrating their accomplishments. My husband often expresses gratitude for me in our prayers, and I like to record my favorite “Brett Moments” in my journal so our posterity can see what kind of person he is. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that your praise far outweighs the criticism.
Listen and Learn
In the horse industry, there are a lot of different approaches to just about everything. There’s a saying that “everybody thinks they’re a trainer” because so many equestrians believe their way of working with horses is the right way. But despite having 20+ years of experience riding and working with horses professionally, I realized a long time ago that one of the best ways to learn more is to keep my mouth shut and listen to what others are saying. Sometimes, people have really wacky ideas that are totally wrong, but most of the time, there will be a nugget of wisdom that can benefit my own quest to be a better horsewoman.
Likewise, in marriage, it can be tempting to think that your way is the best way. Whether that’s your way of doing laundry or filling the dishwasher or teaching children, we often think that the way we’re used to doing things is the way they’re supposed to be done. But if we stop to listen to our spouse’s perspective, we just might learn a better way of doing things. I have learned countless good things from Brett and I’m grateful to have someone in my life that I can learn from.
What life lessons have you learned from marriage or other relationships? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Personal History Prompt
A combined journal can also be a fun way to document the things you're learning on your journey together. The Love Story bundle from Promptly Journals is a great way to keep a record of your relationship.
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So very interested in advice from Jess 🥰
Aww thanks, Stephanie! 🙂