I did the “do” at 23. And did I ever. I met my Lithuanian husband while studying abroad in Germany. I didn’t see happily ever after coming from the get-go—he did.
He was and still is everything I was ever looking for in a spouse, best friend, and, most importantly, a partner. We dated distance—6,000 miles worth of it—for two years before we took the plunge. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
I look back five years later (time flies) and think about how drastically my life has changed in so many ways—from the day-to-day to the overarching theme of my overall narrative.
I married at a young age, so was I fully developed into the person I was growing into? Did my partnership with my husband change me?
I used to start my nights off at 10 p.m.—now I’m easily content on the couch with a book in hand by that time these days. God forbid if I left the house without makeup on or getting dressed a step away from my Sunday best. Today my dress code has been slightly modified to “makeup-optional and sweatpants”—jeans and a T-shirt on business formal days.
After evaluating this question time and time again—I’ve reached a conclusion. My husband didn’t change me—quite the opposite, actually.
He embraces and loves the person I truly am, thus allowing me to evolve into the Jessie I’ve always wanted to be; the informal, disorganized, emotional, independent, fun-loving, strong writer that makes me. But I do the same for him, too.
When you say, “I do” to the one you choose to spend your life with, you should also have a set of vows you commit to the other most important person life as well—yourself.
Your spouse is the person you will be sharing life’s most important moments with—laughter, hugs, tears, and everything in between. If you can’t be the person you see every morning in the mirror in front of them—you owe it to yourself to find someone that will love you with no strings attached.
Here are 20 realizations recounting what I’ve learned from marrying in my early 20s.
Side note: yes, my husband did weigh in, and yes, we definitely had an epic high five after this list was compiled.
1. ‘Dress to Impress’ Gets A Makeover
What makes you feel good every day? Do you like wearing heels, or are you trying to impress someone?
If you like them, rock them. If you think they are the most uncomfortable invention since the dawn of time like I do—ditch them.
I’ve always been a jeans and T-shirt kind of gal, but I changed my wardrobe in college to impress people. It wasn’t me, but now I get to rock my Guns N’ Roses and lame pun T-shirts on the regular.
My guy and I actually duke out who can find the funniest shirt. I didn’t forget about the guys out there—retire those polos if you cringe at the sight of them. My hubby wears Angry Birds pajama pants (sorry love); be yourself and love it!
2. Getting Physical Means More
Just because you’re married doesn’t mean pizza night can be every night now. You shouldn’t keep a lean figure for someone else—it should be for you and your health.
Exercise increases endorphins, and makes you feel good about yourself. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out our 21-Day Bodyweight Challenge.
3. ‘And’ Gets Crowded
It sounds good to have an “and” in your life. “Lauren and Mike,” “Tony and John,” “Suzie and Cris.” But who is Lauren? Who is Tony, Suzie, John, or Cris?
It’s easy to get lost in the and. Have separate hobbies, outings, or dare I say friends that perhaps your spouse isn’t part of.
Don’t sneak around about it; just let it be yours. My husband is an analyst; I have writer friends that I geek out with, and he understands that I need that outlet.
On the other hand, he nerds out about cars and databases with his buddies. It makes the time you do spend together stronger because you aren’t forcing him or her to be part of something they don’t like.
4. Silence Is Virtue
In our society, silence is seen as awkward. In reality—is it? Do we feel the need to talk because it is enhancing us, or because it fills the gaps? Likely the latter.
When you are comfortable with someone, silence can say more than words. Sitting on the couch with your adult coloring book while your significant is curled up with a magazine is actually a good thing. You are comfortable together. So comfortable that you can enjoy a moment that society deems “awkward” together. That’s love.
5. Lines Will Be Drawn
News flash, you are not going to agree on how your house comes together initially. No. No you’re not.
Take off those rose-colored glasses, the fairytale ending fades away pretty quickly after the honeymoon.
Things like the never-ending over/under toilet paper debate, folding the bathroom hand towels after using them, how often you use the air conditioner, separating the dark and light laundry, and (in my household) no shoes on the carpet, become priority number one all of a sudden.
Guess what? It’s normal. Think about it, you are taking two different people who were raised by two different families and having them start their own family together.
Of course you will have a territory battle to some degree. These are the moments where your “house rules” are established moving forward, so speak up!
That being said, it’s also important is to listen—what are they passionate about? My husband was very passionate about no shoes on the carpet, so our house is a shoe-less house.
However, make sure you’re heard, too. You better believe those bathroom towels are always folded.
6. Sharing Actually Means Caring
There aren’t tasks around the house that a man or a woman is better at by definition, but you should both pitch in. You both DO live there the same amount of time. Talk about it.
I hate vacuuming—my husband is obviously very passionate about the carpet. He takes that chore on.
He doesn’t know his way around the kitchen far beyond eggs and frozen pizza (although easy, one-pan recipes might help him) while I find cooking relaxing—so that’s my task.
That doesn’t mean we don’t help each other out when the other is unable to do their chore. If I’m not home, my husband will happily make sure dinner is available, and I’ll take on mopping if he has a lot on his plate.
Share the load. It’s actually fun sometimes to blast some music and make it a team effort, believe it or not. Yes, we actually do this—I’m not kidding.
7. You Should Still Date
Not with other people—with each other. My husband and I made a date night jar filled with blue, pink, and green popsicle sticks. Blue are very low budget at-home dates, pink require a little more money and a night out, and green require us to actually plan an outing in advance.
Clearly most of them are blue, fewer are pink, and there are only a couple green. We sat together and picked things both of us like, such as board games, a wine and cheese night at home, an at-home pizza challenge, a movie of my choice (or his), going to Coronado, finding a new restaurant we never tried, etc.
The agreement is, whatever we pick that night, we have to do. No excuses. My point is, don’t get in a rut. You don’t have to spend much, but change the scene and keep dating each other.
8. Communication Is Better Out than In
Arguments happen. Sometimes they are over trivial things (reference hand towels above), but sometimes it is major.
Do you have issues with your in-laws? Do you not see eye-to-eye in the religious or political department? Did he or she say something that was incredibly offensive that you can’t seem to look past?
Here is the best thing you can do: walk away and cool off. Do not add fuel to this fire because it will not make things better.
When you get to a point where you can get your point across, approach them again and calmly discuss your stance. More importantly, don’t go to bed angry.
Although you don’t want to approach this with a hot head, you also need to be an adult and solve it like one too. Try to have a levelheaded conversation before bedtime, and if you do not resolve it, mention that you will continue to discuss it tomorrow.
9. Raising The White Flag Isn’t A Loss
Sometimes you’re going to be the one that screws up (spoiler alert). You are going to say or do something incredibly stupid that creates an argument to spiral wildly out of control.
It will be your fault. I’ll say it again—it will be your fault. Did it sink in? Good. Instead of adding salt to the wound, admit you’re wrong. What’s so hard about saying, “I’m sorry?” We make kids say it all of the time—why can’t we do it?
I’ll backtrack a minute and also say that personal insults should never play any part in an argument, but we all say things we don’t mean when we are angry. We don’t intend for them to be so hurtful, but that doesn’t mean those words still don’t leave a mark on impact.
Apologize. This is your one true love—do you really want to hurt them? Admitting your errors actually is a stronger gesture than you might think; just make sure you learn from it, or those apologies become empty.
10. Closeness Comes When You Agree To Disagree
Ok, you won’t agree on everything. Got it. It doesn’t mean those topics only have to come up in arguments.
Personally, some of my favorite discussions are the ones I have with people that have conflicting views with the ones I have. It makes me learn more.
Your spouse is no exception to this. If you aren’t voting for the same person—why can’t you talk about it? If they were raised in a different culture—why can’t you learn about it and embrace it?
Tell them your opinions in a way that doesn’t impose on theirs, and you’ll find that your spouse truly is that best friend that you late-night pillow talk with—well into your 20s.
11. You Will Step Up To The Plate
There will be times when you or your spouse will need to give more than the other. Perhaps one of you is really struggling with health problems, had a death in the family, or is simply going through a rough patch in life.
The other will have to assume the extra load at that time. It’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to show weakness. It’s OK to ask for their help. What isn’t OK is giving up without trying.
I once heard a couple that was married for 60 years speak about why their marriage worked over the years. They weren’t always happy. Their secret was picking each other up during these times specifically.
As long as both people were giving to the relationship—the relationship survived. Sometimes he gave 70 percent and she gave 30 or vice versa. Some years both were 50/50.
Not every year will be a good year, especially when forever is on the horizon. Keep trying. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
12. A Little Respect Goes A Long Way
You want to be treated well by the one you choose, but respect is a two-way street. If you want respect, you must also give respect, too.
Has your spouse been asking you repeatedly to go through that stack of paperwork that is collecting dust on your shared desk? Do it.
Proving a passive aggressive point, or even taking the lazy way out really isn’t worth it in this case. This issue is clearly getting under their skin if they have to keep bringing it up—even if it isn’t bothering you.
Just remember the cardinal rule, “Treat other people the way you want to be treated.” From the opposite spectrum, did your spouse go out of their way to buy your favorite flowers, make your favorite meal, pick up a small gift that reminded them of you, or comfort you in your time of need? Thank them. Let them know that their actions meant something to you. You would want the same, right?
13. Dreams Won’t Be A Nightmare
When my guy moved to America from Lithuania, my career goal was going down a completely different path. I was on my way to becoming an account manager…until I realized that gig wasn’t the lifestyle for me.
I decided to start over from the beginning—at 24 years old. I went back to school, took on an internship, worked at a liquor store, and wrote at a print publication for free just to get my foot in the door as a writer. I worked around the clock and made next to nothing, but I knew that’s what I had to do to get what I wanted.
My husband accepted it right after moving here with one suitcase and $1,000 in his pocket. We had nothing, but he still gave me the strength to reach my dream.
Four years later, I strongly stand behind him as he is going back to school to get his MBA. Pick each other up, tell them they can, and be that shoulder to cry on when they need it.
Dreams are hard to achieve, but when your spouse has your back—you can move mountains. I did, and so will he.
Likewise, never be ashamed of your dream. If your dream is to stay home and raise your kids, embrace that dream and be proud. My mom stayed home to raise my four siblings and me, and it is probably the hardest job out there. Yes, this is a valid dream and career path. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
14. Growing Pains Don’t Have To Be Painful
Oh boy. You are going to get this question literally minutes after you get married: “So, when are the babies coming?”
I don’t have kids; I’m 29. I’m the oldest of four children in my family, my younger sister is happily married, my brother is engaged, and my youngest sister is still enjoying her final years of freedom in college (cherish it!), but I always say that my siblings are much more likely to have children before me—if I have them. You know what? That’s ok.
Expanding your family should be done on your and your partner’s terms—not those around you. Ultimately, you need to come home every day to your life, and if kids aren’t part of the equation right now…or ever…you two have to talk it out.
So what if everyone on Facebook is getting pregnant? Truth be told, there isn’t a single parent out there that is happy 100 percent of the time. Raising a child is hard work!
On the other hand, if you are ready to start your family the moment you step into marital bliss, there is also nothing wrong with that. Your family dynamic is up to the two of you.
15. Crazy Couples Have More Fun
Literally. Keep track of those inside jokes that made both of you belly laugh for hours on end—you know the ones that make everyone around you raise an eyebrow while the two of you are peeing your pants in hysterics.
As stupid as it sounds, those are the things you’ll look back at during the tough times to draw strength together. I’ll be the first to say that my husband and I have some of the lamest and most ridiculous inside jokes known to man, but we still laugh our butts off about them. We don’t care how nuts people think we are—maybe they should have some more fun.
16. Trust Is The Greatest Gift
You should never go through your spouse’s emails or cell phone. Ever.
What are you looking to find there? If you think something is going on—consider talking about it rather than bombarding them with it.
I don’t have anything to hide on my computer, cell, or email, but if I found out my husband was snooping through it, I’d be hurt, as would he if the tables were turned.
It doesn’t lead to good things. That is something we hold in high regard in our household. We honor each other’s belongings because we trust each other. Of course this all comes back to the open communication we constantly keep with each other. If you are uncomfortable or upset about something—talk about it.
17. No Time Is No Excuse
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and make our spouse a low-priority. If that’s the case, literally block out time in your schedules to be together.
Put it on your phones; write it on your calendar—whatever you need to do. Make it as important as that budget meeting next week.
However, you both committed to this block of time together. There is no excuse for distractions—no calls, Facebook, etc. Eventually, it’ll become second nature.
18. Flames Need Attention To Keep Burning
Whether you are a cuddly couple, do a lot of lip locking, or spend a decent amount of time between the bed sheets—don’t let the flame for your spouse die out.
I know I still get butterflies in my stomach when my hubby enters the room (cheesy, but true). I have no shame in admitting that he is a really good-looking guy!
It’s good to get that giddy feeling you got in grade school with your spouse, but the only way to keep that is by keeping a strong connection with them. It takes work.
19. The Joneses Need A Life
I don’t know them, I never did, and I don’t really want to. The Joneses seem like total squares.
All joking aside, the more time you spend comparing yourself to other couples, the less time you spend focusing on your own relationship. Honestly, this is a battle you aren’t going to win, so why fight it?
Besides, shouldn’t you be cheering your friends and family on rather than secretly wishing for their utter demise? Be happy for others when they buy a house, get that big raise, or have their second child, but don’t compare your relationship to theirs. Every relationship is different.
20. Curveballs, Changeups, And Splitters Will Be Thrown Your Way
Things change all of the time, and you won’t be able to control them. What you can control is how you react to them and whether you take a learning experience away from it.
Always be open to learn and grow—even if the lesson isn’t an easy one. Don’t be afraid of what’s to come because you can’t stop it. Live in the now and do your best. Your spouse knows you’re trying and that you’re human. Guess what? They are too.
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