Today is my eleventh wedding anniversary.

As a woman, a Christian, and a wedding planner you’d probably expect me to share a fluffy post about how wonderful marriage is and how I’m so blessed to be married to such a remarkable person, complete with old photos from our wedding day.  And typically, I probably would share that type of post, to save face.  To appear as put together as possible.  To focus on the good.  And for “the brand”, you know?

But that isn’t the truth.  While my husband is a good and honest man, and while he definitely has had his fair share of remarkable moments, that isn’t the whole story.

The truth is, marriage is NOTHING like I thought it would be.

Granted, I was a doe-eyed twenty-year old who thought I had life figured out when those sacred vows were made.  But still…I was under the impression that marriage would be stuffed full of ridiculous romance, topped-off with doing life with this person who saw you, adored you, and spent a good chunk of time daily pondering how he could shower me with his love.

And that is exactly how it was.  For two years.

But once our first child entered the picture (at the ripe age of 22) and the endorphins of being new parents wore off, we found ourselves deep in the trenches of family life.  Early mornings, late nights, breastfeeding (me, not him), diapers, laundry, chores and chores and more damn chores took the place of long conversations, dates, sleeping in and spooning.  Although so much joy was experienced daily as we marveled over this precious little family we had created there were also moments of exhaustion, isolation, and arguing over why he couldn’t just do the freaking dishes and why I had to constantly nag.

Then we had two more kids.  Things got busier, our careers thrived, and mindless reality TV took place of the one-hour of conversation we could have had but were too depleted to initiate.  The bliss of a marriage I had once envisioned – and briefly experienced – was a distant memory and the reality of how much work marriage actually required was the furthest thing from the sexy romance we once had.

This is the phase when people usually throw in the proverbial towel (actually – around year 8 is when divorce typically occurs in a marriage).  The balancing act gets to be too much, the calendar has created a wedge between husband and wife, and remembering why you said “I do” in the first place is sometimes difficult to recall.  So how do you keep it together?  How can you guard your marriage from succumbing to the wear and tear of life?  I definitely don’t have all the answers but I do have my own personal experience.  After over a decade of marriage, here is my best advice that I wish someone would have shared with me a long time ago:

Act How You Want to Feel Until You Start to Feel How You’re Acting.  This advice was actually given to me prior to my walk down the aisle, but it didn’t resonate until several years later.  Essentially, we all know that you improve that which you practice.  If you are angry at your spouse and you allow anger to govern your thoughts, decisions, actions and words, you become a master of anger.  However, if despite your anger you act lovingly, choose to think kind thoughts, and allow love to govern your decisions, actions and words, you become a master of grace and the feelings of love will follow the action of love.

Surround Yourself With Likeminded Couples.  When Mark and I moved to San Diego, the first thing we did was find a church.  Divorce was a common conversation between us and we were hanging on by a thread.  We found our church and immediately got involved with a couples small group.  At our first session the hosts of our group shared their testimony, which was heavy to say the least.  I had never experienced a couple being so authentic and frank about their marital struggles.  Mark and I walked away from that first couples group filled with hope (I mean, compared to what they had experienced we were doing pretty damn good).  We’ve been a part of that same couples group for almost 7 years now and spending time with likeminded couples who openly share their trials and triumphs and allow us to be authentic with our struggles as well reminds us that we are not alone.  Every marriage has issues; every family has challenges.

Marriage is Not All About Romance.  I’ll be honest, this is still hard for me to accept sometimes.  I am disgustingly romantic.  I was born during a time where Disney Princesses were glorified and everyone lived happily ever after.  But I am learning to modify my definition of romance and what “happily ever after” actually looks like when you have a mortgage, three kids, a business, and a slew of other responsibilities conveniently left unmentioned in Cinderella.  Sure, flowers and candy and romantic dinner dates are nice (and necessary!), but when I come home to the dishes done and look out the sliding-glass door to see Mark playing soccer with our kids in the backyard, I’m kinda turned on!  That is romantic.  When Mark anticipates my needs by knowing I must have coffee brewed before my feet hit the ground in the morning or brings home my favorite wine after a hard week, that is romantic.  When we have a sick child and Mark cleans up vomit while gently comforting our daughter, my heart fills with love.  Of course I need a regular dose of non-chore-related and non-beverage-related romance, but I try to focus on what he does daily that shows character and intention.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive. We all get lazy.  I am guilty of it; you are guilty of it, too.  Because of our tendency toward laziness it sometimes seems easier to be reactive instead of being proactive.  For me, being proactive means anticipating each others needs and doing.  Being proactive means setting boundaries and safeguards in your marriage before temptation comes.  Being proactive means scheduling time to connect, whether its grabbing lunch together, going for a run together, reading your Bibles together, or even scheduling sexy time (he doesn’t have to know you added seducing him to your calendar by the way). ; )

Its Not All About You.  In a culture that preaches selfishness and instant gratification, the concept that marriage is not all about ME and MY happiness is becoming a baffling one, at best.  Perhaps you saw this trending article last week entitled, Marriage Isn’t For You.  This totally resonated with me, as it did with most of the country.  Marriage isn’t just about me and how I feel, but rather how I can serve and love my spouse.  Its totally selfless.  Its hard.  It can be unfair and it can definitely suck, but if all I ever focused on was showing love I bet the suckiness of it would dissipate and our happiness would dramatically increase.  And when I break it down:  Is he the most romantic?  No.  Does he always get me?  No.  Is he forgetful?  At times.  But more importantly than all that, is he honest and loyal?  Yes.  Does he make me laugh?  Yes.  Is he a loving, fun, and an attentive father to our children?  Yes.  And most importantly, does he love the Lord?  Yes.  This man deserves my love.  I need stop focusing on what he should be doing for me and focus more on how I can be a blessing to him.

So today on my eleventh anniversary I wanted to share with you a glimpse into the reality of my marriage.  While it is far from perfect there is something really beautiful here.  Perhaps its our sixteen year history or our three beautiful children, but I think its also the many lessons on love, sacrifice, compromise, and selflessness we are constantly learning.  And when it comes down to it, there is no one else I’d rather hang out in the trenches with.