I don't care about your wedding day. I care about your marriage.
Ok..ok...obviously I do care about your wedding day. However, I mean that in comparison I would rather your whole bridal party spontaneously decide to show up in their underwear at your ceremony than for you to experience a miserable marriage. Plus, this title will probably get more hits than "My Thoughts on Marriage"...I know, I'm sneaky. Hey, at least I'm transparent about it.
The best part of my job is getting to witness a couple as they make this huge transition into becoming husbands and wives. In fact, I believe it is my job to take pictures that remind you exactly why you chose to commit yourselves to that person for the rest of your life. I don't want you to look at your wedding images and think, wow, those are the most beautiful images I've ever seen. I want you to look at them and be overwhelmed at the love you and your partner share. Thankfully, those two things aren't mutually exclusive. :-)
I've been married to my sweet, amazing husband Matt for 3 1/2 years now and I've learned that marriage is hard. REALLY hard. In fact, having a consistently healthy marriage is the hardest thing you'll ever do. It is also so completely worth it.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what a healthy marriage looks like. I had no idea that I would feel really alone sometimes. That there would be times I would wonder if we could really make it. That I would scroll through the endless status updates, each one just a tiny picture of the whole story."Got me flowers, isn't he sweet!" "My man surprised me with a trip to ITALY!!!!!" "Romantic candlelit dinner for two. So. Perfect." I've totally been guilty of this too and I don't even think it's bad to share exciting things on social media. But it isn't always honest either. We post our pretty reality. We don't post the harsher realities. Can you imagine if we did? "He didn't do the dishes again!" with an artsy shot of the kitchen sink. Or "She spent WAY more than she said she would!" with a shot of me guiltily holding shopping bags. Yeah. Image management at it's best.
I'm committing to be more open about my marriage in my blog. I'll be honest about things that have helped make our marriage rock solid and the things that poked holes in our ship. My clients already hear all this from me, but I want to encourage anyone else on this journey as much as I possibly can. BTW-this is all based on my experience, and I do not claim "expert status" on life, men or marriage, but maybe some of these things that have helped us can help you.
Here are 5 strategies that are currently or have in the past helped our marriage:
1.) Date nights. For Matt and I, these are a weekly must. After skipping them for a few weeks, I start feeling disconnected and then little things become these huge problems. Now, there are some rules for our date nights. For us, a date night is planned. It's not "oh, we're out running errands and stopped into Chipotle for a quick bite-let's call this our date for the week." We *try* to stay off our phones while having our date. We also *try* not to allow any boring life talk (i.e. what's our budget look like this month, what do you want for dinner this week, etc.) We make this about hanging out and connecting. One of my favorite things we do is play the question game. We started doing this when we were dating, but it's still fun now. You just go back and forth asking questions like: what is your favorite present you ever received? What was the biggest trouble you ever got in at school? What was your favorite moment from our wedding day? And so on. The more creative, the better. Then you both answer each question.
Date nights don't have to be expensive. When Matt and I were becoming debt free sometimes date nights looked like a bottle of two buck chuck, a stack of playing cards and an elevator ride up to the rooftop of our building. If you have kids, maybe find another couple who has kids and trade babysitting for each other's date night. Maybe on Saturday night you watch their kids from 2-5 while they go out and they can watch yours from 5-8. Or you have a late night picnic in your living room after they go to bed. However you make it happen, date nights are important.
2.) Weekly random acts of love. Matt and I used to do this and it was a really great tool-one we need to start doing again, in fact! :-) Basically, you commit to intentionally show affection to your spouse in a specific way each week. It can be anything. A love note on the dashboard of his car before he leaves for work. Buying flowers for her while you're at the store getting dinner. Writing a love note on the mirror while they're in the shower. Giving him a long foot rub after work.
Matt and I wanted to make sure we wouldn't run out of ideas so we each made a list of 25 things that really make us feel special. It was a combination of things that we already did for each other and things we would really appreciate. For example, I had no idea he feels loved when I wear my hair curly because he knows I don't like wearing it that way. So now when I do it, he knows it's just for him.
If you're going to commit to doing this, it's important you do whatever you need to do to keep your commitment. Otherwise, what was supposed to be a positive exercise becomes a hurtful one. For me, I like being spontaneous about it. For Matt, he has to set a reminder alarm on his phone. Whatever works, but it really does inject a lot of fun into your marriage. If you want to do an extreme version, you can try a "30 days of love" where you do one random act of kindness every day for 30 days for each other. Then it becomes a pretty fun competition over who can be more creative.
3.) Pray with each other. This has been a huge help for Matt and I. We try once a day to ask each other what we can pray for one another for that day. Then we pray out loud for each other. Normally we do this when we're laying in bed at night, but sometimes we do it in the morning before we head out the door. It's not a marathon, hash it all out prayer. It's 5 minutes of focused time with one another. This has been particularly helpful when we're going through those rougher, more disconnected times in our marriage that may not even have to do with us. Like job stress, or money concerns. For some reason, when you're praying for someone it's really hard to be angry or upset towards them. And hearing someone pray for you, makes you feel cared for and thought about. For me, I get to hear what Matt's struggling with on a daily basis. He's more of an internal processor so sometimes this practice makes me aware of things I wouldn't have even known otherwise.
4.) Rate your marriage once a week. I was reading a book one day and I started laughing because it said that I was a babbling brook. (Shocker!) I shared this with Matt and he asked what it said he was. I answered "It says you're the dead sea." He made a face, but I went on to explain that the babbling brooks will literally babble to anyone around. And if no one's around, they'll babble to the dog. Or inanimate objects. Pretty accurate. The dead sea is still, but very deep. There's a lot going on, but it is all beneath the surface. "So," I concluded, "it basically says that you're a mysterious, thoughtful man and that I'm ten shades of crazy."
This is a truth for our marriage. I remember our first year married, I was CONSTANTLY having sit down conversations with Matt. Nothing was wrong, I just wanted to communicate and communicate and communicate. And then maybe communicate about communicating. Then once we're done communicating, we can communicate. I'm sure you can imagine how grueling this would be every other day. And I'm not a concise communicator either (uh, duh, currently at word count 1492.) So, for a while we'd ask each other to rate how we were feeling in our marriage that week on a scale of 1-10. We'd each follow up with a short explanation why we're rating at said number. Then we'd ask each other what we could do to improve their rating by one point. We don't try to make a 3 go up to a 10 in one week-that's too much pressure and a bit impractical. We just ask how we can bump it up one point.
This really helped keep our marathon conversations to a minimum, while still maintaining insight into how we're each feeling.
5.) The C word. Counseling. Ah, it's such a dirty word. Matt and I had pre-marital counseling and it was awesome. But we'll also be seeking counseling at other times in our marriage. Especially before big life changes like when we have kids, or if we have to move across the country. No, we aren't about to get divorced. We aren't hanging by a thread. But we want to remain healthy and fulfilled in our relationship. I feel like counseling has this rap for being the "last ditch effort". Couples only go when they have years of hurt and baggage to work through. Can you imagine how much more they could enjoy their life together if they tackled the issues earlier? Don't let the negative stigma related to reaching out for help stop you from pursuing it. Counseling is an incredible, powerful tool that can move your marriage into a much richer place.
HOLY. MOLY. This was the longest post ever, but I sincerely hope it helps whoever reads it. You may read this and think we're crazy and weird and, well, that's all true so you'd be right. :-) Ultimately, if you're struggling right now, I want you to know that it's totally normal and you aren't alone. I also want you to know that, no matter what you're struggling with, if you are both willing to work on your life together it can start to be a source of joy. I'm not saying you can turn your life into a Hollywood romance montage-that would be a sad, cheap representation of what is ultimately so much richer than that. I am saying that your marriage can be a source of beautiful, sweet life. One rooted in reality, but brimming with joy. I sincerely hope this helps whoever reads it. If any of you have any questions about anything I wrote, or would like me to discuss something more in depth in coming blog posts, please email me. I really am happy to help! email@example.com
Your Atlanta Wedding Photographer,