8 Lessons That Surprised Me After 8 Years of Marriage

Today, my wife Ashley and I celebrate eight years of marriage. I’ve learned so much about life and relationships from this woman, so much of which has surprised me.

Photo credit: Jimmy Rintjema

Recently, we went out to eat at a super-fancy place thanks to a gift card from a friend. While gorging ourselves on every appetizer, entree, and dessert we could stuff in our mouths (because we were really trying to max out the ridiculously generous gift card), we reflected on our life together and what we wanted the future to look like.

Afterwards, I was struck by the fact that marriage did not turn out the way I thought it would. It ended up being much, much better. Here are seven somewhat surprising lessons I’ve learned from my marriage, and these apply to a lot more than just matrimony:

  1. You were not meant to be alone. I don’t think everyone needs to or even should get married, but I do know that life happens best in community. And having a partner by your side is essential to staying encouraged and staying sane. I used to think that you needed to learn to be okay on your own before getting married (and there’s some truth to that), but now I know that we were meant to need each other.
  2. You can’t make someone else happy. But you can help them find their own happiness. You can drive yourself nuts trying to fix someone else. It’s better just to love them and do what you can to guide them to where they, not you, want to go.
  3. You have to celebrate the good but remember the bad. No one should live a life of regret, but remembering the moments when you’ve failed will help you not repeat the same mistakes later.
  4. You don’t think things can change until they do. A friend who’s been married 25 years told me the one thing he wished more people would realize is how much a person can change. There’s hope. In spite of what we often believe and say, people do, in fact, change. They just get stuck sometimes in familiar patterns and don’t know how to break out of them. Ashley has taught me so many things about being a grownup, things I thought were impossible to learn… until I did.
  5. You should never apologize with the word “but.” Apologies do not come with exceptions or rationalizations (I am still learning this). And “I was wrong” sounds a lot more convincing than a halfhearted “I’m sorry.” This was hard for me, because I fear not being heard, but I now know that an apology with a reason for why I did what I did is really just an excuse.
  6. You should always have something to look forward to. Anticipation can break the monotony of familiarity. That’s not to say that the daily routine can’t be a beautiful thing; it can be. But we all get bored sometimes and need a goal to aim for. Hope produces joy.
  7. Your quirks are what make you lovable. It’s not true that opposites always attract, but it’s also not true that you should marry someone just like you. Or partner in business with them, for that matter. The truth is we need each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies — in life and relationship. Our differences don’t divide us. They make us need one another.
  8. You will be misunderstood. This has been a tough lesson to learn, but an important one. We all want to be understood by the people we love, and it can be painful when someone so close to us gets us so wrong. But this is exactly what happens in every relationship. And when it happens, your job is to not simply wallow in your wounded-ness but instead to clarify and communicate the best you can what you need and how you need it. A solid apology goes a long way, but what makes a relationship even better is an earnest desire to repair what was broken and seek to better understand this person you love a little better. Yes, you will be misunderstood but every misunderstanding is an opportunity to grow closer together.

So whether you’re married or have a best friend you couldn’t part with, what’s one surprising lesson you’ve learned from a long-term relationship? Share in the comments.

75 thoughts on “8 Lessons That Surprised Me After 8 Years of Marriage

  1. Congratulations, Jeff! It’s so refreshing to see someone talk about the many wonders of marriage, instead of cribbing about their spouses.
    I’ve never dated and I’m too young to even think about marriage, but I’ve learnt quite a lot of lessons from my parents’ marriage.
    They always stand by each other, no matter what. They’ve had problems and bad times, like everyone, but they didn’t give up. And even though they’ve been married for almost 25 years, you can still see their eyes light up when they’re together.

    I hope someday I’ll have a family of my own that’s so happy and loving. 🙂

  2. My wife is more interested in having me understand what she’s feeling than hearing what I have to say about it.

    Congrats, Jeff!

    1. Yes, as an engineery guy, I keep forgetting that not every description of a problem is a request for a solution. Sometimes it’s just a request for understanding and sympathy, or … maybe … a request for a restatement of the problem, but not a proffered solution.

      1. Exactly, but so easy to forget, as you said. I find myself getting in a hurry for her to get to the bottom line, but to her having her story heard is often more important than the punch line.

  3. Congrats! I learned early on what some might think is a given but I still had to learn it: your spouse can not read your mind. Knowing this and vocalizing your needs is huge.

  4. Happy Anniversary Jeff! The most surprising thing that I learned what that success flows from your family life to your business life and doesn’t trickle down from a successful business to a stable family life. Family-first business structure is not just a catch phrase. It’s the best way to succeed in business and family.

    1. That is a great way to look at it Nick. I have had some lousy times at work, but if things were good with the family, all was OK. It is not the same the other way around.

  5. I donated a kidney to my husband. The circumstances and events surrounding this made both of us realize that so many of the things that we used to argue about or disagree about don’t matter. I always assumed that the “in sickness” part was the realm of the elderly. I am happy to have learned this lesson early in life

  6. Happy Anniversary, Jeff and Ashley! Here’s to many more happy years together. In my 20+ years with my guy, I’ve learned that being an authentic cheerleader for your partner while they are on a journey toward change is also very important. Being invested in each other’s success.

  7. Congrats Jeff and Ashley!

    I have been with my girlfriend for 7 years and we’re getting married 6 days from now.

    So excited!

    I have to say you are dead on. Love them for their quirks. I do love my gal Kelli because of our similarities and because of her quirks. She feels he same way about me. I mean, we do get on each other’s nerves but it’s really rare because we’re both so chill.

    Here’s to 70 more anniversaries guys!


  8. Congrats guys!!!! What a great accomplishment. One thing I have learned is that a marriage gets better the longer it lasts. I have been married to my wife for 12 years and it gets better eveyday. It takes a lot of intentional work but it is worth every bit of it.

    Another thing I have learned is the art of give and take. A huge key in any successful relationship.

    1. I agree. My husband and I will celebrate 20 years this summer. We’ve had our ups and downs, mostly ups, and it does get better every year. Like you said, it takes intentional work and that’s so worth it. We appreciate and enjoy our time together more and more as we get older. I think part of that is that in mid-life, if you’ve got a good thing going, you are so grateful for it.

  9. Awww…congratulations, Jeff! #HUGSSS

    We will be celebrating seven years of matrimony this year too, but my lessons are slightly different 😉

    In all seriousness, you and your wife look adorable. Hope your smiles grow brighter, your hearts grow warmer and your life is replete with love, light and laughter #HUGSS

    Much love

  10. I love this! Thanks for sharing your marriage lessons. As someone who’s had an engagement that didn’t work out and who has lost another love to suicide, it’s easy to want to throw in the towel. However, reading this gives me hope that God has someone for me and He’ll bring him around at just the right time:-) In the meantime, I am focused on listening for God’s voice and direction in my life, and so thankful for His love!

  11. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jeff! I particularly appreciate numbers 5, 6, and 7 on your list! Congratulations on your first seven years of marriage and best wishes for many, many more!

  12. Way to go Jeff. My one surprise was that my wife verbalizes her thought process while I silently process mine. That said, you can imagine that I translated her words literally. While she was bouncing off ideas, I thought she had already made a decision. Remember, by the time I am verbalizing my thoughts, I have quietly churned them in my mind! It took a while to get ourselves on the same page. That significantly reduced our misunderstanding of each other’s thought process.

  13. Congratulations Jeff and Ashley!

    It is so encouraging to see a strong marriage. I am going to celebrate fifteen years in September. I was fortunate to have had the example of two sets of grandparents who made it 65+ years together.

    I know that your wife makes you stronger and better in everything you do. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you have someone that is honest and real with you yet supportive of your dreams too. I look forward to seeing you two grow old together. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned so far!


  14. Great points! I especially liked the second one. I know too many people who have spent wayyyy too much time trying to make another happy instead of, as you put it, helping them find their happiness. Cheers to you!

  15. Thanks for the post Jeff, great to hear and congratulations on 7 years together. God bless,

  16. Congrats Jeff! I agree with the comments by Adam Martin & Nick Pavlidis. In addition, I’d add that not only do people change, but so do circumstances. I’ve watched many a friend struggle in his/her marriage, to the point of where I thought they should just give it up and move on. But instead they stuck it out, and today things are totally different. I’ve learned through these friends that If you love your spouse, marriage is so worth fighting for.

  17. Jeff,
    The lessons learned never stop. Joanne and I are approaching 47 years of marriage and thankfully we began some simple habits that we continue today: date night every Friday night, kiss first thing in the morning and last thing at night and anytime one of us leaves the house, nothing but respect in front of other people, and we’ve built in annual things that we anticipate each year. Congrats to you and Ashley – and may you continue the rich learning process.

  18. Prepare yourself to see the worst in each other. Cancer cures the worst fears of “till death parts” & defines your character to love completely, when there’s nothing but pain and heartache.

  19. Good question! I think I wouljd agree with all the lessons you mentioned…I think another one that I would add is that hard times can really test your marriage… if you can get through those, your marriage will be stronger than ever.

  20. I have learned that forgiveness is very underrated, and so necessary for a great marriage. My husband and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage this year, and it definitely hasn’t been without its bumps, but we have grown together, largely through forgiveness.

  21. Our 33 anniversary is this week, sharing in the loss of our parents, “parenting” grown children. It is a precious gift to be someone who knows the context to every situation. We do not have to tell the background stories, we experienced the background together. There is indescribable comfort and security to having a companion who laughs, cries, and cares as much as you.

  22. So many congratulations Jeff and Ashley!!! I love everything you’ve learned. After 21 years of being married, JJ and I need to work on making sure “we” have something to look forward to. With three kids we adore ranging 6-19, it’s easy to pour our most creative, relationship-building ideas and adventures into them and forget we need it as a couple. Another big lesson we learned in 2014 is that we have to get super intentional about making sure we’re “together” more than we are apart. Whether it’s travel for my work, doing stuff with our kids who all have different needs and interests, going grocery shopping, or paying bills – our marriage is so much stronger the more JJ and I are {together}. Love that you asked. This is good stuff.

  23. Thanks for sharing Jeff! Finally catch a glimpse of the lovely lady you’re always sharing stories about. One thing I’ve learned here recently, having gone into my first long-term relationship in my mid-twenties, is that openness is SO key. Keeping things inside, making private plans of great writing success and not sharing with your partner will do nothing to bring you closer. I’ve been surprised at how helpful and inspiring my boyfriend’s thoughts have been when it comes to my writing pursuits, I can’t believe I ever thought he might judge me. He’s my partner in everything!

  24. What a lovely post! Well done and congratulations to both of you. I have nothing to add – I just enjoyed reading and basking in your reflected happiness. Thank you.

  25. Jeff you two are learning so many great truths. Congrats on your journey thus far. Good insights as others have said on your comments section.

    We are 40 years and counting.

    I come from a “Divorce Court” background and my wife is from a “Little House on the Prairie” background but we have learned how to create a safe loving environment to raise our three children. You do not have to live your family legacy. https://wp.me/P50Bqq-a

    Keep the spice alive and thriving – date her every week.

  26. Hey Jeff, keep reminding your fans that they were a couple before the children came along unless they are a blended family.

    In either case, focus on the marriage and each other to give the children the very best gift of all, a set of loving romantic parents to set a marvelous heritage for future generations.

    Again congrats to the two of you!

  27. Congratulations!! You are correct about learning lessons over time. I have learned that what I thought was incompatible in my younger years is not such a big deal now that I am older. People grow and as a result a relationship can become far more richer or it can groq apart. Hopefully we learn to accept others and appreciate that growth in them and in ourselves! Thanks for sending such great messages!

  28. Jeff, as usual – insightful and wise post. Ashley either did an AMAZING job of helping you be a grownup or you had a better start than you think 🙂

    After 34 years of marriage, I hope I’ve learned 34 lessons… I know for sure is that one thing I’ve learned is that you owe it to your spouse to be your best self. One of my favorite quotes is from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. It’s a bit long – but well worth the read, and well worth implementing into your beliefs and daily life, married or otherwise.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson

  29. Happy Anniversary! You have made some really excellent points. If I had to add something after 23 years of marriage it would be this: as much as other people may change, you need to be willing to change yourself. Be willing to subject yourself to critical analysis and see where what areas you need to work on and grow in. And the other thing is that you cannot depend on your spouse to make you happy. They will make mistakes, they will say hurtful things, they will be moody or miserable at times. Happiness needs to come a from a place much deeper than an imperfect person.

  30. I like that you thought out such a meaningful list. Had I wrote the list, it probably would have included insight like “Don’t eat chocolate chips out of the bag” and “Don’t cat call while your wife is practicing Zumba”. Although I have been married 15 years and I still do both of those.

  31. Coming up on 32 years, I would agree with the insight others have offered, especially in regards to the possibility of change.

    For me, the surprising lesson was how much peace and joy I finally felt when I accepted my husband’s unique gifts, rather than being jealous over my own lack of the same. Letting go of the envy allowed me to embrace and use his gifts, which he has always humbly and generously offered, to our mutual benefit, just as he has done with mine.

    Congratulations on 7 years, and may the coming years reveal many more wonderful layers and delightful surprises!

  32. Now that I’ve read the 45 comments, I’d offer my own: 30 years, amazingly, although the one shared comment from our friends was “You’re marrying him/her? Can’t last!”

    She’s emotional, empathetic and twice divorced. Me, rational, sympathetic (note the difference) analytical and twice divorced.

    Her explanation, from short-order cook experience? The first waffle just seasons the grille, the second sets the temperature. Third time’s a charm!

    After a few years of jointly reading marriage psychology books, we think we’ve found a powerful reason to share our thoughts, though:

    The hidden axiom is that no ego damages itself. Instead, it makes up excuses, rationalizations, and covers up any criticism. What we need to really get past our flaws is someone we trust who has the knowledge to fairly criticize us. Marriage does this with its extreme familiarizations.

    The critic can’t be even slightly a stranger, and must be sincerely interested in our welfare. Especially for well-educated, smart people it’s hard to trust an analyst who charges us money and refuses to engage emotionally, even when we know they have a professional for the confessional.

    It’s hard to accept critiques and analysis from your partner, and yet it’s the most valuable thing they can give you: knowledge of yourself, undamped by the protective mechanisms of the self.

  33. Not sure where the time has gone but I am still amazed that my Wife, Anne has stayed married to me for nearly 37 years. Time has changed many things as well as adding four children and four grandchildren. It’s not often you can say you have had a friend for 40 years.
    Looks like you have a lot to look foreword to Jeff!

  34. One thing my husband and I have done for 43 years is to live each day knowing that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. That has always kept our relationship fresh and exciting.

  35. Congratulations on your 7th anniversary woohoo! After 32 yrs. of marriage my husband and I are still best friends. We have learned to quickly shift “bad emotions” to the positive good emotions. Creating pictures/visualization of what we want to see and feel about each other made life so much better. This is surprisingly easier to do with better results. Wish we knew this earlier. Whatever I see in my husband that I don’t like I go within & check the triggers. It’s a signal for me to be clear of what I want then imagine it. It’s never too late to learn something new. We learned to be open and willing to practice new ideas from mentors (books, audios, videos etc.) Marriage can truly be blissful and fun 🙂

  36. I have learned, or rather am still learning that we are basically selfish people. And for a marriage to be good, we need to go against our bent and consider the other person. We have been married 38 years. Happy Anniversary Jeff!

  37. Hi Jeff: 40 years in my first marriage, and now almost 24 in my second marriage. Joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, children, emergencies, incredible victories – and heartrending loss, all interwoven into a life pattern that changes one. Learning to give of myself in ways I never dreamed. Learning that I had to depend upon God for my inner security: I could freely love – because I AM LOVED. My life is rich with experiences and memories for eternity.
    You and Ashley are walking true to each other before God. What you wrote is excellent; I look forward to reading what you write at 10 years of marriage, at 20 years and beyond.
    God bless you both! and Happy Anniversary!

    1. Your comment made my eyes burn with tears and my soul well up within me. In a moment my path interwove with yours and I knew in my spirit the essence of where the path leads to which I am travelling, leaning on God. Thank you for your faithfulness and for writing this so plainly, so beautifully, so rich.

  38. Congratulations Jeff and Ashley. When you start out on your marriage
    journey you have no idea how deep it will get (and of course what it will
    require to reach that depth). Having been married for 32 years this year, we
    have not even yet fully plumbed the depth of our relationship. Having said
    goodbye to each of our mothers in the last 5 months is an indication of some of
    the terrain that we still have to navigate, and as we age and mature this will create
    a context for even further growth and a deepening of the relationship (with an
    increasingly spiritual focus). My counsel to you is to disregard the notion
    that marriage becomes boring. If you truly share your lives with each other in
    an open, authentic and sacrificial way, it just gets better, deeper and sweeter.

  39. Happy anniversary!
    One of the surprising lessons I have learned in our 8 years of marriage is how my husband can still change for the better when we grow in love. I just have to keep the faith in him, and faith in God that my prayers will be answered in His way and in His timing.

  40. Awww, congratulations Jeff & Ashley! I especially love #7! We’re married 20 years now. What I have learned is that the love ebbs and flows, but over time it becomes so much greater and richer. I could not imagine life without this man of mine and the family we have created together.

  41. Congrats, Jeff and Ashley! I like # 2. Husbands and wives should complement one another, but they should not be responsible for the other’s happiness. Happiness comes from within. Trying to fix someone else is exhausting. But loving someone else through the good times and bad…that’s what marriage is. And with the right person, the journey and history created is pretty special!

  42. Congratulations! One thing I’ve learned from only being married 7 months (I’m a newby) is that my wife and I are a team. When I reach for my dreams, I shouldn’t take sole ownership of my ambitions. The more I include her, the more we prosper together. They are not my dreams; they’re our dreams. Thanks for your wisdom, Jeff!

  43. Jeff, such a great list and congratulations on the milestone. My husband and I have been married coming up on 27 years and I have learned so many things….one of the most significant is that when I think my husband needs to change some behavior because it doesn’t work or it bothers me (or any other belief I have about his needing to change)….the reality is that if I make the change in my own paradigm the issue (in most cases) becomes a non-issue because I was the one “thinking” he needed to do something differently. When I show my husband the respect he deserves to be WHO he is, then my need to change him is really the thing that changes.

  44. Hi Jeff, congrats on your anniversary.

    I have been married for over 26 years and I am still learning about marriage. The main lesson we have learnt through our marriage is to remember how it felt when we first met. What lengths we would go to, to make the other happy. Or to impress them, please them, make them feel great. When times get hard, I try to remember to not be selfish, marriage is a union of two. Unhappiness is contagious, so is happiness. If you make your partner feel bad, it will flow down. Make them feel great and feel the love. 😉

  45. Thanks, Jeff! Congratulations and well written observations. I forwarded this to one of my sons and daughter-in-law who are a few years behind you in the marital adventure.

  46. Congratulations Jeff and Ashley! I love this list, it is really good advice. My husband and I will celebrate 16 years in November. I’m still committed to learning to love the man by my side.

  47. I have been married thirty years to my wife, which has flown by in a flash. Most of that time has been spent in an alchemical retort testing and tempering our characters. I’m amazed at anyone who can adjust themselves to the challenges of loving, partnering, raising children and building a life in a crazy world while offering guidance to others at such a young age. Kudos to you Jeff.

  48. I’ve been married sixteen years to my second husband. Having had such unpleasant first marriages that they ended in divorce, each of us was committed to making this marriage work. We’ve done the usual things: listen, support one another, encourage, laugh, do things together, apologize and forgive when messes happen. But I have noticed over the years that we have become more alike, too. We’re really very different people, but in adapting to one another’s quirks, we have both mellowed. For instance, I’m a neat freak and my husband is a pack rat. He’s become tidier (a little) and I’ve become messier (a little.) He’s learned to love choral music (one of my passions) and I’ve learned to be a Red Sox fan (his big passion.) We’re no longer doing it just to please the other; our new habits are who we are.

  49. Happy Anniversary! I really love this list of lessons you have learned over time. I’ve only been married for about a year and a few months but if I have learned anything it’s that listening goes a long way. It’s easy to vent to your partner but truly listening to them, that’s something!

  50. Congratulations!
    I’m not married but in the last year providence provided me with two best friends. I was surprised and delighted to discover how much joy there is to be found in that depth of friendship- to be honest, I’m not sure how I did life before it came my way. I look forward to being married but I feel incredibly blessed to be able to experience such love and acceptance from friends 🙂 we were definitely not created to live alone.

  51. Aaww…. Congrats 🙂 !! Wishing you & Ashley many, many more years of marital bliss 🙂 !!

    I’m not married, but the one biggest lesson I have learned from the most meaningful relationships (with my best friends) in my life is that somethings are just meant to be. You can’t “form” a relationship unless it was predestined to happen, and if it is destined to happen, you will meet those people no matter what. The Universe works in the most amazing ways! Love your blog, stay blessed 🙂

  52. Such a sweet post! I have only been married over 2 years and I feel like it’s my husband who makes everything ok when he is sweet to me even when I am grumbly and cranky – so hard to stay mad at him then!!

  53. Thanks for the inspiration! I have been so busy with my work, I’m reminded I want to meet my soulmate once again. The truth is I haven’t done anything to open that door for a long time.Teresa

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