Lessons From a Decade of Marriage

Here are 10 things we've learned from growing together as husband and wife
By Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
August 12, 2021 Updated: September 3, 2021

I laid eyes on Mollie for the first time on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. The first day of cross-country camp at college.

We became friends, and 132 days later, we held hands for the first time. Then 28 days after that, we declared our relationship “official.” After 10 more days, we had our first kiss.

Another 849 days passed before I popped the question. She said yes! We married 400 days later.

Well, it’s been exactly 10 years since that wonderful day. And today, I’d like to share 10 lessons I’ve learned from being married to Mollie. I’ll note seven things we’ve done well and three areas I hope to personally grow in in the future. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did on reflecting.

Things We’ve Done Well

We talk about everything.

Mollie and I both place a very high value on good conversation. We have lots of casual and fun dialogue throughout the day, but our real specialty is intentional conversation. For example, it’s not uncommon for us to plan ahead for a dinner date by each choosing in advance 2 to 3 topics that we want to talk about or questions we want to ask each other.

The result of this practice (and other similar ones) is that our curiosity about each other and the things we’re interested in has grown exponentially over the years.

We regularly seek out novelty.

I think new experiences are a vital part of a growing relationship. Every new experience you have with a person is another string that ties you together. And a healthy amount of novelty keeps away boredom and adds excitement to life.

Mollie and I regularly have new experiences together such as traveling somewhere we haven’t been before, trying out a new recipe, or doing something different with our evening routine.

We have a shared worldview.

For Mollie and me, it’s been a tremendous gift to go through life with someone who shares a similar worldview. This covers everything from the faith we practice to our general philosophy of living and parenting. It’s good to have friends who challenge you in these areas, but for your very closest and most intimate friend, it’s nice to have those deep similarities.

We’ve also been intentional about growing our worldview together by having many discussions on important matters and sharing as many experiences together as possible. Without forcing ourselves to agree on everything (we don’t), we think these experiences and exchanges help us to grow in a similar direction. Too many couples reach a point where they realize they’ve grown apart—and this is something that Mollie and I have been mindful of guarding against.

We have shared dreams.

Not only do Mollie and I share a worldview, we also share many of the same dreams. To take two recent examples, for a while Mollie and I have talked about starting a blog together, and now, here we are five months into this shared adventure. We’re also both fairly frugal people by nature, but we love traveling. With a little creativity, we found a way to make a month-long trip to Florida work in our budget for next year.

To find and pursue your dreams together, you have to want to do so. I think this requires a high level of agreeableness and a desire to be part of something together. It’s definitely a trait that you can fall into by accident, but from our experience, it can and should be cultivated.

We share the load of responsibilities.

Our approach to the responsibilities of raising our children and taking care of the house has been that we’re in it together. We’ve naturally settled into a pattern where each of us takes care of certain activities more often than the other, but it is very much a shared load, and a give and take.

One general rule of thumb is that one of us doesn’t rest if the other spouse still has work to do. We knock it out together and then relax. Another good practice is that we’ve been quick to take on chores that the other spouse finds most disagreeable. Most importantly is the fact that we both take a broad ownership of these responsibilities together—we almost never say “That’s not my job.” These strong habits that we adopted early in our marriage laid a solid foundation for the past 10 years of building a home together.

We don’t hold grudges or harbor negative feelings.

In the beginning of our marriage, Mollie and I were definitely more “sensitive” toward each other and stepped on each other’s toes about small things. I think we were still learning some of the selflessness that it takes to live side by side with someone.

But in the past five years especially, Mollie and I have greatly improved at letting these things go. We rarely if ever hold grudges about anything. I think we’ve come to the realization that a bit of generosity and grace toward the other spouse’s moods helps to restore the tranquility we both desire much faster than calling them out on every little mistake. The result has been a very peaceful home.

We greet each other with a smile.

On the flip side of the last point, it’s not just the absence of negative feelings that makes a relationship strong. We are both big believers in making regular deposits into each other’s relational bank accounts.

One of the ways Mollie does this so well is that she always greets me (and our kids, for that matter), with a warm smile—the kind of smile that genuinely says she’s glad to see us. I can’t tell you how much good that single practice has done for their joy in the four walls of our home.

Areas to Grow

In this “areas to grow” section, I’m mostly going to focus on myself. Mollie could stay exactly how she is for the next 10 years and I would only be gaining a small bit of ground against her many virtues.

Become unoffendable.

How much simpler and happier would life be if you became unoffendable? This is one of my personal goals, or at least to get as close as I can in this lifetime. I would say that I have a fairly strong will and opinions. Sometimes this is a virtue, but other times I’m trying to have things done my own way out of pride.

I think our marriage would be strengthened if, as a general rule, I chose to be as accommodating and flexible as possible, except in the areas of my highest values. This doesn’t mean I would resign myself to self-pity or frustration; I think with the right attitude, I could truly find pleasure in the gift and serendipity of going with the flow more often.

Respond with empathy, not a solution.

In most areas of life, I enjoy problem-solving. When something is off in my own life, I’ll try to fix it by thinking through the problem and figuring out what can be changed. I’ve learned (and relearned) over the years that when Mollie shares one of her own struggles with me, she’s not looking for me to immediately try to solve the problem. She’s looking to be heard and to be understood.

The reason that this is hard for me is that it’s simply not my natural response. I think I’m helping by trying to remove the source of frustration. But in marriage, as in any loving relationship, intimacy and trust are far higher values than my DIY therapy skills. When Mollie is vulnerable toward me by sharing her struggles, I’m trying to rewire my fix-it instinct toward empathy.

Grow in patience with the kids.

You never really know how much patience you still need to develop until you’ve lived with a household of young children. Neither Mollie nor I am particularly lacking in the patience department, but we both have our moments—more with the kids than with each other. We find them less reasonable ;).

It’s in these moments that we’ve realized how important it is to have a spouse to lean on. When Mollie is having a rare moment of impatience, I try to dig deep and be extra patient without trying to make a self-righteous show of it. And also, I’m trying to have fewer impatient moments of my own because I know that doing so impacts the mood of the entire home. Growing in this area is just another way I think we can improve the overall dynamics of our marriage in the next 10 years.

This article was originally published on This Evergreen Home, you can read it here.

 

Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.