I have always looked forward to the possibility of one day being married. My parents are wonderful people and have been happily married for 30 years.
After hanging with them since birth, marriage seemed like a pretty sweet gig to me. Fast forward a few years, I went to college, started a career, grew up (somewhat), had a few relationships and experienced a taste of the real world.
Here is what I’ve learned: Relationships can hurt; love can stink; people split up all the time; marriage... is... HARD.
I was naïve to the undertaking of a marriage because I had two people who made it look pretty darn easy.
I know now that they didn’t coast through their marriage while harps played and angels sang, but made the conscious decision to devote their lives to each other and their family.
Here is what I have learned from my parents' 20-year marriage.
1. Don’t hit below the belt
Arguments happen, and you will disagree, but make it a point to never say something that will wound your partner.
Remember that cruel comment someone said years ago that still haunts you to this day? Don’t do that to the one you love. Fight, but fight fair.
2. Stay flirty
I saw my parents dance in the kitchen after dinner, kiss and hold hands my entire life.
It was disgusting to me as a kid, but even though this completely grossed me and my siblings out, we always knew for a fact that our parents loved each other, and they knew it, too.
3. Accept the little flaws
Okay, so maybe your significant other turns into Attila the Hun when he or she hasn't eaten. (It is also possible this person may be me.)
No one is perfect; instead of letting it be a deal-breaker, accept your partner's quirks and carry a granola bar in case of emergencies. Your SO may have his or her small flaws, but you know the good traits absolutely outweigh the bad.
4. Be a team
Don’t wine and complain about your partner to other people. Not only does it hurt your relationship, it also makes you look pretty dumb and puts your friends in an uncomfortable spot.
Maintain a united front with your friends, in-laws and coworkers.
No one is a bigger fan of your SO than you. He or she may have left the dishes in the sink and forgotten to make the bed, but that's your homie! You should always have your partner's back.
5. Make time for romance
This is more than just physical touch. After 30 years, my mom still smiles when my dad calls; she says, “Hang on, my boyfriend is calling me." My dad greets her with “hello beautiful” every day. I am not making this up.
The desire to be romantic and hopelessly in love can wear off in two years or 10.
Don’t let the urge to make each other feel special die. Make the decision to bring her flowers with a sweet note, tell him how much you appreciate him and to go out on that special date together.
Pick a partner who brings joy into your life. Life can be hard, trials will be faced and your 2-year-old will smear poop all over himself. The least you can do for yourself is pick someone who will make you laugh, even when you’re cleaning up the poop, ya know?
7. Take time to be alone together and reflect
Take walks together will no cell phones. Read a book together and talk about it. These will be some of the best conversations you have with one another. Take time to check in with each other and connect.
Also, from what I’ve heard, taking walks is a great way to get away from your kids.
8. Don’t fight in front of people, especially your kids
This goes back to number four. No one likes pretending to ignore the couple in a fight at the party. We are listening; we can hear you. Though this will give us something juicy to talk about on the drive home, find somewhere private to hash it out.
Likewise, no child should hear his or her parents waging war against each other. Ever.
Arguments undoubtedly happen and are healthy for relationships, but do yourselves a favor and do it in a place away from prying and innocent ears.
9. Take care of yourself
People get older; children are born; years pass and no one expects you to look like you did when you were 22, but take care of yourself. Eat well so you can live a long life together. Exercise and take the time to look extra spicy for that date.
Nothing keeps the fires burning like your spouse thinking you’re hot after 50 years and still trying to grab your butt.
10. It’s okay to ask for help
Here is a secret: No one has a clue what they are doing. We are all just winging it here.
Relationships will never be flawless, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Humble yourself and admit to each other that maybe you need to call in reinforcements.
Reach out to a couple you respect for advice, attend a couples seminar together or go to counseling. This is not an admission of your weakness, but your humanity. Rough patches are inevitable; how you face them together is your decision.
11. Choose your best friend
I love what Pam from "The Office" said about her relationship with Jim:
When you’re a kid, you assume your parents are soul mates. My kids are gonna be right about that.
I am fortunate enough to be “right about that.” I’ve asked my mom countless times, “HOW? How have you made it work?” Her answer is always the same: "He’s my best friend.”
Hold out for the type of love that is worth the wait. Don’t feel pressured to settle as a result of the engagement and baby announcements on Facebook.
Wait for your best friend to come along, the one who is crazy in love with the real you, good and bad. With him or her as your partner, spending a lifetime together may be hard, but it will also be astoundingly wonderful.