I used to be a serial dater. Before I married, I was in and out of relationships and almost-relationships. My experience ranged from delightful to disastrous and all the gray in between. Yet, this month will mark five years of marriage and commitment with my husband. When we first got married, I thought my dating history would make marriage harder. Would I have a hard time settling down? Would I feel guilty about my choices? Would I find myself stuck in the past? Was I even “wife material?” Looking back, those worries seem small and irrelevant, because marriage is exactly how people describe it — challenging, wonderful, hard, and amazing. Sometimes it’s all of those things in a single day. But despite the questions and fear as a young newlywed, I’m now thankful for what I learned from dating.
Each romantic relationship I’ve endured has helped me grow and been influential in helping me navigate the complexities of marriage. Because I’ve “been around the block”, I treasure and appreciate my relationship with my husband more. When we’re willing to learn from our mistakes — and I made many in my relationships — there’s wisdom we can glean to pass onto others.
So here are a few lessons I’ve learned from dating that helped strengthen my marriage:
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Lesson 1: Speak Up.
A man I’ll call “Jim” and I had been living together for a few months. However, calling it living “together” would be a stretch because the distance between us was tangible. He would come home from work, say “hi,” then wouldn’t speak to me until the next day, even when I had done nothing to upset him. Jim just wasn’t a conversationalist and didn’t want to talk. When I sincerely asked him if something was wrong, and he said no, he meant it.
While he was fine living this way, I wasn’t. The idea of going through life brushing by one another but never connecting, sharing thoughts, ideas, or feelings was suffocating. Even worse would be sharing my emotions and never receiving a response. Thoughts plagued my mind that maybe I was being unreasonable in expecting him to be something he’s not, so I tried to stick it out. But the feelings boiled over and after a long time I confronted him.
When we sat down and I expressed how lonely and isolated I felt, but he showed no interest in adjusting the dynamic. I told him how important communication, curiosity, and interest are to me for a healthy relationship, but it wasn’t motivation enough. We had reached a natural end — one we probably should have reached sooner if I had spoken up earlier.
While my relationship didn’t have a happy ending, it taught me an important lesson about speaking up, sharing my needs, and being heard. In a healthy relationship, when a partner says, “I’m hurting. Something needs to change. Let’s work on this,” their partner listens and responds. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I know I can talk to my husband and say, “I need help. I’m breaking here.” He listens, he cares, and he acts. I do the same for him.
Some relationship issues are so fundamental they can become make or break. Don’t suffer in silence. If something feels amiss, talk to your partner. You can’t expect them to read your mind and grow frustrated if they don’t know. Instead, ask for what you need.