12 Things We’ve Learned After 12 Years of Marriage

Ryan and I just celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary and first “Easterversary” on April 5, 2015. Our second Eastervarsary will not be until 2026, which will officially mark our 23rd wedding anniversary. So on this, our first Easterversary and 12th wedding anniversary, Ryan and I decided to talk about the 12 things we have learned after 12 years of marriage. You’ll have to wait until 2026 to read our 23 reasons.

Twelve Lessons from 12 Years of Marriage

1. Kelly: The “seven-year itch” is a thing.

At around our seven-year mark, Ryan and I started going through a really rough time. Things got so bad that I went and talked to my old therapist, who I hadn’t seen in years. I vividly remember her asking me, “How long have you two been married?” And I told her, “A little over seven years.” And she said, “Ohhhhhh,” in this really knowing way. Apparently many couples go through similar growing pains right around this same time—the newness has worn off and you’re in the throes of real life complexities such as raising children and stressful careers. So it is a thing. And you’ll get through it.

2. Ryan: Your partner might communicate differently, and for different reasons, than you.

At times Kelly and I find ourselves wondering how we could have come away from the same conversation with completely different understandings of what was said, offered, or decided. For a while, I thought that she simply did not listen to me. Over the years, I have come to realize that these misunderstandings have more to do with the way we each tend to communicate. I often think with my mouth open and discuss plans, positions, and ideas that I am exploring. Kelly tends to do her thinking and talking with others, and then broaches a topic with me. Given our communication models, I might float an idea by Kelly that I have no real attachment to or emotional investment in, and she will hear it as something that I have carefully vetted or have my heart set on. Over the years, my half-conceived thoughts have come to be known as “plandersons,” because they are more thoughts of something that might be worth pursuing rather than actual plans. We have learned not to project our own communication styles onto each other. As a result, we understand each other better.

3. Kelly: Time heals.

After 12 years of marriage, I feel very convicted that time has healed most of the wounds that my husband and I have endured together. We have hurt each other; we have learned from those experiences; and we have moved on, stronger than we were before. At times when I was really hurting and in “crisis mode,” I thought, “I’ll never feel better again.” But time does pass, and the hurts heal. There may be scars, but they merely prove to remind us of where we’ve been and who we are.

4. Ryan: Accept the fact that your partner might not want your help.

I’ve learned that Kelly will often talk to me about a problem—personal or professional—simply to vent. She trusts me not to repeat the conversation, so she is safe to vent fully in ways she can’t with friends, family, or co-workers. Being a problem solver by nature, I tend to try to solve her problem and offer advice as to what should be done. I have learned over time (although I still fall prey to the urge to solve) to just listen and refrain from offering solutions unless Kelly specifically requests my assistance. Sometimes, being a good partner means nothing more than being a good listener or sounding board.

5. Kelly: There’s a method to the madness.

After over a decade of marriage, I am well beyond the newness of it all enough to recognize the patterns in my relationship with Ryan, and I know in my heart and from experiences that certain phases come and go. When things seem stressful or hard they won’t stay that way. In the end we both have and love each other—and that is more than enough.

6. Ryan: It is on exceptionally rare occasion that one of you is completely right.

The older I get, the grayer the world becomes (along with my hair). Part of that evolution is realizing that I am not always right. Equally important, I am not always wrong. Usually, I am a little bit of both. And it is the same with Kelly. Recognizing that I am not completely right and Kelly is not completely wrong in a particular dispute allows me to see—and accept—her side, which in turn helps us find common ground upon which we can compromise and move forward.

7. Kelly: Embrace the seasons of love.

When Ryan and I were newlyweds, I marveled at my sheer enthusiasm for living through the seasons with him, his sons (my stepsons), and later, our daughters. And I still have that feeling, 12 years later. I love living through the seasons with him and our family. There is always a new memory in the making and something to look forward to. The past and present converge into the story of our life together. It’s a good story.

8. Ryan: Don’t assume you know your partner’s motivations.

I don’t remember where I heard it first, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the saying “assume makes an ass out of you and me.” I have learned to ask Kelly why she did something that I was curious about rather than just assume her reasons for doing so, as my assumptions regarding her motivation are often completely wrong. I have also learned that explaining my reasoning for doing something is the simplest way to defuse tension between us. Kelly and I might not always agree with each other’s choices or actions, but once we understand why the other did it, we are far more accepting of the other’s choice.

9. Kelly: Settle in to your strong suit.

Over the years, Ryan and I have naturally gravitated to the tasks and chores in our life together that suit us best. Ryan makes breakfast and packs lunches; I braid hair and sign permission slips. Ryan takes out the trash; I pay the bills. We have settled into these roles so naturally and firmly that there is no longer any discussion about who is doing what. Our labor is silently and amicably divided. We do what we need to do and get it done.

10. Ryan: You don’t have to like or understand your partner’s relationships with family, friends, or activities, but you have to respect them.   

Putting aside relationships or activities that are damaging to your partner or your own relationship, you will not always understand or see the merit in your partner’s friendships, relationships with family members, or activities he/she participates in. Kelly and I are not the same person, and each of us has things we like to do and friendships that the other does not share. Over time, I have come to appreciate that that is a natural byproduct of us being two independent human beings. Before I’d accepted that, I made the mistake of interjecting myself into such situations, thinking that I needed to help Kelly see why she should not have a particular relationship or spend her time on a particular activity. I have learned that the relationships and activities that Kelly has maintained throughout our years together are valuable to her. I do not need to understand the reasons for the value she places in them, nor do I have to place the same value in them. But, I do have to respect the value she places in them.

11. Kelly: Love is strange.

Sometimes Ryan and I are completely in sync. We finish each other’s sentences, think the same things are funny, and can’t get enough of each other. And sometimes we fall out of sync. We don’t understand each other, annoy each other, and need our own space. In between these extremes is our fundamental, core, day-to-day us-ness that is as much a part of me as I am myself. Does that make sense? It’s like there’s no “me” or “Ryan” in the marriage—the marriage is Us. That doesn’t mean that we have forgotten ourselves. But I do think we both feel like we are most wholly ourselves in our marriage. And that’s a really wonderful thing.

12. Ryan: Slow down and enjoy each other.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller’s quote addressed the lives of teenagers, but it is equally relevant to married life. Twelve years ago this week, Kelly and I married on a beautiful evening alongside the Blanco River in Wimberley. Since then, we have added two daughters to the two sons from my first marriage, raised the four of them—coaching soccer, baseball, and softball, supervising Boy Scout and Brownie troops, volunteering at school and other activities, and (until this past November) chauffeuring them to all of their activities, parties, appointments, etc.—maintained busy professional careers as attorneys, sold homes, bought our home, remodeled our home, and endured welcomed successes and glorious failures. Kids, home life, and our professional lives require so much time and attention, it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming domestic, rather than romantic, partners. Kelly and I are coming up on one of my favorite annual rites: the recreation of our first date. On May 15th, I will wait until around 10:00 A.M. and then call Kelly at her office and ask her to lunch. I’ll repeat (nearly verbatim) the sad schtick I used to mask the fact that I was interested in dating her but first needed to find out where she was in her life without the pressure of it being a date. Then we will go to lunch. She might wear the monkey jacket she was wearing that first date, and we might return to Blue Star Brewing Company. Our annual “first” date is a sweet reminder of how we started and how far we have come. In our hectic lives, that yearly reminder is good. It should be a motivator to do it more often.


Kelly lives in Terrell Hills and is a full-time working mom of 4 in a never-a-dull-moment blended family. Her twin stepsons, Eric & Grant, are high school juniors. Her daughters, Eleanor and Sadie, are in junior high and elementary school. She and her husband, Ryan, are both attorneys. When she is not working and "air-traffic controlling" her busy brood, she and her family enjoy exploring San Antonio and the surrounding area.


  1. As a marriage counselor,I do pre-marital counseling also.This wonderful article by Kelly and Ryan will now be required reading !!!

Comments are closed.