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12 years, 12 lessons learned

12 years, 12 lessons learned

The summer I was seven years old, I did something awful. It was Wild West Day at camp and, in the spirit of the theme, I stole a little boy’s candy. I still haven’t heard the end of it, because twelve years ago today, I married that boy. By then he had forgiven me enough to become (in succession) my best friend, my boyfriend and my fiancé. At least he knew what he was getting himself into.

We’ve both grown up a lot over the course of our relationship (that goes without saying when you start dating when you’re 17). But the last twelve years have been incredible, overflowing with love, joy and lots of laughter. We live together, we parent together, we work together. A lot of people ask how we do it. Obviously compatibility goes a long way; we just fit well together. But we have good days and hard days, like anyone. Here are 12 things we’ve learned that help us make sure most days are good ones.

  1. Any conflict can be helped by having a sense of humor. It won’t necessarily resolve everything, but when we can lighten up and laugh about something, we’re so much better equipped to work together and find a solution.
  2. Be on the same team. It’s never me vs. him – it’s us vs. the rest of the world.
  3. Make time to feed the relationship. This doesn’t need to be days or even hours away together. But when we carve out a few times a week to really connect, talk, laugh, and have fun, it always makes a big difference.
  4. Don’t have any serious conversations if you’re tired or hungry (or both). We’re not so different from toddlers in that everything looks rosier after a nap and a snack.
  5. Be affectionate. A hug and kiss at the end of a long day can work wonders.
  6. Embrace your partner’s strengths. When we first started dating I used to be frustrated by all the things I was good at that Eli couldn’t do. Now I realize that it’s our differences that make us such a great team.
  7. Support each other. Marathon training, crazy diets, working until dawn, erupting volcano cakes. Whatever it is, get on board. Everything is easier when we’re on the same page.
  8. Quality time is not screen time. When we can both put away our iPhones and get away from the computers, we’re much more likely to focus on each other and have a great conversation.
  9. Let things go. I used to think it was important to speak up about every little thing that bothered me. Eventually I learned that, actually, most little things aren’t worth fighting over.
  10. Do nice things for each other. Maybe it’s bringing me a mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream at the end of the night. Maybe it’s sending him upstairs to take a nap on a Saturday afternoon. These little gestures go a long way.
  11. Be appreciative. Don’t forget to say “thanks” and “it was so great that you did that” and “I love you” anytime you have the chance.
  12. Own up to your mistakes. In this regard a good marriage isn’t so different from good customer service (though maybe that’s because we’ve spent eight of the last twelve years working in retail). If you screw up, don’t point fingers or cover your tracks. Apologize sincerely and do whatever you can to remedy the situation.

Of course, I can’t promise any of these will work if you aren’t married to Eli, who is basically amazing (and taken) and a better partner for me than I ever could’ve imagined at age 7 or age 17. My daughters regularly fret that they’ll never find a husband as good as their dad. I hope for their sake they’re wrong, but I know I’m a very lucky woman.

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