Twelve Lessons from Twelve Years {what I've learned from married life}

It was twelve and a half years ago that we did it.

We did that foolish, foolish thing people can't help but do and went and got married.  I'd like to think I've learned a thing or twelve since making that daring walk down the aisle.  And I think, maybe despite myself sometimes, I just may have.

So here, pondered and written out for your perusal are twelve things I've learned from the twelve years we've been at this thing called Marriage:

Marriage is the hardest thing I will ever do.  And that's why I need it.

I wish I had known, really known, that when we were getting ready.  Then again, maybe I would have run if I had known.

Marriage (or really staying married) has challenged me beyond anything I could ever imagine.  It challenges me to be vulnerable (yuck), to be selfless, to be hurt and still love, to forgive, to admit that I am (sometimes once in a while) wrong.  And all those things that are so very hard to do are exactly what I need to be a better person.  But the process sure does hurt sometimes.

Marriage is a battle.  And there is an enemy.
(And we always, always seem to forget that.)

I would've said back then that I knew that.  But oh boy, I didn't know know it.  I didn't know that any time my husband and I would find a place of healing and growth that the evil one would slippity slide in all secret-like.  I didn't really get that he would actively try to separate us and put us at odds with each other time and time and time again.  And that sometimes we would let it work.  I wish I had known the depths to which he could pull us and been a little more prepared for his hate.

You need to find your people.

Being around people who support you in your marriage is invaluable.  Sometimes people are just born or married into this but often, especially in our modern culture, you have to build it yourself.  And sometimes you have to break some ties with the people who may be toxic to your marriage.  We were made to live in community and we need other couples around us who know us, know our story and struggles, and want us to succeed.

Along those lines, girlfriends are still important.  My husband can't be my every and all relationship.  It is so very important to have loyal and loving girlfriends who truly support you, your Marriage, and want you to be everything God wants you to be.  They are the ones who know the difference between a healthy releasing and talking through of an issue and the complaining or "venting" that can be poison to a Marriage.  They are the ones who will sometimes understand the things that my husband cannot.  And they don't always just happen.  You sometimes have to pray and work for that gift. 

A simple thank you goes a long way.

It's very very easy to fall into the rut of "well, he's supposed to do this anyway."  Right, he is.  But he could choose not to.  Just like I've sometimes chosen not to do something I know I should do.  It's okay to thank him for the many many times he's made the right choice and who should be thanked and how often is not a competition.

Our past wounds weren't magically healed when we said "I do". 

You don't leave everything behind when you come into a marriage.  You bring all the stuff with you, even the stuff that's been buried or ignored for years.  You bring the stuff you've thought you've been healed from but that the Lord might need to probe further.  You bring it all.  The wounds, the memories, the insecurities, the issues.  They may hide for a while but they will at some point emerge and I believe that often it is in and through your marriage that they can be healed.  But that healing takes work and it can take a level of vulnerability that is terrifying.

We should pray together every day.

We don't always but we know we should.  The times when we do are always better and draw us closer to Him and to each other.  That should be our priority.

Love isn't pretty.

Love - the real, desiring-the-good-of-the-other, sacrificing-itself-for-the-sake-of-the-beloved love - is beautiful.  But it's not usually all that pretty.  It is building the tiny casket for your unborn baby and holding your wife while she sobs (again).  It is laundry (again) and dinner (again) and having that difficult conversation (again).  It is difficult toddlers and morning sickness and spit-up stains you didn't even notice because you were so busy.  Love is being there, truly there, when a parent dies.  It is knowing that she is down-to-the-bone exhausted and needs a break.  It is choosing to trust after the betrayal and it sometimes tastes like blood from the tongue-biting.  It is not rude and does not hold grudges.  Love is sanctifying and redeeming and amazing but not usually all that pretty.

Sometimes you just gotta say it.

As frustrating and irritating as the reality is, Marriage did not give us magical telekinetic powers.  He won't just know what's wrong.  He won't always just know the right gift or the right words to say or the magical thing to do to make it all better.  Sometimes I just have to let that expectation go and just tell him (and then appreciate the times that he does just know).  Sometimes we both are guilty of playing the if-s/he-really-understood-and-loved-me-s/he-would-just-know game.  And it usually only breeds frustration, bitterness, and resentment which is a whole lot worse than just opening your mouth and speaking in the first place.

JPII was right.  Sex is important and mysterious and holy and fun.

The world and the Fall and our own wounds do a number on our idea of sex and I'm still learning this.  You can read the entire Theology of the Body and still struggle with truly believing and living it (hand raised).  But the longer we are married the more I see the how important it is and how God truly meant it to be a gift - an incomprehensible, life-giving, powerful, healing, and fantastic gift.

Building a family and traditions is an incredible joy. 

While we were very much on our own in the first years of our Marriage, there were some definite gifts that came from that.  It helped us to better establish ourselves as a family and begin to build our own family culture.  It gave us a lot of strength and foundation for the growing pains and struggles of the years ahead.  The joy of finding our own traditions and ways of doing things and claiming that as ours runs deep and there is something deeply satisfying, healing, and life-giving about giving our family traditions and roots that we were both lacking before.

There will be times when you want to be done.  Just. Plain. Done.

There will be times when it seems impossible.  There will be times (and they may even be long) when you want to leave.  There will be times when you both keenly feel the pain and reality of not having had any one to teach you firsthand what real Marriage looks like.  There will be times when the difficulties seem insurmountable and when it feels like things could never ever be better.  When the betrayal will seem too great or the drudgery never ending.  Those are the times when you will have to make the choice to truly live your vows.  Whether it feels good or rewarding or noble or not.  Even if you are fumbling your way through and feel like you are making it up as you go along.  The choice is there.  It is ours to either throw it away or to work and work hard through those times.

My relationship with my husband cannot replace my relationship with God.

I'm called to heaven through my Marriage, yes, and I can love God through loving my family, yes.  But that can never replace the personal relationship I need with God.  In order for my Marriage and family to thrive, I must spend time and energy cultivating my relationship with God through the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer.  The grace of Confession and the Eucharist are irreplaceable for helping me love my husband and children better.


Now that I've started I'm tempted to keep going on and on.  About the importance of knowing your spouse's temperament and love language.  About realizing that, if I'm honest with myself, I'm not always "just doing my best."  About what a thrill it is to know all the little nuances of this amazing person that no one else gets to know.  About how children can be such an amazing fruit to grow your Marriage and it doesn't have to be a competition.  About how sometimes a batting of the eyelashes and that certain kind of smile really do work.

But I'll force myself to stop there.

Instead, in honor of the close of World Marriage Week and St. Valentine's Day, I'm inviting you and other bloggers to share your own lessons from your years of Marriage.  Please share in the comments below!  If you have a blog I'd love for you to link up your own post with lessons from your years of Marriage below and please go visit the other links!  Please include in your post a link and the button back to this post.  I'm looking forward to reading them all!


  1. These are great, and spot on! Plus, I enjoy reading your writing style!

  2. Thank you for sharing and the link up. Your lessons are beautifully written and so poignant.

  3. Ooooooh number 11!! So true! Marriage is a CHOICE and it is a daily choice! Thank you!!

  4. Hi Mary, I just found your blog through Amanda's "A Lesson a Year" post. Your blog is fantastic! Thanks for sharing snippets of your life here...I'll definitely be going through the archives!

    1. Hey Becca, welcome! Thanks for saying hi and I'm glad you're here :) I love Amanda's place!

  5. Mary I loved your list, and loved reading all the links here! I'm working on my post now and really hope to finish it today, but can't promise anything... Thanks for hosting this!

  6. Wonderful list of lessons, and I especially like 4, 9, and 10. I couldn't agree more.

    Thank you for coming up with this idea and turning it into a link up!

  7. Mary, this post is so good. Every lesson you shared just resonates. Seriously. I just looked them over again to try and pinpoint one to mention here but I ultimately would be sharing every lesson. Okay, but if I were to name a few I'd say 1-7. So good and so true. This link-up has been such a blessing. The wisdom you and everyone else has shared has been so so encouraging.

  8. Mary, I didn't want to read yours before writing mine, but now I'm reading and wow. I love the one about saying thank you--so, so important. And you're absolutely right that we should pray together every day. We don't always...but we should. And what a beautiful point about the importance of the personal relationship we have with God. Thank you. This is such an inspiring linkup. So glad you thought to create this!

  9. Hi Mary, I love this link-up and your lessons. You are right, many of ours overlap. :-) I was browsing the rest of your blog and why have I not been reading before?? I added your blog to my reader. I look forward to enjoying more BTE. :-)

  10. Great idea for a link-up! Christine introduced me to it, and I'm glad she did. Looking forward to reading the other posts.

  11. You are wonderful, Mary. Thank you for this link up. I really appreciated your post.

  12. This is the post every couple should print up and read over and over. Thanks a lot, Mary.

    1. Thank you so much. I really hope it's helpful to people and that means a lot!


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