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The "People Growing Machine"

As we celebrate 10 years of marriage this week, I thought it might be fun to share 10 quick lessons I’ve learned through our relationship - things we guard against and focus on, and advice that often pops up as I work with couples.

1. Your strengths are also your weaknesses.

Can there be too much of a good thing? Uh, yes. I’ve had to learn that some of the things I love most about my husband also drive me the most crazy. For one, I love that he gives the benefit of the doubt so freely, especially when I’m on the receiving end of it, but boy nothing makes me madder than when he gives the benefit of the doubt to people I don’t think “deserve it” - when I think he’s being taken advantage of. Similarly, he views my energizer bunny tendencies as admirable and helpful…until all that energy and activity becomes all-consuming and I drive him, and everyone else, nuts. Know thyself…and reign it in sometimes.

2. We’re not all tested in the same way.

My husband is a great perspective taker, and one thing we discuss often is that what’s hard for me and what’s hard for him are very different: a minor setback for one may be a crushing weight for another. Marriage gives you a front row seat to the core struggles of another person. In those moments, it can be easy to dismiss or minimize things that wouldn’t bother us but that deeply trouble our partners. When we remember we are all uniquely tested, in different times and different ways, it can help us suspend judgement and be more understanding and patient. This may not be our issue, but we have or will have our own, and we will wish for their grace and support in the moments we desperately need it vs. a tough love lecture or dismissive remark.

3. Praise and acknowledge each other more.

Whether you’re a words of affirmation person or not, it gets easy to fall into one of two camps in the stress and bustle of life: get critical and nit pick, or become ships passing in the night, essentially ignoring each other. Taking time to acknowledge ways your partner contributes, things they do well, ways you admire them, things you appreciate…it’s always time well spent, and you can’t really hear it (or read it) enough.

4. Be intentional.

I'll repeat: BE INTENTIONAL. Beautiful marriages and relationships are not by luck. They don’t just happen. You can’t find them once and lock them in. It’s work you do deliberately, every day, when you turn toward each other, make the time, exchange affection and attention, choose grace, and show up for each other. This gets hard when life is busy and there are a million distractions, but if you don’t consciously man the rope that connects you to your partner, you’ll find yourself drifting apart in the ocean of life…and it gets much harder to find each other again once you’ve lost your grip.

5. You’re on the same team, and no one likes to lose.

This is marriage 101 here, but when we’re frustrated it’s the first thing most of us throw out the window. When life gets hard or we’re in a funk, it’s easy to attack or blame our partners instead of inviting them to help. In the heat of the moment, when we get so focused on making our point or “winning” the argument, we forget a simple fact. If you win, they have to lose. The problem is, when you’re on the same team…if they lose, you lose. Finding a way to solve problems and face life’s challenges from the same side, instead of viewing each other as the enemy, is the only way it works.

6. Repair – fast and often.

I love that Dr. John Gottman stresses repair. We can’t avoid all conflicts, and if you’ve been around a while you know I’m a conflict theorist at heart. Conflict is normal, natural, and in many ways necessary for progress. Of course, conflict can be healthy or unhealthy, and that’s a topic for another day. But, the point is not to eliminate conflict. We can learn to engage in it better, but we’ll still get sideways sometimes. When we do, the key is repairing it. Being willing to ask for a timeout in the moment before you say things you don’t mean, or having the presence of mind to offer your partner a reassuring touch or word when things are escalating. And when the blow outs happen, how quickly can you make it right? Are you willing to own your part and apologize? Are you willing to come back and sit near them, or offer a hug or gesture of affection to extend the olive branch?

7. Focus on the good.

What you focus on gets amplified, and over time, it gets easy to see all the messes, the missed chores, and all the little stuff that annoys us and piles up. Since our brains are wired to notice the negative, we have to be deliberate about focusing on the good. Maybe you’re really hung up about socks left on the floor again and an overflowing trash can, but in your anger you’ve overlooked about 10 other things your partner did “right.” When I find myself building a mental list of negatives against my husband I try to squash it and catch him being good. It doesn’t mean we don’t hold our partners accountable on the big or recurring issues, but it again leaves some room for grace. After all, if your partner kept a similar list for you, it’s likely you’d have some misses too, right? Like I said, I’m glad my partner gives the benefit of the doubt so freely, or I’d be toast.

8. Care about what they love.

So, it’s no secret my husband and I are opposites in many ways, and our hobbies and interests are no exception. But, it means the world to me when he will indulge me in some work talk when I’m trying to create something new or talk through a branding strategy. It’s not his idea of fun, but his willingness to humor me on occasion means a lot. Similarly, when I watch a UFO documentary, let him demo a new jiu jitsu move, or listen to excerpts from his latest read, he gets excited. Even if the interest isn’t mutual, it means something to step into your partner’s world sometimes and see firsthand what lights them up.

9. Stay curious.

Relationships are a moving target, and all that effort we put in early on to ask about their goals, favorite movies, favorite foods, and fears isn’t a one and done conversation. As you move through life, continuing to ask those questions often yields new answers. Goals change. Best friends change. Fears change. Hobbies change. Where you were 10 or 20 years ago and what you loved or what motivated you might be very different today. Stay curious about each other and keep a pulse on your partner.

10. Remember your why.

On the less than glamorous days, remember your why. Reflect on the highlights of your relationship, on what you love and admire about your partner, about ways they make you better, and about dreams you share for the future. It pulls you back to a place of connection and alignment, reminds you of what drew you together and why you still choose to be in the relationship – which makes some of the other tips easier to execute (like being more intentional, praising more, focusing on the good, etc.).

I always love the quote from David Schnarch - marriage is a “people growing machine.”

Truer words never spoken.

Here’s to many more, BB.

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