Saturday, February 14, 2015

20 Lessons in 20 Years

Happy World Marriage Week and a Happy St. Valentine's Day to you all!

Earlier this week, Mary asked on a FB group if anyone would be interested in doing a link up all about what we've learned in our years of marriage. I instantly replied in the affirmative, momentarily forgetting that I've been married for 20 years (Honestly, didn't we just get married??) and that this would be one ginormous undertaking.

In the end, it was a wonderful post to do. It forced me to slow down and reflect on our marriage and how far we've come. Even though we dated for 7 years, 5 of those years was long-distance. Despite the fact we are both the oldest children in divorced families, thus making us mature before our time, we were still young. We still had plenty to learn. And learn we did.


Bryan planned our honeymoon from start to finish. He went all out (for us) and booked a week in Key West in a hotel with valet parking and a private beach. He had tickets and maps and directions all organized and ready to fly out the morning after the wedding ceremony.  I forgot my purse at his mom's house and had to go the entire week without it.

Bryan is by far the better vacation planner. He's planned every trip we've ever taken.


Halfway through our 7 months of Bermuda living, I crashed while driving our scooter. The entire left side of my body was torn to pieces. Bryan became my caretaker, including washing my hair and helping me go to the bathroom. We are not the kind of couple that shares a bathroom even to brush our teeth in the morning.

"In sickness and in health" is so much more beautiful and humbling that we could have imagined. The sick spouse really must humble herself in order to allow the healthy spouse to serve her.


Bryan's LSAT scores were about to expire. He had to go to law school then or never. Bryan could not see himself programming computers his entire life, so, even though it meant leaving the lap of luxury for poverty and uncertainty, we headed to Indiana.

The amount of money in our bank account will not dictate our ability to have fun and enjoy our marriage.


On December 10, I had my first miscarriage. I was in so much pain, both physically and mentally, that I didn't realize how painful it was for Bryan. He was so strong, letting me sob all over him, alternated with distance in the moments when I didn't want him anywhere near me as I worked on a puzzle (I just wanted something to do to calm me down. Looking back, what the heck??), practically doubled over in pain. It wasn't until the doctor appointment confirming the loss, when we saw that there was no heart beat in the ultrasound, that his pain became real to me. He turned white as a ghost and started wobbling. The doctor made him lie down on the floor and ran to get him juice to drink. Later, we talked about what happened. He had been so upset with worry. For the baby, of course, but more for me. He was terrified that something was going to happen to me, and it all came crashing down during the doctor appointment.

We said we loved each other all the time. We knew deep down that we loved each other beyond reason. It wasn't until something was wrong, and thoughts of death and pain entered our thoughts, that we honestly knew just how gigantic that love was. While we had helped each other through some terrible experiences before, this was the first time we suffered a loss together. We discovered the depths of our feelings and we figured out a way to support each other through our suffering.


Phoenix was born, and I celebrated my birthday 2 months later.  Bryan gave me a bathroom scale for a birthday present.

While his heart is always in the right place (He knew I was losing some of the 40 pounds I had gained during pregnancy and thought I would be excited to know how much.), his thought process in gift-buying is frequently flawed. 


We moved to Indy when I was 8 months pregnant, not knowing a single person in the entire state. Phoenix was not an easy baby (to say the least!) and I was having a rough go of it. When Phoenix was 5 months old, Bryan said, "You know, you can leave us alone and go out and do something." I melted down like I hadn't melted before in sobs of, "If I had someplace to go and someone to go with, I would have done it!"

We both learned that 1.) I need friends to stay sane and 2.) Bryan needs to tread lightly when I'm on the brink.


We bought our first house, and it needed a lot of work.

Our marriage needs to be in a very good place before hanging wallpaper on a 15-ft high wall. It needs to be in a perfect place if that wallpaper has stripes.

(Update: We have since learned that painting is the way to go in all situations.)


While Bryan always went to church on Sundays, he held himself back. Things happened in his past that left him suspicious and guarded. Then out of the blue, he decided to go on a retreat at church. He came back a different person, completely happy and all in with his faith and Catholicism again. As a result, our marriage and our parenting became even better.

God is always with us, and when we acknowledge it and look for Him and His guidance, our lives will be better than we could have imagined.


When Bryan sets a goal, it's pretty much a guarantee that it will happen. He decided that he wanted to do an Ironman triathalon. That meant a lot of training. It meant a lot of races leading up to it (over several years). Seeing him doing what it took to reach his goal made me want to do something, too. I did a sprint triathalon this year.

When one of us makes positive changes and goals, it encourages the other to do the same. And when one reaches his goal, the other is just as happy and excited that he made it. 


We had our 4th child exactly 4 years 8 days after our first child. I was just a bit overwhelmed some days, and especially as the day got closer to dinner time. Even though he usually got home within a 30 minute time range, I asked Bryan to call the house every day before he left the office. He would let the phone ring once, and it was my signal that he was coming. I'd get some physical help with the kids 20 minutes from that phone ring, and it made all the difference in my attitude.

Acts that seem small and insignificant to one of us can mean a world of difference to the other.


When the kids were little, we had a routine at bedtime. We'd stick all of them in the tub, Bryan would wash them, I would dry and dress them. As they got older, and Buttercup's hair got longer, I noticed she would leave the tub with more and more tangles. I finally asked Bryan what he was doing to her. He was using a washcloth to wash her past-shoulder-length hair.

We came to the marriage with different skills and different knowledge. We can't blame each other for what we don't know. We just need to teach and encourage each other as things come up.


We were outgrowing our house and began a search for a new one. We ended up buying the only house we looked at, because we loved it. The only problem was, the house came with chickens. We had both lived in quiet neighborhoods on small plots of land our entire lives, never having laid eyes on a real live chicken before. Then suddenly, we were chicken farmers, with barns and land and a completely new life.

There is no way we can ever predict what turns our lives will take. We just need to go with it.


The farm came with plagues. Namely mice and bats. I jump, squeal, and scream when I see a mouse. Bryan dives to the floor and hides under a blanket when a bat flies through the house.

We both have irrational fears. Love means taking care of the things which scare all sense out of the other, and only once the vermin is gone can the laughing begin.


We hadn't left the kids to take any sort of overnight by ourselves in a long while. It's just so much extra work on my part to prepare to leave 4 little kids. Bryan was pushing for it this year, so I agreed to a couple of days away while my mom watched the kids. Once we were in the car and on our way, I relaxed about it all and we had a marvelous time.

It is imperative to put our marriage first, regardless of how much work and preparation it takes. 


Just when the kids were getting easier and we could catch our breath, Baby #5 arrived! It wasn't planned (We had given all of our baby stuff away!), but we were thrilled to have him.

We were getting pretty good at going with the surprises thrown at us.

(FYI: This may or may not have something to do with the lesson learned in 2007.)


(This one is really a lesson learned over time with many different scenarios, but I'm throwing one example in here.)

I cook dinner, and Bryan does the dishes. We've had this system since the day we got back from our honeymoon. I have never, ever liked the way he does the dishes. He doesn't clean out the sink completely when he's done. He doesn't see cleaning the stove as part of the doing the dishes chore.

I have, on occasion, mentioned to him that if he cleaned out the sink when he was done, it would be easier to clean later. I've pointed out a couple of times, in a nice, calm way, that it's a lot easier to clean the stove when he already has soapy water handy and the food isn't dried on yet.

He listened. He sometimes remembered. But not often.

I make dinners that I like. I will sometimes ask for suggestions, but not often. Bryan has mentioned a few dinners that he doesn't particularly care for, but I still make them every once in a while.

The two of us have had choices to make.

One option is to get angry. We can let our frustration with the way the other does things get the best of us. Or, option two, is to let it go. We can simply appreciate the fact that the other is doing a job, even if it isn't being done the way we would choose to do it. Only one of those options will keep our marriage intact. Some issues will never go away, and we have to be OK with it.


The economy started to tank this year, and since many of Bryan's clients are construction businesses and banks, his workload started to lighten. And then lighten some more. He was getting mighty worried but didn't tell me anything. It showed in his behavior at home, though. It all came tumbling out the night I made him sit down and tell me what was wrong.

In the hustle and bustle of our daily routine, I must not forget the pressure Bryan feels to be the only one supporting our family financially. And he realized holding his worry inside only makes things worse.


On the very same day in March, Bryan and I both received phone calls from our mothers. Both of our mothers called to let us know they had cancer. His mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, just like several of her family members had battled. My mom had cervical cancer, made more difficult by the fact she had two heart stents put in a short 3 months previously.

Throughout the entire treatment and recovery, we learned to lean on each other. We figured out how to best support each other. We discussed and agreed that we drop everything when a family member needs help.


It was a big year with the pigs. First, a pig drowned itself in the pig waterer overnight. Bryan had already left for work by the time I found it. Since it was in the middle of a ridiculously hot drought, I had to dispose of it without the assistance of another adult. Later, when it was time to load the pigs up to take to the butcher, Bryan and the farmer with the trailer were having a hard time getting the pig corralled. I jumped in to help. Sure, the pig got between my legs and I rode it backwards for a while, but once I managed to get off, I am the one who finally got the job done.

I am way more capable than I thought, and Bryan can count on me to take care of even the nastiest of chores.

(Wow, 20 years is a long time. Can you tell I was stretching for that one?)

Our kids were starting to turn into real teens with real problems. A couple of the problems caused some very real tension and horrible feelings in our home. I was overwhelmed and uncertain and felt like I was tackling these issues all by myself. Bryan and I were farther apart than we'd been in a long time. One night I let him have it (as much as we ever let each other have it. We've never once raised our voices, but I was tempted to this time.), telling him I needed him to be involved. He was just as mad, furious that I would even accuse him of not being present for his kids.

I learned that if I'm feeling such things, there is a good chance he is, too. Instead of attacking and accusing him, I need to approach him with a mind of solidarity and support. I need to continue to remember the fact that he is a great father and husband who gets frustrated and overwhelmed and scared just as much as I do.


It was by far the busiest year we've ever had, made so much harder by my traumatized knee. Teens have late practices. Young kids wake up early and want to eat. Every moment of the day, from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm is taken up by kids. There has been precious little time for the two of us to simply be together.

We have learned to grab the moments when we can. Goodbye hugs in the morning lasting a little longer than usual. Calls in the middle of the day to swap funny stories. Holding hands in church on the rare days a child or 4 aren't sitting between us. Seizing opportunities to take a long weekend away, to heck with the obligations. The kids will be leaving home someday, and for most of them that day will be sooner rather than later. These stolen moments will help ensure that we still have a wonderful marriage when this nest is empty.

Written down like this, twenty years seems like a very long time, but it honestly feels like the blink of an eye. So much has happened, but there are so many big things hovering on the horizon. We've learned a lot, but I know there are plenty more lessons to learn.

Whatever lies ahead, I know that God will lead us and that we will figure it out together.

What have you learned in your years of marriage? I'd love to hear in the comments, or even better, make your own list and link it up over at Mary's!

Have a lovely day!


  1. I really enjoyed reading this! guys have had a lot of life together. I so had to laugh at the scale present..that's hilarious;. And the house with chickens. We are looking for a house...and now I kinda want one that already has chickens.

    And I think our lives are totally parallet in the cooking/dishes dept. I cook..he washes dishes..and he also never cleans out the sink or the stove the way I would like.

    1. That scale was so bizarre, even I had to laugh when I opened it. Poor guy tries so hard to come up with good, original gifts. He always gets the original part! :)
      Chickens are a great thing to have. The eggs are awesome.

      Blows my mind how he can't see the sink as a problem, but he doesn't. I'm sure there are plenty of things I do that makes him shake his head, though, too.

  2. Congratulations on your milestone anniversary--this was a great tribute to marriage and how it takes communication and patience to make things work!

  3. I absolutely loved reading this, not only reading the lessons but the peek into your history and life together! Wow, you guys have been through a lot! 20 years does sound like a lot but even at 12, I'm already realizing how short it all seems when it's you. I definitely laughed at the scale, too! And we both have bat issues but I'm very grateful that when we've had them in the house that he steps up and takes care of it even though I can tell he's afraid! I also forget how much stress it can be for him to be to support our family. He's so good and capable that I overlook when it really is taking a toll…and he doesn't want to stress me out by talking about it but I'm learning that I can do better at allowing him that release at home to talk it out and that it's good for both of us. Thank you so much for sharing so much wisdom and for linking up! I loved it!

    1. I'm glad you liked it. As I wrote it, I realized there was a lot of things I had never mentioned here before.

      Bryan has faced his fear to eradicate a bat or two, but it was painful and all I could do was laugh. They don't bother me much at all, so I can take care of them all day long as long as he takes care of the mice.

      Exactly! Bryan doesn't want to burden me with his worries. He's not much of a feelings sharer, but we're both figuring out how to do it.

      Thank you for not only coming up with the great idea, but for hosting, too!

  4. Fabulous lessons in those years and such fun to read about history together!!!

  5. Marriage is a give and take deal. Sometimes you do all the giving and he does all the taking and sometimes it's the other way around.

    I know this is TMI, but hubby and I always shower together. Have since the beginning. Why? We just do.

    Have a fabulous day and a very Happy Valentines Day. :)

    1. Exactly.

      That makes me laugh so hard. My mom and stepdad always showered together. One day I was on the phone with Bryan (when we were still in high school) and he asked where my mom was for some reason. I told him the shower. he then wanted to know where my stepdad was. I was horrified to have to answer "the shower, too".

      Same to you!

  6. I loved that you organized your list into years, Christine! It was so fun to read this, learn more about you and absorb the wisdom of your experience and lessons.
    The scale?!? Too much! I know a gift-giver like that also ;)

    1. Thank you!

      Ha! I would love to know what "wonderful" gifts you've received. :)

  7. I loved this post, and I will think about getting a post linked up, too. (Can I link up ON Tuesday, or does the link close before Tuesday begins?)

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised you haven't seen an owl in the wild, if you hadn't seen a live chicken before, either. Did the pigs come with the farm, too, or did you make that decision independently of the purchase of the house?

    1. Join in! I would love to read your post! You are a wise lady, so I'm sure I could learn some things from you. It's open until Tuesday night.

      The pigs did not come with the house. We decided we should probably at least try to use the barns that we had. Pigs seemed like the easiest animal to try.

  8. This is glorious, and filled with good sense, love, and hope (for me! - I'm gonna try to remember a number of these!) THANK YOU for taking the time to write them down and join in. I'm so pleased to read them. Your pragmatic nature is perfect for this type of post. I kinda feel like if you were to write some kind of manual for life and how to make it work, it could be a bestseller.

    Things I've learned in nearly five years of marriage. Mostly that 'for worse', 'in sickness' and (to an extent) 'for poorer' are no joke. And how to claw your way back from shattered hopes. That I have a LOT of work to do on myself and how I relate to the world around me. And that love goes deeper than I ever thought possible, and somehow, because of it, you make it through, together, still holding hands. Just about :)

    1. You are so sweet. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

      They are not jokes, for sure. They are hard and complicated and downright painful sometimes. You two have had some serious lessons to learn these first years of marriage. And you are still holding hands. Usually. :)

  9. What a wonderful read. I've just celebrated 30 years of marriage, and I wonder if I could recreate a lesson a year. You are right. The time does fly, seems like we just got married, and as long as we take the time to reconnect as a couple every once in a while, there is nothing we can't face or do together.

    1. Once I got started writing this, I wondered if I could come up with one lesson for each year. :) And now, as I go reading other posts, I think, "How did I forget that lesson?!?!"

  10. We've always said we are the same person, and when I read your accounting of the past 20 years, it was confirmed! I could have written so many of your lessons (although not nearly as well as you did), from husband perfectly planning the honeymoon (although he stalled out there on vacation planning) to miscarriage to health scares to teens. I heart you, sister!

    1. I heart you, too. :) You could have written it just as well if not better. I'd love to read a post of yours like this!

  11. very nice list-insight perspective and direct and (in terms that I think everyone can relate to)… I L o elled at the line, "He knew I was losing some of the 40 pounds I had gained during pregnancy and thought I would be excited to know how much" Well, makes sense to me… lol

    1. I KNEW you would think just like Bryan! :)

      And thanks.

  12. Wonderful 20 years Christine - it's not easy and yet it's not so hard either - we just celebrated 30 years - we too share the same chore I cook and he washes and you are absolutely right sometimes letting go is the answer ; hey after we bought our condo it came with a dishwasher, at that point I never had a dishwasher neither did Nick but he stated that I had no idea how to load a dishwasher and guess what, I agreed, Ha! I'm not sure if I can come with a lesson a year - but I can relate with so many of your stories. Hope you had a wonderful Valentines day!

    1. Hahaha!! Loading a dishwasher is most definitely a skill! It seems I am the only person in my house who knows how to do it, despite several tutorials. :)

      Thank you! I had a mighty relaxing day, which is all I could ask for.

  13. Christine, I feel like I learned so much about you and your husband through this! And I love how you actually tied a lesson to each year. What a wonderful way to put this together. And what a journey you have been on! I loved the pig story...I mean, it's terrible that you had to deal with difficult pig situations, but learning how capable you are. And I am the spouse who doesn't clean out the sink or wash the stove top. Note to self to do that tomorrow. And I loved when you mentioned that we can't blame each other for what we don't know. So, so true. And such a great reminder.

    1. When I had about 10 years done, I had a few moments of doubt about whether I could come up with a lesson each year. I'm glad I did it this way, though. It forced me to really reflect and remember days gone by.

      Ha! Get right on that stove. :)

      I have to continually remind myself about not blaming my kids for things they don't know either. It's a hard thing to remember sometimes.

  14. I just need to weigh in with the statement that a fear of bats is NOT irrational. They carry rabies and ebola and totally creep me out. Mice are also disgusting, unless you like it when creatures poop in your silverware drawer. Oh, my Lord, I truly cannot stand these creatures.

    1. Ha! I cannot handle mice. They get into everything and you can't predict which way they will go. Bats, while creepy, at least have a pattern to them when they fly. They are easy to catch and take outside, especially when a butterfly net is available.

  15. I really enjoyed this!! I think I am going to join the fun, even though I am late. :)

  16. Suddenly, even with eleven years married and almost fifteen together, I feel like we know absolutely nothing. OK, some of the ones you list we've come across. Like the one about vermin. We're good at that. I particularly like 2009...Bryan's method of kitchen cleanup sounds exactly like the Hub's and it drives me insane. Clearly we need some work there. Both of us.
    I'd kind of like to join the linkup but A) I'm way late for it and B) I think the biggest lesson I've learned here is that we have an awful lot of work to

    1. Ha! You're 9 years behind us! Plus, we dated for 7 years before getting married. We learned even more lessons during the dating portion of our relationship. Shoot, some of the biggest things happened then! Yes, you have a lot to learn, but we all do! You know plenty, and like us, you'll learn more as the years go on.

  17. I really enjoyed this post! I especially needed to hear the cooking/dishes lesson. 7 1/2 years into marriage and Im just starting to learn.

  18. I do not have words for this post, Christine,. It's beautiful, simply beautiful, and such an expression of love to your husband and children. Marriage and family is indeed work, lessons learned, unconditional commitment, and more than anything love.

  19. Wow, this is a great reflection on your marriage. I've learned many of the same things too. Relying on God is number one for me. I don't know how unbelievers stay married! I've learned my hubs and I are really very different, and it's OK. After awhile, you realize you're just two imperfect people doing the best you can. Lovely sharing you did here. :-)


Thank you for taking the time to tell me what you're thinking!