Two days after my husband and I exchanged vows, we weren’t basking in wedded bliss on a tropical beach somewhere. Instead, we were loading a U-Haul packed full of all my possessions (and our wedding gifts). My husband had been working on his master’s degree in another province, so after we got married, I moved out to join him.

Driving a U-Haul over the Rocky Mountains, with car in tow, may be a good metaphor for those first few years. It was an adjustment, and we quickly learned our strengths, how to communicate with and encourage each other, and how to work as a team. I remember how terrified I was to get behind the wheel, and when I finally did, I drove so slow there was a huge lineup of cars behind us. When vehicles were finally able to pass us, they were not so kind with their words and hand gestures! My husband was very calm and gracious while I was driving, but was happy to take over from me and drive the rest of the way. And I was his biggest cheerleader.

I would never repeat our U-Haul trek over the mountains. But ask us if we’d get married all over again, even with the adjustments and changes and tensions? Absolutely, in a heartbeat.

Here are a few things we learned in our first decade of marriage.

Communicate Our Own Needs

One of the first things we did after arriving at our new home was go mattress shopping. I had never done something so grown up as lay on a bunch of beds in a store before.

The pressure to choose the perfect mattress intensified with each salesperson “checking in.” Plus, I wanted my husband to be comfortable. I didn’t want to tell him that even the thought of his favourite extra-plush mattress with a memory foam topper made my back twist into a series of nodules. But did I communicate my thoughts or feelings? I did not.

So of course we bought my husband’s favourite extra-soft mattress. I have regretted it ever since.

By being honest with each other about our own needs and desires, we can more fully understand the other person. We can better serve one another, be there for one another and love one another. Plus, when we are open with our spouse, we are less likely to become resentful towards them for things we assume they should have read our minds about.

Since buying our mattress, I’ve come a long way in communicating my own needs and desires. And for the record, had he known, my husband would have gladly compromised!

Be Open About Finances

As I mentioned, my husband was a student when we first got married. And though I had just landed my dream job, it wasn’t exactly lucrative. Money was tight.

One of the habits we developed early on was to check in with the other person about any “extracurricular” purchase we wanted to make over $100. This practice created a culture of openness and honesty in our marriage, fostering fiscal trust and accountability. Even though our salary has increased over the years, we continue to uphold our $100 rule, as it keeps us both in check, ensuring we live within our means.

Speaking of which, I am so grateful my husband tracks our income and expenses. He loves spreadsheets and budgets, which are really not my thing. However, I very much appreciate it when he updates the spreadsheet. We have found it helpful to always know where we stand financially, which allows us to make sound decisions and be generous when we are able.

Become a Parenting Team

Like most couples, after a few years, we decided to become parents. And though it was awe-inspiring, it was also incredibly challenging.

First, there’s pregnancy. Hormones, a changing body, increasing discomfort. Then, there’s labour, the physical healing involved after giving birth, more hormonal fluctuations, and utter exhaustion. The baby becomes the centre of the universe — which, of course, is how it should be. But not forever.

In our case, we had just moved to a new city. I had no friends, no family, no real connections. My husband was pastoring his first church, so he was feeling overwhelmed in a whole other way. I was so jealous of him, that he had adult friends and places to be, whereas I was alone in our house with our new baby. Looking back, I was likely dealing with minor postpartum depression.

I was also very conscious of the fact that I could, in theory, have a nap during the day. My husband couldn’t. So why share the load when the nighttime crying started? The problem was, our baby wasn’t so cooperative with her naps, and she nursed 24/7. I was trying to do it all on my own, but I was running myself ragged. Something needed to change.

I finally told my husband how I was feeling. He was also able to share how in over his head he felt in every area of his life, including in his new role as father. From that point forward, we tried to find a new rhythm. We compromised, told the other person when we needed a break, and figured out some semblance of sanity.

Now we have three kids, and life is still crazy. But we’ve learned each other’s “I’M DONE” signals and can share the load a bit easier.

The other thing I will say about becoming a parent is this: we’ve learned the most important relationship in the family is the one between spouses, not between the parent and child. Because that’s where it all starts — if our relationship is good, everyone else is good. We’ve learned to guard our time together, just the two of us. Though we don’t expect to do all the things we used to when we were childless and carefree, we still make each other a priority.

Sometimes, it feels like we’ve just unloaded our stuff into our first apartment. How is it we’ve been married for almost a decade? But most of the time, it feels like a lifetime (in a good way!) I’m grateful for the lessons we’ve learned and for how we’ve both grown, together and separately. And I’m excited for more adventures — without the U-Haul!