As of this week, my husband and I have officially been together for eighteen years. We were eighteen years old on our first date. We have spent half of our lives in love with each other. Because we were so young and also very religious back then, neither of us had really dated anyone seriously before that. It’s always been us for each other. From the first time he held my hand, I knew I never wanted to hold another hand ever again. This boy was my man. I can’t explain how, but I knew he was going to grow up to be everything I needed, and I’ve never regretted marrying young.
When we decided we were in love for the long haul, we knew almost nothing about the world, or even about ourselves. We just knew that when we were together, we felt like we could become everything we could ever dream of becoming — as long as we did it as a team. As luck would have it, we were right. He is the reason I believe in soul mates. We are better together than the sum of our parts. We make sense.
Spending your entire life with one person doesn’t come without its challenges. Teenagers don’t have fully-developed brains. We made a lot of choices in the first few years that boggle my mind now. Even throughout our twenties, we were kids in many ways, and we acted like it. But we made it.
Here are just a handful of the relationship lessons we’ve learned along the way — and some things that other lifelong couples like us have learned, too.
You have to talk about everything. It’s non-negotiable.
Faith G. shares, “We were committed to communicating so much that maybe it was annoying. But no stone went unturned when we did have hard conversations. Those early times of growing up together is what’s carried us through some really dark seasons together. We are able to cling to each other more rather than not understand why the other is processing a certain way.”
Fighting fair is a skill you have to learn.
We didn’t always do this. In the beginning, we pushed each other’s buttons on purpose just to try to win. We would argue until we were truly angry. We wasted so many days giving each other the silent treatment, muttering under our breath, and refusing to be the first to apologize. Now that we have almost two decades of experience, we have learned how to disagree without arguing, debate without insulting, and fight without hitting below the belt. And we have both learned the healing power of a heartfelt apology. Our life is not a constant utopia, but it’s peaceful because we have taught one another the lines we have to choose not to cross, no matter how upset you might be. They aren’t worth it.
Sex isn’t everything, but it’s a big thing.
“I’m not saying you have to have a ton of sex! I’m just saying you have to be on the same page about it. There is no right or wrong amount of sex to have, but being on vastly different pages can lead to some big, uncomfortable feelings. It’s likely you won’t always have matching sex drives — but you can always keep the communication wide open. Discuss how to stay connected, and make sure that nobody feels rejected, neglected or pressured,” shares Emily, a seasoned wife and mom of almost 20 years.
If you look for a reason to leave, you will find one.
If you look for reasons to stay, you’ll find those, too. This is my husband’s philosophy.
“As long as there is no abuse of any kind, I think any marriage can work if both people are truly invested in making sure it does. It takes a million conversations, really, truly listening, and even sticking it out when you can’t really see how it’s going to get better. But if you love each other, you both want it to work, and nobody is doing anything shady, all the little disagreements are survivable. It just takes intention,” he says.
Sometimes, bad feelings are good teachers.
“Early in our marriage, my husband kissed someone else. I used to be ashamed to admit that, but I’m not anymore. The story would take a zillion years to explain, but the bottom line is, I chose to stay because I believed that he was a good but really young man who made a bad choice — not a bad man who wasn’t worthy to be trusted. He has been above reproach ever since. He used his regret to become a better man. The best man. The kind any woman would be lucky to have. It wasn’t his finest hour, but he fought for me, we went to counseling, and we made it. I never thought I would be capable of forgiving anything like that, but my bad feelings taught me a lot about myself, too,” Clara G. shares.
The only way to survive is to embrace how many times you’re both going to change.
This goes for the way we look and who we are at our core. Everyone deserves the right to grow, even people who marry very young.
Rita T. imparts the following young marriage wisdom: “I think the key, at least for us, is accepting that the person you married isn’t always going to be the same person. Especially when you marry young, because you go through so many life phases and changes together. My husband isn’t the guy I married when I was 19, and I know I’m not nearly the same myself. But if you hold onto one ideal of how a person is going to be, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. We’ve been lucky to still like each other throughout all our various incarnations and metamorphoses of self.”
Youth isn’t an excuse for bad behavior.
Young people can and should have healthy, loving, productive, passionate, respectful relationships just like couples who meet when they are older. Even preschoolers can learn not to hit, name-call or take things that don’t belong to them. Youth is not an excuse for volatility and strife. Young people don’t have to accept that their relationships will be full of unfaithfulness, instability or abuse. One instance of abusive behavior is one too many, even if you’re “just kids.” The first time someone grabs you, hits you, screams at you, pushes you sexually, tries to control how much money you have access to in order to keep you dependent on them, or threatens you, they lose their right to be with you. It’s okay to have some growing up to do; it’s not okay to be an abuser.
I could go on for hours. Marrying young has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow as a person and a partner. No matter when you meet the love of your life, loving each other well is a skill that has to be learned — and if you’re committed to that, age is just a number.