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The One Thing That's Kept Me Happily Married for 9 Years

Photograph by Twenty20

At a work picnic recently, I got a glimpse of my husband from across the way. I was chatting with some other women when he and I met eyes. Instantly, butterflies flew through my stomach—something that hasn't happened in quite some time. A wave of gratitude pulsed through me.

In a flash, memories peppered my thoughts. Us up late on the roof of my college house. The moment I first saw his face the day we were married. The night I woke up to find him walking laps around our house, singing to our new baby who wouldn't sleep. The time he brought me fancy olives instead of flowers because he knows what kind of girl I am.

Damn, I'm lucky, I thought.

You see, my husband and I married young. We were both still in college and at the age where most people find themselves making huge mistakes, relying 100% on their parents, and not at all ready to make a lifetime commitment to someone. We actually got a lot of flack from our circle of friends. Many said we were too young or that we'd never make it. (It should be noted that when I see those individuals now, I want to give them an evil "Muhahaha" and say "Look at us now!")

I guess we were lucky though, because we just knew. We knew then in the same way we do now when we catch each other's eyes from across the room. This is it. This is forever. I've found my person.

I've been asked marriage advice from friends over the years and I've said all the usual things. Date each other. Believe in each other's dreams. Respect one another. Communicate. Don't talk poorly about each other to others. The same things you'd find by googling "what makes a good marriage?"

But in all honesty, this is the one thing that has kept me happily married for nine years: We make our marriage about each other. Meaning, he does his best to bring the best out of me and I do my best to bring the best out of him.

If it doesn't sound like rocket science, it's because it isn't.

I remember being in the break room over lunch one day listening to my coworkers talk about their spouses. One man said his wife was "too bitchy." Another man said he didn't like how his wife made him do stuff around the house. (Go back to 1950, turd!) One woman said her husband never did anything nice for her. Another woman said her husband was lazy and just thought about himself.

Now I should warn you, this only works if you're both in on it.

That experience was the perfect little window into so many marital problems. We're all too focused on ourselves. What makes ME happy? What am I looking for? Where is MY identity now that I'm married. Why isn't he/she doing THIS for me? Why isn't he/she supporting me?

If you change your perspective a a little bit and flip the questions to focus on your spouse, you'll notice there's a fundamental shift in your way of thinking. One that I would argue could transform your marriage.

What makes him/her happy? What is he/she looking for? Where is his/her identity? What can I do for him/her? How can I support him/her?

Believe me, I have definitely been inward-focused at times over the past nine years. I have definitely resented my spouse for the ways I thought he was not measuring up. But when I do that, I notice that my attitude toward him is just nasty. It does not reflect a heart of love. It does not show that I am in this for us. It does not reflect a healthy marriage.

Now I should warn you, this only works if you're both in on it, which is why communication is critical! The only way your spouse can support you is if they know what you need, and vice versa. Marriage will soon feel a lot less like work and whole lot more like what you've always dreamed it would be.

You'll know he needs time to be alone somewhere, because that's where he can do some deep thinking. He'll know that after a long day, you just want some good food. So he'll pick you up your favorite take-out on the way home. When he's struggling with something, he'll come to you first and you'll help him work it out. When you have a big crazy idea in your head, you'll tell him and he'll love it, because he loves you.

And when you see each other from across the room at a party, you'll thank your lucky stars for what you've got.