By Hannah Brzozowski
Before we get into it, I’d like to share a little bit of Nick's and my love story. We grew up at the same church and have known each other since we were about 5 years old. Our Junior year of high school, we started dating. He was 19 and I was 18 when we tied the knot on June 4, 2011. Throughout the past 10 years, we’ve graduated from college, traveled to almost all 50 states together, been co-workers, moved to Champaign, and started a church!
So here it goes…. in no particular order, here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from 10 years of marriage.
1. Don’t say the “D” word.
Very early on in our marriage, I remember Nick clearly saying: we will never say the word “divorce." At first, his serious tone surprised me. But, looking back, I am grateful for it.
Nick and I come very different upbringings when it comes to marriage. My parents have been married for 37 years. He was raised by a single mom. So, when it came to our marriage, we wanted to be very intentional. So, what does that look like? We won’t say things like “I’m leaving you” in the heat of the moment or “I’m divorcing you” as a joke. That doesn’t mean our marriage has been perfect, far from it. But, I find great comfort in knowing Nick has never even hinted at leaving me.
2. Marriage counseling is a must.
Nick and I had premarital counseling while we were engaged. It gave us a few tools but I don’t think you can really realize what issues you have until you spend some time together, as a married couple.
About 7 years into our marriage, we realized we needed some counseling and I was devastated.
About 7 years into our marriage, we realized we needed some counseling and I was devastated. I always connected marriage counseling with couples that were on the brink of divorce. So, when I called to set up our first appointment, I did so secretly, with all the shame in the world. Now, I can see it was the best thing we ever could have done for our marriage. It helped us grow so much closer together and it helped us dive into some issues that we couldn’t figure out on our own. Yes, it will cost you money. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, you should get marriage counseling. It will help you both more than you know.
3. Stop burying your emotions.
This one I actually learned in counseling. After a couple of sessions, Nick started to ask me at the end of each day how I was feeling that day. We started to realize that a lot of our issues came from me not being able to express how I felt.
This is how it would go: I would stay quiet when Nick did something that upset me. Then, after about 20 or 30 instances of staying quiet, I couldn't take it any more. The response was a huge blow up, where Nick was left feeling very confused. He didn't understand that my hurt was over 30 occasions, not just the last one.
For some reason, I thought that being a “good” wife meant being a “quiet” wife - never stirring the pot.
I realized, through counseling, that I felt like my feelings didn’t matter. For some reason, I thought that being a “good” wife meant being a “quiet” wife - never stirring the pot. So, now, I have to be very conscious about sharing my feelings and even, dissecting them to figure out where they’re coming from.
4. Get started with that monthly budget.
Money is one of the biggest trip-ups in relationships. One thing to know about us: Nick’s the saver, I’m the spender. I grew up secure in finances. Nick grew up pretty poor. So, that shows up in how we deal with money.
When Nick and I first got married, he took care of the budget. He would constantly tell me I couldn’t spend money and then I’d end up either getting upset (or just spending money!). Over time, I realized that I needed to start to take care of the budget and Nick had to trust me to take care of it. It’s not a “fun” job but it’s something that helps us be on the same page and stick to a budget better.
5. Proactively pursue God.
Only you can take responsibility for your spiritual life - your spouse can’t do it for you. When I was 18, I thought that Nick and I would have the perfect Christian marriage. In my fantasy land, I thought that we would pray and read the Bible every day, together. Surprise, surprise…that didn’t happen. Life got in the way and we got busy.
When we got married, my personal relationship with Jesus suffered. I didn’t figure out my time with God until about a year or two in. Hence, one piece of advice I give to people getting married is to make sure you figure out a time to get away just you and God on a daily basis.
6. Keep dating.
Every Wednesday, we have a date. We don’t eat out every time (after I took over the budget that is!), but we make sure that we have time for the two of us to reconnect. We’ve found that it’s important to have different types of dates: side-by-side and face-to-face.
Some dates we've done are: playing tennis, walking the dog around a new park, trying out a new restaurant, playing some board games (best 2/3 wins!), working out together, and even making new recipes together.
Whatever it is, just get time alone together, at least once a month. This prioritizes your marriage and schedules time to be intimate on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level.
That trip made me fall in love with him all over again.
Along the same lines, I would encourage you to have a trip alone together, at least once a year. It can be a fancy vacation to an island or camping 2 hours away. Back in 2016, I’ll never forget a vacation out to the Grand Canyon. We camped, had time to talk in the car, and explored new places. I'll tell you this: that trip made me fall in love with him all over again.
7. Discover their love language.
Nick likes to joke that I have all of the love languages. I enjoy gifts, time together, physical touch, affirmation, and acts of service. In all seriousness, I think my love language is time together and Nick recognizes that. He knows that I feel loved when we go on a hike on our day off and spend hours together.
For Nick, he craves words of affirmation. So I know that I need to encourage him daily and be his biggest cheerleader. My words mean more to him than anyone else’s.
8. Share the load.
This one we’ve learned, recently. When we first got married, Nick was in school and stressed out of his mind, so I just automatically started to do almost all of the chores and cooking. This continued for years.
A few months ago, we talked about how I didn’t want to take on that entire load any more. It was too much to try to do everything and keep track of everything. Nick’s now learning how to cook more and every Saturday, we’re doing chores together.
9. Take off the rose-colored glasses.
When you first get married or start dating, typically, you have rose-colored glasses. Your partner can do no wrong and if they do, it’s not that bad. Fast forward a few years and this person is making you more angry than anyone else. They say or do hurtful things. You’re fighting into the night and going to bed angry, so confused how this is the same person you chose all of those years ago.
It’s so important to realize that the person you married is a person with flaws. And guess what? You have flaws too. Marriage will show you how many things you have to work on and it will make you better, even though it’s not always fun.
Another tip when it comes to fighting: don’t leave the house in anger. You can go in the other room or step outside for a second. But don’t storm off. Instead, stick around. I’ve found some of our biggest fights, are resolved in the next few moments when one of us calms down and realizes that we were overreacting or too harsh. But, if you leave, they/you can’t apologize very easily.
10. Pray together.
Finally, I believe that putting God at the center your marriage or relationship will help it be the best it can be. For Nick & I, this has been a focus of our entire relationship. It’s not always easy. Sometimes, I want to rely on Nick more than I rely on God. Then, I end up realizing that God is the only one that can ever give me everything I need.
We simply can’t fulfill all of each other’s needs, and that’s ok.
We simply can’t fulfill all of each other’s needs, and that’s ok. We have a God that can. With that, praying together often can help you put the focus on God and less on yourselves. For Nick & I, we set aside time to pray and worship and refocus ourselves on God on a weekly basis.
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