After 14 years of marriage, Chris Farley Ratcliffe reflects on the 14 most important lessons he has learned.
Today, my wife and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. In 14 years of marriage, I have learned a few things (so long as ‘a few’ means 14).
I love travelling with my wife
Over the years we have travelled to Britain, the east and west coasts of Canada, Australia and road trips through Ontario and parts of the Eastern US. Travel is always a great test of a relationship and we survived our trips. Some trips were heavily planned and didn’t work out as initially planned and others were more ad hoc. We have had some great adventures and will have many more in the years to come.
Follow your dreams
Some people believe that you surrender your identity as an individual to your identity as half of a whole when you get married. We have generally operated on a principle of the sum being greater than its parts. We are two whole individuals made greater by our relationship. It is important to pursue your dreams and not give up on your dreams to keep the peace or do what you think is expected of you or put your relationship ahead of your individual wants and desires.
Help your partner follow their dreams
Part of being stronger together is having a built-in cheerleader. Sometimes our dreams feel too big or too challenging to achieve. Some of those dreams remain just that because we are afraid to take the leap or we can’t see the first step to make it happen. Our partners can help us make those dreams reality. Helping your partner to follow their dreams can lead to interesting experiences and opportunities that you never expected.
Make time for one another
While it is essential to continue to have lives as individuals, it is also important to spend time together as a couple and focus on each other. It is so easy to get wrapped up in your own projects and plans and neglect the needs of your partner – I am certainly guilty of this. Take time and look at one another, talk to one another – really talk to each other – on a regular basis. Check in and see how they are doing, how things are going. Do what I have gradually gotten better at – listen to your partner without giving advice and solutions every time. I am a problem solver and I have learned that it is not always those skills that are required. Just listen.
Communication is paramount
Communicate how things are going for you and listen to your partner talk about how they are doing. Talk about your goals and what is important to you. Talk about feelings and just listen to what your partner is saying and seek to understand what they are saying. Turn off the TV and the internet from time to time.
Money is a source of stress
We have lived primarily on one income for a long time. Sometimes not by choice. We have had our share of financial stress. We don’t get to do as many things as we would like to because we don’t have the funds. Plans for family trips and activities often get bumped in favor of putting food on the table and paying for the electricity that we use. Our situation isn’t dire, but sometimes it feels like it is. The only way we get through it is by talking about money regularly. We talk about ways to improve our situation and we talk about what bills are due and which ones get paid this time around. It doesn’t necessarily take the stress away. It does mean we share the load and talk about how it makes us feel instead of one of us being crushed by the stress and fear.
Respect one another
Respect who your partner is, what they believe, what they want to achieve, how they feel, what they say, their fears and insecurities, their hopes and dreams. If I can learn to respect the fact that my partner is not a fan of seafood – she doesn’t even like lobster – you can respect your partner’s crazy belief system too.
Marriages like wine
I bet you thought this was going to be one of those ‘better with age’ things. It is really that marriage likes wine, especially marriages with kids. It doesn’t need to be wine, but you do need lubricant – your choice. It might be wine, humor, friends or it might be, well, lube. Whatever it is, marriages and all relationships need to be relaxed and filled with joy as often as possible. It can be easy to get trapped in the daily grind and challenges of life. It can be easy to get lost in the work involved to maintain a relationship. It is important to remember that part of that work is fun. Have fun together and look for opportunities to break out of the daily fatigue – especially if there are kids around.
Relationships require sharing
We share lots of stuff, all that touchy-feely and financial stuff referenced above and we also share the work around the house and family. We each do the work that needs doing when it needs doing – unless it is a poopy diaper and I can pretend that I didn’t notice. This usually happens when I am busy thinking about how my partner feels. I am usually just listening and thinking so intently that I don’t notice the smell wafting from the shortest kid’s diaper. Letting your partner change poopy diapers is a special kind of sharing that shows how deep their affection is for you. It is a good kind of sharing.
Kids are crazy (and awesome)
We have three of them and as anyone who has witnessed a kid in action can attest, they are crazy people. Running off in all directions, coming up with ridiculous scenarios, demanding to be fed, etc. They also come up with some pretty amazing ideas and have interesting perspectives on the world. They don’t know how they are supposed to think about certain things so they are free from those preconceptions. They don’t see why you can’t use a hotdog as a ketchup transmission device to move ketchup from the plate to their mouths while keeping the delivery system intact. They may say they want a hot dog for dinner, but really they are looking for ketchup. At the best of times kids are super entertaining and at the worst they are up screaming at 2 am to keep you entertained.
Kids will drive you crazy
They start this process through sleep deprivation and build on that foundation. They’ll ask increasing complex questions when you are running on three hours of sleep to challenge the depth of your knowledge on the difference between dolphins, orcas and whales. They completely ignore your requests to clean up or stop licking the food off your plate. They find your buttons and push them until you cave. Every day they find ways to demonstrate how little control you have over your life. They will tax your relationship with them and your partner and sometimes it is really hard to hold everything together.
Kids will change you and make you work harder
Having kids forces all kinds of changes in your adult life. It changes when you sleep and how much sleep you get. Having kids changes how close you can get to your partner in bed, especially if you are being punched in the face by a little kid in your sleep. Having kids forces you to play games and use your imagination in ways that you didn’t do as an adult before having kids. They see things you don’t notice anymore. My almost 2 year old can spot a squirrel or bird 200 feet away and she’ll shout about what she has spotted until you can see it too. Kids challenge your assumptions and preconceptions and force you to dig deeper to find patience or facts that you didn’t know you knew (or make them up). They help you find the confidence to handle most things – most things other than the thought of your kid being sick or injured. Many parents have kids with additional needs and I have huge respect and admiration for how these parents manage and survive. Kids make you think about the future and what kind of place you want to leave behind for them.
Kids require and demand a lot of attention so having kids can make it harder to find time as partners to be with each other, to talk to each other to listen to each other with both ears. They make you work harder to maintain your relationship.
All I Want is You
Our first dance at our wedding was to “All I Want Is You” by a little known fringe group called U2. We still dance to this song and I feel confident saying that relationships built on U2 will succeed – especially if it is ours.
Sometimes You Just Know
My partner and I knew each other in high school, but did not date. I am older by a few years and in high school that was a substantial gulf. We had friends who thought we would make a good couple, however they did not share those thoughts with either of us. We lost contact for a while after high school and managed to reconnect later in our university years. It turns out that worked out OK. When we started dating it was a long distance relationship for the first year as we were going to school in communities two hours apart. We saw each other every second weekend with alternating treks to the other community.
For some people I think it takes a while before they decide that they would like to make their relationship into a long-term partnership. In my case it took me two weeks to come to that decision and I waited a little more than nine months before proposing. I knew then that ‘we’ would be forever, and will continue to learn and grow as a couple and as ourselves.
Photo: Flickr/Katsu Nojiri (adapted)
Originally appeared on: Dad Goes Round. Reprinted with permission.