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What 9 Years of Marriage Has Taught Me
by Jennifer Henry
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November 1, 2018

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12 Minute Read

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What 9 Years of Marriage Has Taught Me

From the sanctity of silence to the loving language of sex, this wife and mother shares the lessons nine years of marriage taught her.  

Jennifer and her husband Jeff
Jennifer and Jeff Henry

Right before I went off to college, I made a list of all the things I wanted in my husband. I read it to a friend, and she said, “That doesn’t exist!”

My freshman year, I went on a 12-hour bus trip from DC to Daytona Beach, Florida. On the way to the bathroom, I met him.

I don’t know about love at first sight.

What I do know is that love is not the story you read about, it’s the story you write.

I know that making a list of what you want is always a good idea. Regardless of what the list is for, it helps you remember and stay focused.

I was 19 when I met a boy who deeply valued family, was an amazing friend, and was driven, funny, intelligent, kind, generous, goal-setting and goal-meeting, handsome, and respectful. He was raised by two parents who showed him what partnerships in parenting and life can achieve. He came from a tight-knit family that were also friends. He reminded me of home and all the things that made me feel my safest and happiest. So, of course, I put him in the friend box, duh!

To be honest, I always knew he was different. I knew in some way that the way he made me feel was rare. I’m southern, right? That means there are some things you just don’t do in front of guys you like. You’re always the perfect lady and ladies don’t have mucus, gas, hunger, or bad habits. I also am not the best singer, but I LOVE karaoke. Truth is, it’s my spirit, not my talent that carries me through a karaoke concert.

With this boy, I blew my nose, sang out loud in the car, belched (and asked to be excused, thank you), and ate Taco Bell ravenously. I did all the things that I shouldn’t do in front of a boy I liked because I thought I didn’t “LIKE” him like that. And

it was the most liberating, warm, and real I ever was in a relationship –– though I relegated this relationship to the friend zone.

And then, his Dad was diagnosed with cancer. We started talking daily, praying together, discussing his fears and concerns. Things effortlessly shifted to a supportive, intimate partnership to manage a crisis.  He’d been planning a trip to Mexico, and his family and I convinced him to follow through and go.

Once in Mexico, he called me multiple times a day. It was 2003, so this was done by using pay phones and calling cards that he had to seek out and buy. It scared me. He was supposed to be in Mexico being bad. He was single, young, and handsome, with his best friend in “what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico”, Mexico. But here he was calling me. So, I stopped answering his calls, duh! Remember, he was just my friend.

He got back and sent me an email that read:  “I see you stopped answering my calls. I respect that, and I’m not going to keep calling you. If you want to talk, here’s my number.”  

I angrily vacuumed my apartment, rolling my eyes, offended by his self-respect and yet intrigued.  

Jennifer and Jeff on their wedding day.
Jennifer and Jeff on their wedding day

And I called him three hours later. We talked all night. We spent a week talking about what we wanted out of our relationship together. I told him I wouldn’t accept disrespect. We even discussed how we’d handle a miscommunication so we wouldn’t have unnecessary arguments. We were thorough because we had been friends.

We were inseparable. Since 2003, that hasn’t changed. He proposed in 2007, we married in 2009. In our vows, we included a portion of a poem that said, 

“I know I can never be short changed, for the part of me that I give to you is replaced by the part of you that you leave with me.”

That’s been a guiding principle of our marriage. We give of ourselves as selflessly as we can to one another because we trust and know that it’s not leaving a deficit but rather making space to receive from the one we are most open to. There’s an insane amount of trust in that and it’s been tested. Remembering that we are “symbiotic” in sharing and loving, has always been what brings balance and respect.

With that love and respect in mind, here are six lessons I have learned in nine years of marriage.

Lesson 1 – Silence is stronger than noise.

In tense, vulnerable moments or when addressing sensitive topics, I’ve learned that immediately speaking my mind is not as effective as being silent and thoughtful before speaking.

Lesson 2 – Own your responsibility.

When we discuss things where we “disagree,” we talk about how we feel, what we received from the other’s actions and ask for clarification of intention and intended lesson. I learned that after 20 minutes of discussion, you should probably summarize where you are, what has been discussed and come back to it later after private thought. Any longer and you’re really just trying to convince the other to adopt your perspective and negate their own. Taking responsibility for your role and taking action from the lesson you learn is key in moving forward productively. Talk about yourself, not your partner!

Lesson 3 – Silence is stronger than noise.

Drama before work must be reserved for truly necessary discussions limited to the rarest of rare. But after work, white gloves on, duel. Why? My husband is a Black man being scrutinized in a field where he is usually isolated and yet held to the most ridiculous standards of perfection. He doesn’t shy away from the unbelievable expectations set on his shoulders. He, in fact, has mastered the art of making it look and actually be easy to do his work and correct and improve the work of others who might impact the quality of his work.

I know my husband like the back of my hand. If we disagree about something, I know how it weighs on him and impacts him. So, in order for me to add that sort of distraction and energy to him, it’s got to be a major issue. He’s out there killing it as a provider for our family. KILLING. IT.  I respect that. He is responsible for our financial stability, and because of him we’re building something real for our sons. I have no interest in working against that.

Lesson 4 – Being organized helps so freaking much.

LISTEN! Use Google calendars to communicate about places you need to be and things you need to do. We avoid communication slip-ups or forgetting important stuff by having a shared calendar. It’s easy and brilliant. Having organization in the house also helps incredibly. There’s a place for almost anything so he can help me keep our house romantic and peaceful. Using organization and tech to make teamwork work is the way to go. Trust!

The Henry Family. Courtesy of Jennifer Henry
Parenting Editor Jennifer Henry with her family

Lesson 5 – Being an example helps me be my best.

In my vows, I said that I wanted our sons and daughters to see an amazing, rare love.  We don’t have a daughter. So, our sons give us a daily goal of showing them the type of love and partnership we want them to have. We’re setting the example that they will replicate. We want the best for them, and so we work hard to show them what the best in parenthood, partnership, and love looks like. I’ve learned that being an example helps me be my best.

Lesson 6 – Sex is a language.

I’ve learned that sex is a language that reflects the deepest values in your marriage. It’s the language that you speak physically, and it’s the most intoxicating and fun. Sex is sensual communication on a whole other mind-bending plane.

I know I’ve learned a lot of other things as well, but I’ll stop there. In short, being married to the boy who rewrote my “husband traits list” and improved it is a life win. Being married to the boy who was my best friend is a life win. Choosing to love him more and more each day is my pleasure. Finding new ways to love, communicate and grow with him –– well, that is just all the cherries, ice cream, and icing on top of the best damn cake I’ve ever had.  

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