June 19, 2024

A few weeks ago, I found myself seated at a wedding reception with complete strangers. I was confused. We knew lots of people at this wedding, and some of our closest friends were just two seats away at the same (round) table. But the seating was assigned so I covered my surprise and greeted the strangers, a husband and wife pair.

Within minutes, it felt like I had known her my whole life. After we exchanged a few initial details, she dove straight for the heart of things: “Wow, you’ve been married for so long!! What marriage advice do you have for us?”

I paused for a beat. It had been a while since I had shared any marriage advice, and the guarded part of me that screamed, “DON’T GIVE UNSOLICITED ADVICE!!” clammed me up while my brain tried to think of something useful to offer. But she had asked, so this wasn’t unsolicited.

What advice did I have to offer someone who I had just met, whose husband’s name I was struggling to recall at the moment, and whose personality honestly seemed so warm and open and sweet that maybe the lessons and struggles I had wouldn’t even resonate with her?

“Hmm,” I wondered, mentally sifting through clichés like communication is key, and date each other, and the couple that plays together stays together! Nah. Anyone who actually asks for marriage advice has probably heard all of this. Then I mentally pulled up an email I had sent to myself just last week, full of marriage tips and reminders I had noted to myself over the course of the last couple years: Don’t bring up serious stuff with Ben right before bedtimeAsk more follow-up questions when Ben shares about work… Hmm… These all felt very specific to me, and I couldn’t recall any more of the reminders I had written to myself. And then I saw the answer right before me.

“You know what’s been super helpful for my marriage?” I began, “Emailing myself to keep myself accountable. After Ben and I have one of those big serious talks concluding with different ways we can both do better, I take a few minutes to note what I need to do differently or do better and email it to myself, scheduling it to send a week later. When I get it in my inbox, I read it over, evaluate how I’ve done so far, then snooze it to resend to me a month later. And whenever new things need to be added to the list, I just reply to myself and add it on. So every month or two, I get an email from myself called ‘Relationship Reminders’ that keeps me accountable to the ways I planned to improve and do better as a wife.

It’s not only keeping myself accountable, but it’s also super encouraging! For example, the first thing I have on there is a reminder to NOT bring up serious, heavy stuff to talk about with Ben right before bed. It really stresses him out and then he can’t sleep for hours after. This concept seems obvious to me now, but there was a time when it wasn’t, and it is encouraging for me to see my own growth in that area. It’s nice to see that it’s obvious to me now, but it did take a few rounds of email reminders to let it sink in. Even now I have to pause myself once in a while and remind myself to wait until tomorrow.”

We continued to share and chat, and had a really fun time getting to know each other and the other guests at our table later that night. It turns out we had a lot more in common than I had originally thought, and had so many points of connection that I was grateful for the chance to unexpectedly meet and make new friends!

I was glad to be able to share this tip with this sweet new friend. No matter how different our personalities and issues are, we could all use a little accountability as we strive to be the better versions of ourselves. Over the course of our marriage, it used to be pretty common for us to have the same conversation with the same conclusions again and again. I would feel discouraged that I wasn’t doing well as a partner and kick myself for forgetting. Each time, it felt like I wasn’t loving him well by not following through with what I had said I would work on. But we haven’t had to do that for a while now, and I think a lot of that growth stems from this simple accountability system I have made for myself.

It might seem more romantic to expect your partner to accept you just the way you are, but the goal isn’t always romance. Movies would have us believe that you meet “the one” and they’re perfect. But even if they start off “perfect,” they will change. YOU will change, and what you need from your partner will change as seasons in life change. So we grow with each other, and sometimes for each other, or else we grow apart. And it’s not romantic to say you’ll make changes to love your partner better, and then turn back to your old ways. What’s truly loving is finding ways to support and care for your partner better, then doing whatever it takes– even something as mechanical as emailing yourself– to keep it up.

Ben and I have been married for a long time now, and we have both come to know so many different versions of each other over the years. Becoming parents was one of the greatest joys but also one of the greatest personality changers, and we’ve both had to work hard to become better versions of ourselves for the kids and for each other. Some changes naturally stick, but a lot of the important ones require reminder after reminder before they really become a part of you. Finding a realistic and effective system to keep yourself accountable to your goals is key to making all the other marriage advice meaningful and lasting, so if you don’t have a system in place already, then send yourself an email reminding yourself to send yourself more emails!

10 responses to “Solicited Marriage Advice”

  1. Olwen says:

    Thank you for sharing 🥰 Jo.

  2. Elaine says:

    I love this! I love that she asked you ☺️ and could sense that you would have something thoughtful and impactful to share. Such a good idea to remind/speak to your future self. I’m going to try this!

    • joellen says:

      Aww that is such an encouraging way of seeing it! I’m curious to know what’s on your list!

  3. Nzilani says:

    Thanks for sharing this gem! I keep notes as a wife but they are all over the place. Now this is a quite organized system of keeping notes and tracking progress!

    • joellen says:

      Yes! I have a mish mash of journals over the years but even if I were to look for it, I wouldn’t remember where I had written it! Glad you like this system =D

  4. Christine Mathews says:

    This is brilliant! 27 years of marriage, countless books on communication and relationships, but this tip is easy and practical. I’ll be starting my Relationship Reminders email today. And sharing it with my 2 kids who are both getting married this summer!

    • joellen says:

      Aw thank you, Christine! It means so much to me that you will try and share with your kids. Congrats to your growing family! What an exciting time!

  5. Cheri says:

    I have been asked the secret to a long marriage time and time again. We celebrate 48 years in August. My reply is so simple that they look thunderstruck. “Don’t get divorced.” Entertaining a “way out” is not solving – it’s shelving. Easier said than done but it is the truth.