5 Things I’ve Learned from 5 Years of Marriage

It some ways, it seems like we’ve been married for 20 years, and in some ways it feels like our wedding was a few months ago. We went to Sedona for our 5th anniversary and renewed our vows, and I was thinking about how much I have learned in the last five years. Yes. I’ve learned Wayyy more than 5 things but it’s a catchy title. So, as usual, I thought I’d start writing about it! And then I had a hard time remembering….so here goes.

Everyone is healing from something. Healing is an everyday activity.

I used to think that by the time you reached a certain age that you were “good.” You’d get enough years under your belt, learn everything you need to know to have an amazing marriage, and you’re magically healed and wise! Wow. Was I ever wrong.

There’s no finish line. I’m constantly learning new things about him even five years in.

What I DO know, is that the ONLY way to have healthy relationships is to continually cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy. It’s not his job nor anyone else’s job to keep mama happy. That’s my job. When you have that solid foundation for yourself, you know that when he’s going through something, it doesn’t have to do with you. You get to remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can and you’re a good person, and everyone has rough patches. And, when you’re not doing your best and you’re a “BITCHallenging” as my sisters and I like to say…you can also reset.

John and I actually have a “reset button.” If we get into a rough spot, I put my finger on his shoulder or he puts his on mine, and we just start all over again. But we didn’t start our marriage doing that—we didn’t even adopt that strategy until a couple of years in. We’re always learning new things that will help us be better partners. We’re always having new a-ha moments where we discover something about each other or ways that we can love each other more.

Over the years, John has started remembering more things from his childhood. Things that he didn’t remember on purpose. Would imagine it was self-protection mode because he suffered so much abuse. So when those memories come up… I have to sit, relax, and breathe deeply because it really stresses me out to hear about somebody abusing my husband. And we both have scars that transfer to the bedroom. We have both been sexually abused and we have feelings that come up when we are making love. Stress comes up, memories come in, and work pressures appear when we have limited time. We practice transforming those ugly beliefs about ourselves from the past and remember that: it’s just the two of us. This is our sacred space. We are loved and safe. It’s OK to talk about it. Sex is an amazing, wonderful thing when you gather up all your insecurities from the past, and just leave them outside the door.

Everything is practice.

When I have a horrible day or argument, it’s easy for me to think: “We’re DOOMED. It’s not going to work out. I’m not meant to be in a relationship. I’m failing AGAIN.” All of my previous limiting of negative believes start to show up… And then I remember that those beliefs are fake. Everybody has bad days. Everybody argues. There’s absolutely no way two people are going to agree on everything.

I grew up thinking that if you get into an argument you’re going to get a divorce because I never saw my parents argue. I got a doctorate degree in passive-aggressiveness. We never talked about anything. When Dad was pissed about the phone bill, he taped it to the fridge instead of talking about it! Poor guy. One time it was $400 and this was in the 80’s when we did NOT have an extra $400. But when I was ever around a couple that argued, I would start to sweat, my face would turn red, and I wanted to bolt. Confrontation is the most uncomfortable thing for me in the whole world. I want to keep the peace no matter what. But what I’ve learned is that if I use the right tone and discuss things with love, we get closer. The lower my walls of defense, the safer I feel. Pretty ironic, isn’t it? We’re all freaking practicing everything every day! I remember when I started playing the cello…you can imagine how wonderful it was to be in the house when I was practicing at first! Yikes! But there’s only one way to get any better: practice. Same with life. Same with communicating. Same with marriage. Same with kids. Same same. I always think of that any time I “should” all over myself. If my inner b*tch starts in on me saying “You should be more calm, you should be more patient, you should be better than this, you should be more kind.” I say, yeah, I’m a work in progress, b*tch, I’ll practice and practice and practice, just like I did the cello, and that’s the only reason why I got awesome at it (after ten years).

Deep down inside lies the four-year-old version of ourselves, the teenage version of ourselves, and the 20-year-old version of ourselves. We all have needs, we all need love, and we see through things through the eyes of our past. When I say something, John hears it through his past—as if his ex-wife is saying it to him. Anytime we argue, he goes into fight or flight mode and wants to leave the room—I do the same thing. And most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing it.

One day I told him to be careful as he was walking out the door to go run an errand, and he just snapped at me. Surprised and frustrated, I stayed quiet. I didn’t know what to do—all I did know is that I wanted a solution. So I prayed. “God, please give me the right words, in the right tone, at the right time.” I say this prayer all the time. A few days later, we got in the pool after work, and the time felt right.

“Can I talk to you about something?” I said. And I started with, “I love you more than anything in the whole world. When I say ‘be careful,’ it’s only because I want you to come home safe to me.”

It was a beautiful moment and conversation. He hears things through the lense of his own experience: being yelled at 24/7. So when I say “be careful,” he hears, “you’re a piece of sh*t and you’re a sh*tty driver.” However, when I say things sometimes, my tone suggests “you’re a sh*tty driver,” and I need to work on this. And when he suggests that I need to work on my tone, my defense mechanism does right up. I truly want to be the best wife ever, and when he’s saying something that suggests I’m not, my knee-jerk reaction is to defend myself and get hurting angry. But this time, I stopped. I took a deep breath, reflected on it over the last few days, and apologized. I’ve learned from 5 years of marriage that I need to work on my tone because I’m a suuuuuper intense person. Sometimes when I communicate, it does not come out as a kind gesture. And we had this beautiful defining moment and a beautiful conversation we’ll never forget.

Those words are forever etched into my brain. When I was just starting to homeschool my kids and wondering if I was going to screw it all up, my sister said “You will be guided.” It stopped me in my tracks. Of course I will be guided! Now, I apply that to everything in my life. That is my word of 2021. I am guided. OK, three words. I don’t always know what to do. I don’t always know what John needs—especially since he has such a stressful life and job…and if he’s going through something hard, I tend to take it personally and get angry at him for not just fixing himself and being grateful for our amazing life.

But then I remember: I do the same thing. When my hormones take over, and everything frustrates me. I hate everyone and I don’t even know why! Lucky for me, communicating with him has saved so many evenings. I just tell him my hormones tell me to hate everybody, I’m so sorry, I’m so frustrated, and I’m trying to work through it. And then he gets it, he leaves me alone and asks if I need some tea. He’s the best…for 3 and a half weeks out of each month.

I literally never know what to do, but God does. I heard someone say that prayer is us talking to God, and our intuition is God talking to us. When I don’t know what to do, I pray. The answer comes.

Just love him.

Stay in your own lane.

I’ll never forget when I heard a survivor of massive abuse say that people who grew up in chaotic environments and their childhood tend to want to control things. Growing up with ten brothers and sisters isn’t chaotic at all! I may have a slight tendency to want to control. Everything. I want to control what he eats because I want him to live a long time. It’s in my nature and it’s something I struggle with every day.  And as we go along, I keep reminding myself he’s a grown man—don’t control him, just love him.

Sarah Blakely told a story about when she first started dating Jesse Itzler, her now-husband, he was running a 100-mile race. And she was talking to someone who told her, “do not try to understand a man like that. Just love him.”

Man, I wish I would’ve heard that 10 years ago!!! It’s so good. When I feel myself wanting to control him or wishing he was doing something different, I say to myself, “what can I do, right now, that’s the best thing for us, that will strengthen our relationship?” Most of the time it’s: do nothing. Then I just do what I was going to do. And then I remember his love languages—words of affirmation and physical touch. Remembering those can literally solve so many frustrations. Giving him a hug and a kiss, saying I love you, and asking him if there’s anything I can do to help is so simple, and miracles happen when I remember his love languages and take some small action! And then go back to my own lane.

I love it when you…

When John left the company where he’d worked for 18 years, (they essentially fired him…offered him a shitty store across the street…they were, and still are, doing that all over the country. Firing tenured people in management and bringing in younger less experienced people who will work for half as much.) he had a noncompete clause. That meant he could not work in Phoenix for a year. And he couldn’t work anywhere in the country within 10 miles of any AutoNation store. They have over 300 stores, so our options were very limited. Needless to say, it was a very stressful time.

After a couple months, he got a job down in Tucson, which is about two hours away. We had to live apart for three months. It was horrible. I still had the kids with me at home, but he was all alone. His confidence was crushed, and I held in my stress and my frustration inside. I was trying to work through it myself, and I didn’t talk about it. I just tried to do my best and tried to be there for him. I would feed the kids dinner, go up to my room, and we would sync up our Netflix, and watch a show together over FaceTime. He would only come home on Saturday nights, and then he would leave again on Monday mornings. And it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine down there either. Nothing was going well.

So I prayed my same prayer. “God, please give me the right words, in the right tone, at the right time.” And right before our anniversary, it came to me. Let’s make a list of everything that we love that the other person does. Let’s focus on the things that we love and the things that we want.

We both made a list. When I read to him “I love it when you buy me flowers,” he started to cry. And when he read to me, “I love it when you put your phone down when I’m driving and you just talk to me in the car,” I started to cry. I didn’t even realize I had stopped doing that.

So many times we are not aware of the things that we do. And if we don’t talk about them, we don’t understand how it affects our partner. Tony Robbins says, “do all of the things you did at the beginning of the relationship and there will be no end.” So we each have our lists. We saved them on our phones so we can read them and remember the things that we love and so we can do them for each other.

I know this: learning and growing with your favorite (and at times least favorite) person has given me the most growth, the most joy, and the most fulfillment. We only learn through challenges. “Champions aren’t made when the game is easy.” Jamie Kern Lima says. And I get to be the cheerleader for my champion through our challenges as he is for me.

That’s one of the strategies for attracting the life you want and the relationship you want, by the way. Focusing on the lessons. And I’m looking forward to the lessons I will learn in the next five years!

Wishing you lots of love,



#reallove #MyStory #Lessons #LoveLife #Strategies #Relationships #MrsKarenStanley