What the past 20 years as a missus have taught me about love and marriage

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. I can scarce believe it’s been two decades of marriage! We married young. I was 20 and only halfway through undergrad. He was 22 and had just gotten a full-time job while going to school part-time.

A lot has changed since we first said “I do,” and yet a lot has remained the same as well. We have grown and changed together. We have learned so much about what love and marriage really mean.

1. Being married doesn’t mean losing yourself.

Since we got married young, we were both still figuring out our place in the world. We knew some of who we were, but we hadn’t had a huge amount of life lived to really refine and define us. We just knew we loved each other and God — and that was enough.

Through the years, we also learned that being married as one didn’t make each of us any less of who we were individually. In fact, being together brought out the best of our individual selves. I am a better person today because of my husband. And sometimes it’s OK to do things apart from one another. Even as husband and wife, you still need your own space.

2. Marriage is a team sport.

I probably say this more than anything else when I talk about marriage and relationships. We are a team. Though neither one of us are sports fans, we learned early on to be a team and have a team mentality in our relationship.

Our goal above all is to support one another and be on the same side. My husband and I do best when we approach life as a team working together instead of as opponents each looking out for ourselves. Nobody else has my back more than my husband and the same is true in reverse. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders and are the safe place for each other to land when life is hard.

3. Laughter and fun are vital to a happy marriage.

We laugh a lot. Life is serious. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it brings us to our knees, but any chance we find for humor, we take it. We laugh together as much as we can because taking ourselves too seriously never ends well. Laughter also gives us perspective on whether something is really all that important. We try to adhere to the thought that if we’re going to laugh about it later, why not go ahead and laugh about it now?!

And my husband 100 percent gets my quirky, punny sense of humor and exploits it often. I’m not sure I should be as old as I am and still giggle, but he still makes me giggle. For that, I am thankful!

We also have fun together playing games. Gaming was his hobby when we first got married. Through the years I have evolved from a gamer’s wife into a gaming wife, and I’m so glad I did. We have such a good time together when we get a chance to play together!

4. Marriage is made for giving grace.

My husband has taught me so much about grace just by giving it to me. Sometimes I get snippy with my husband because I’m having a bad day or a bad moment, and he will respond with love instead of irritation. I’ve done the same for him. Grace isn’t an excuse to treat each other badly. It just means that when one of us is having a bad moment, the other one recognizes it and doesn’t respond with anger or irritation and escalate the situation.

We also don’t partake in the blame game when someone messes up. We learned that the second day we were married when we ran out of gas on our way to our honeymoon. We were both so excited to be married and going somewhere together that neither of us remembered to get gas on the way. Instead of blaming one or the other of us, we both realized it was a mistake and figured out how to fix it while also having a great story to tell for years to come.

5. You’ve got to make each other a priority.

My husband and I both work from home. While I’ve worked from home since 2003, he has only worked from home the last few years. For the last year or so, we’ve shared a home office. So, we are together a lot. In fact, we’re together more than we’re not.

Yet, we still have to make connecting with each other a priority. Because life gets in the way. While we work side-by-side, we have different jobs. Add in house stuff and the kids, and actually connecting can be challenging. We’ve found that making time to have a meal just the two of us or chatting once the kids are in bed is important for our relationship.

6. Being married means being your true self with someone else.

I think one of the best ways to know if you really, truly love someone is how comfortable you feel being yourself with them — being your true self that comes out when you’re at home and nobody is watching. My husband and I have that comfort with each other. He has seen me at both my best and worst and loves me still. I have seen him at his best and worst and still love him. I am thankful we can be comfortable with each other.

7. Spouses aren’t mind readers.

While my husband knows me better than anyone else, he still can’t read my mind. Early on in our marriage, I learned that communicating well is important. If there is something I want or need my husband to do, I ask politely.

My husband is highly annoyed by passive aggressive behavior. (Really, who isn’t?!) We have learned to cut it out of our interactions. It’s nice because we know what we say is what we mean. The only games being played around our house are of the video, board or role playing variety — not in our relationship.

8. Poking fun at each other isn’t a good idea.

We don’t make fun of each other. It’s another lesson learned early on that poking fun or joking at the other person’s expense can lead to hurt feelings and undermine our relationship. We do joke with each other and can poke fun at ourselves. But we definitely know the limits.

9. Keeping God in your marriage is important.

From the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I strived to honor God with our choices. When we got engaged, that only became more important and more serious. Our engagement in the middle of college caused some friction, and we found ourselves in prayer and Bible study to determine whether we had heard God correctly or not.

Our marriage spiritual walk has changed and grown as we have. We did a pre-marital Bible study together. We’ve done couples’ devotion books together. We now do a family devotion together with our kids each evening. I’ve learned that my husband has some awesome spiritual insight and thoughts that haven’t occurred to me. He is one of the only people I feel comfortable with getting into the really meaty struggles of faith and my relationship with God because I know I can trust him fully.

We have kept each other accountable. We have encouraged each other in our faith walks. We have grown spiritually together. We have joint stories of God’s work, goodness, grace and mercy that we can share. I’ve also learned that when my relationship with God is on track and growing then my relationship with my husband is even better.

10. Talking negatively about your spouse to others isn’t helpful.

When we were first married, we had some friends who were also newlyweds and would gripe about their spouses. We made a deal that if we had a problem with each other, we would address it with the other and not complain about it to our friends.

That policy has served us well. First of all, we don’t want to focus on the things that can drive us crazy about our spouse, which is what happens with griping. Second, it keeps us communicating and fixing issues, which is healthy. And third, our friends will remember negative gripes we’ve had about our spouse long after we have forgiven them and moved on.

11. Bragging on your spouse is always permitted.

Everybody loves compliments. The more you can brag on your spouse about what they are good at or do well, the better you feel about him and the better he feels about him and you as a result.

Nothing feels better than being recognized for what you do or what you do well. So many life experiences go against positivity. Any time you can be positive about your spouse, do so!

12. Being best friends with your spouse is awesome.

While I do have other friends, my husband is by far my best friend. He’s the person I go to first with good news or bad news. He’s the person I laugh with the most and genuinely want to hang out with the most.

As an introvert who needs alone and downtime, I can enjoy the company of friends but still feel a bit drained as a result. That isn’t true with my husband. He sees the real me and is still my best friend. I am so thankful for that!

13. Sometimes you just have to trust your spouse’s knowledge.

One of the things that drew me to my husband way back when we were in high school was how intelligent he is. He is a smart guy. He thinks outside the box. He comes up with efficient ways to accomplish tasks. He can visualize things that I cannot.

Long ago, I learned to trust his knowledge when it is superior to mine. When we were looking for a new house a decade ago, we had a discussion as to whether the dining room set we had would fit in one of the houses we were looking at. I wasn’t sure. My husband said yes. I conceded he knew best because I really can’t visualize well and know he can. Our realtor was shocked. But it just makes sense. He has strengths. I have strengths. It makes sense to use those strengths instead of fight against them.

14. Romance changes as you go.

One time when my husband and I were dating, he gave me a small teddy bear holding a pair of earrings. Another time, I left him a note on his car while he was inside his work. Those were sweet and romantic gestures, but they were nothing compared to the romantic gestures of love that come with being married for so long.

For example, he’s driven me out of state for doctor appointments many times to allow me to see a specialist for my chronic health issues. While that may not scream romance as we see it in movies and on television, it does to me. He has given up his own time and comfort because he loves me and wants me to feel better. He has worked late to be able to take off and go with me. He hasn’t complained when I wasn’t up to even help with driving. That is romance and love beyond anything a flower or card could say.

15. Traditional romantic gestures are still nice and appreciated!

While number 14 is 100 percent true, we do also still appreciate traditional romantic gestures. Nice meals out just the two of us are priceless. A card left with words of love is sweet. Surprise flowers or flowers for an occasion are precious.

On our anniversary last week, for example, I spent the afternoon with both kids swimming on their last day of summer break. I came home worn out and found a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a nice card and my favorite candy waiting for me from my husband. It was unexpected, and I looked a frightful mess. I also loved every moment of it!

16. Good life experiences are even better when shared with someone you love.

I love being a mama. But I love more sharing the parenthood journey with my husband. I love sharing all my journeys with him. We can share a quick look and know what the other is thinking. No one else finds our children so adorable, smart, charming, precious and hilarious as we do.

No one else understands the small victories (or big ones) we have quite as much as each other. We’ve celebrated together over things that don’t make much sense to anyone else, which is exactly how it should be!

17. Marriage is made for inside jokes.

I’ve struggled many times throughout my life with feeling left out, whether legitimately or perceived. If there were inside jokes, I often wasn’t included.

However, that’s not true with my husband. And in 25 years of being together, we have plenty to go around. There are things that happened a decade or more ago that still can come up randomly and make us laugh together. Inside jokes are a pretty precious gift, even (and maybe especially) when no one else would find them remotely funny.

18. Take and print photos.

When my husband and I first got married, it was before digital cameras were common and way before phone cameras were around. In fact, a video from the day of our wedding includes a friend of ours talking about his new digital camera and how it holds six pictures!

In our early days we used film cameras. I started a photo album tradition for each year we were married of putting together photos for that year with captions. That meant having the photos printed, the typing, printing and cutting out the captions before putting them together into albums.

While my process has changed, thanks to online photo sites, I still make an album for each year with photos and caption info. I’ve found these to be priceless even after only 20 years. Having recently gone through photos of my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary, I can only say they’ll get more precious with time. I hope one day our kids will be glad to have them, too.

Taking photos of each other and together even when you aren’t social media ready is important. And I’d daresay it’s also important to have some cherished photos just for you and not just to post on social media.

19. Marriage means having a built-in sounding board.

I enjoy being able to bounce ideas off my husband, and he enjoys the same in reverse. Sometimes making both large and small decisions is just easier when you have someone to talk it through with.

We have talked together through major life decisions like having babies and moving. And we regularly talk through very minor decisions like what home project to work on next or what after-school activities our kids can participate in.

20. Marriage gives you a permanent sidekick.

This is one of my favorite parts of marriage. I’ve got a person by my side for always. Sometimes that looks like my husband going with me to a friend’s wedding or me going with him to a family reunion. Other times it looks like him taking over with the kids so I can go to dinner with a friend or I take over so he can play games with friends.

We’ve each gone to events for one another that we didn’t really want to, but it’s always been better being together than apart. We learned early on in our marriage to discern and communicate what activities are important to have each other there and what ones are OK to give a pass. Being honest with each other about what is most important to us has helped us know how to best be there for each other and be able to rely on each other to come along when we ask them to.

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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20 lessons on marriage in 20 years20 lessons on marriage in 20 years20 lessons on marriage in 20 years20 lessons on marriage in 20 years