Today, my wife Ashley and I celebrate eight years of marriage. I’ve learned so much about life and relationships from this woman, so much of which has surprised me.
Recently, we went out to eat at a super-fancy place thanks to a gift card from a friend. While gorging ourselves on every appetizer, entree, and dessert we could stuff in our mouths (because we were really trying to max out the ridiculously generous gift card), we reflected on our life together and what we wanted the future to look like.
Afterwards, I was struck by the fact that marriage did not turn out the way I thought it would. It ended up being much, much better. Here are seven somewhat surprising lessons I’ve learned from my marriage, and these apply to a lot more than just matrimony:
- You were not meant to be alone. I don’t think everyone needs to or even should get married, but I do know that life happens best in community. And having a partner by your side is essential to staying encouraged and staying sane. I used to think that you needed to learn to be okay on your own before getting married (and there’s some truth to that), but now I know that we were meant to need each other.
- You can’t make someone else happy. But you can help them find their own happiness. You can drive yourself nuts trying to fix someone else. It’s better just to love them and do what you can to guide them to where they, not you, want to go.
- You have to celebrate the good but remember the bad. No one should live a life of regret, but remembering the moments when you’ve failed will help you not repeat the same mistakes later.
- You don’t think things can change until they do. A friend who’s been married 25 years told me the one thing he wished more people would realize is how much a person can change. There’s hope. In spite of what we often believe and say, people do, in fact, change. They just get stuck sometimes in familiar patterns and don’t know how to break out of them. Ashley has taught me so many things about being a grownup, things I thought were impossible to learn… until I did.
- You should never apologize with the word “but.” Apologies do not come with exceptions or rationalizations (I am still learning this). And “I was wrong” sounds a lot more convincing than a halfhearted “I’m sorry.” This was hard for me, because I fear not being heard, but I now know that an apology with a reason for why I did what I did is really just an excuse.
- You should always have something to look forward to. Anticipation can break the monotony of familiarity. That’s not to say that the daily routine can’t be a beautiful thing; it can be. But we all get bored sometimes and need a goal to aim for. Hope produces joy.
- Your quirks are what make you lovable. It’s not true that opposites always attract, but it’s also not true that you should marry someone just like you. Or partner in business with them, for that matter. The truth is we need each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies — in life and relationship. Our differences don’t divide us. They make us need one another.
- You will be misunderstood. This has been a tough lesson to learn, but an important one. We all want to be understood by the people we love, and it can be painful when someone so close to us gets us so wrong. But this is exactly what happens in every relationship. And when it happens, your job is to not simply wallow in your wounded-ness but instead to clarify and communicate the best you can what you need and how you need it. A solid apology goes a long way, but what makes a relationship even better is an earnest desire to repair what was broken and seek to better understand this person you love a little better. Yes, you will be misunderstood but every misunderstanding is an opportunity to grow closer together.
So whether you’re married or have a best friend you couldn’t part with, what’s one surprising lesson you’ve learned from a long-term relationship? Share in the comments.
Jeff Goins is the author of four books, including the national bestseller The Art of Work. For more thoughts on writing and life, join his free newsletter. A version of this article originally appeared on goinswriter.com.