Raising Richmond: 10 years, 10 things

One little something I’ve learned for each year I’ve been married to my guy.

10 years ago (last Friday), I walked down the aisle of Cannon Memorial Chapel at the University of Richmond and married Ross. I was 21, he was 22, and we’d been together since I was 15.1

When I look back at the pictures from our wedding day–after I marvel at the fact that someone let those two middle schoolers get married–I feel incredibly blessed. People who marry as young as we did sort of start out with the odds stacked against them. Ross and I not only had to find a way to build a life together, we had to find a way to grow up together…without growing apart.

A decade in, I can say with complete confidence that Ross and I are growing up together quite nicely. Obviously we’ve both changed a lot over the last 10 years–life will do that to you–but our commitment to each other has enabled us to weather those changes and somehow find a way to continue to complement one another. Not only do we love each other; we love also our marriage. Is it perfect? Hahaha no. But it’s solid, and we’ve worked hard to make it that way.

I think I speak for both of us when I say our marriage is our pride and joy.2

So in honor of 10 years3 with my guy, today I want to share 10 things that I think contribute to making our marriage work. They’re formatted as tips, but I don’t necessarily think they have to be interpreted as such. If you prefer, think of them as the framework for our marriage–a creed, if you will–that helps us keeps things in perspective and on the right track. It’s my hope that the thoughts I share here will inspire you to think about what makes the relationship in your life something to be proud of.

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1. Speak each other’s “love languages.”

Everyone gives and receives love differently.4 For example, Ross shows love through physical touch; he needs to feel loved as well. Meanwhile, I show love by doing things for people, and I’m left positively giddy if someone holds the door for me or takes out the trash so I don’t have to.

Take the time to learn about how you both express love. Doing so will not only help you figure out how to best show your appreciation for one another, you might also find yourself picking up on gestures of affection coming from your partner that you would’ve missed otherwise.

2. Apologize.

Admitting when you’re wrong sucks. I mean, it suuuuuuuuucks. I know this because I’m wrong all the time. But allowing your partner to continue to hurt (and allowing resentment to continue to fester) sucks way more. So just do it; if you need to say you’re sorry, say you’re sorry. Owning up to your eff-ups will hopefully make honesty and forgiveness the norm in your relationship.

3. Figure out the one thing you can’t do together…and then never do it ever.

Ross and I are a wonderful team most of the time, but there is one thing we absolutely cannot do together: move furniture. Sure, it sounds silly, but I’ll have you know that one of the biggest fights we’ve ever had as a married couple took place as we tried to move a sofa from our bedroom into the office of our old house. The yelling! The tears! The bringing up of past wrongs!

For whatever reason, this chore brings out the worst in us/makes us hate each other. So we avoid it all cost. For example, a couple years after The Sofa Incident, we needed to move a big, clunky Ikea desk down the hall. When Ross asked for my help, I just stared at him.

“You’re right,” he said. “Let’s not do that to ourselves.”

He then proceeded to take the desk apart, carry each piece into the very next room, and reassemble the entire thing, thus saving our marriage.

For you and your partner, maybe it’s yard work or paying bills or paddling a canoe, I don’t know. But once you pinpoint it, let go of the idea that you must do everything together and then divide and conquer. No chore is worth that kind of drama.

4. Pair each “goodbye” with an “I love you.”

Not to be morbid, but, you know…just in case.

5. Do whatever it takes to make one another laugh.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “laugh together”, although I think that’s important, too. While hunkering down and LOLing together over multiple episodes of Arrested Development is absolutely delightful, it’s nothing compared to being the reason why your partner gets the giggles.

Being able to tap into someone’s sense of humor–to the point where you can bring forth a legit belly laugh–requires you to really know what makes him/her tick. And when someone knows how to bring that out of you? That is, hands down, the most attractive thing ever, at least in my book. Which brings us to our next point…

6. Have sex.

I’m not going to share an anecdote here because my mother, father, in-laws, and other people I have to look in the face on a regular basis read this column. I’m also not going to tell you how much sex you should be having because what the hell do I know? But I will tell you to talk to your partner about your respective expectations and commit to doing your best to meet them. Then get to it.

7. Remember that this is real life.

I spent my formative years watching Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle, just like the rest of you. I get it. As much as I would’ve loved for Ross to show up outside my house and lift a boombox into the sky, the situation never really presented itself. Because this is real life where, sure, things can be heart-stoppingly wonderful…but they’re also complicated and busy and stressful and messy and sometimes really, really boring. Them’s the breaks, kids, and the sooner you and your partner embrace that, the more you’ll appreciate the privilege of having someone to high-five during the brighter moments and someone to wade with you through the muck.

8. Hold hands.

Just because it’s a sweet and simple little something that you probably don’t do with anyone else (other than your kids who usually leave your palm covered in jam or boogers or some other sticky residue).

I still get butterflies when Ross reaches for my hand as we sit in church or walk back to the car after dropping our son off at school. It also works likes a hard reboot for us if we’ve had a tense moment–our nonverbal way of communicating, “Hey, we’re on the same team.”

9. Be kind, be kind, be kind.

With your words, with your hands, with your actions. The person you’ve chosen to spend your life with–and who’s chosen you to spend theirs with you–deserves that.

10. Keep choosing each other.

There will be mornings when you wake up, look over at your partner, and think, “Seriously? You again?” There will also be days when loving him/her feels more like work (sometimes requiring significant effort) than something you just do. You’re allowed to have those feelings; it’s totally normal and every person who makes up half of a couple feels them at some point. But dwelling on them doesn’t accomplish much.5 Sometimes you both have just got to step up, square your shoulders, and make the choice to love each other–to choose each other. And you keep doing that, over and over again, until you get to those moments where it feels less like work and you remember why you chose each other in the first place.

— ∮∮∮ —

P.S. Ross, I love you. Thank you for choosing me and for loving me so well for so long.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. We had our off-and-on moments, of course, but those all took place during high school when we were really young and really stupid–as opposed to in college when we were sort of young and sort of stupid. 
  2. Our son, JR, is our pride and joy as well, but as they say, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.” He wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t taken the plunge 10 years ago. 
  3. I realize 10 years isn’t breaking any records, but I’m so proud of what we have together at this point in our lives. I can’t help but celebrate it. 
  4. This concept comes from a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It’s a bit schmoopy (and Chapman is a pastor which might not appeal to some), but the book was a complete game-changer for us. Read it. And try to look past the incredibly embarrassing cover. 
  5. If those feelings are a byproduct of living life together rather than the result of A Serious Issue. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Jeb Hoge on said:

    Beautiful. I love this…it’s all so very true.

  2. Amanda on said:

    Beautifully written! Congratulations on 10 years! Aaron and I started dating at 17, also married at 21 and 22 and joyously celebrated 10 years last month. I wholeheartedly agree with your top ten. The growing up together has made us so close. I would add: be on the same page. It is so nerdy of me but I actually initiate starategic planning sessions for us. It helps us make sure our priorities and goals are in step.

  3. Tina on said:

    Mine and Nathan’s big bugaboo is also moving furniture. After one terrible night where we tried to move a couch out of the apartment (in the dead of night) while fighting terribly, we decided never again! We also decided we probably looked like the most ineffective and awful robbers of all time.

  4. Lauren Williams on said:

    Lovely advice, Val. Congratulations on 10 years!

  5. ALF on said:

    You’re so sweet. Remember how much I cried at your wedding? What is wrong with me?

  6. Like the earlier comment, beautifully written. Congratulations on 10 years and many more to come!

  7. Cat on said:

    Great stuff, Val! Congrats.

  8. Kristen on said:

    This is beautiful. This is what I’ve been looking for for years, and what I’ll continue to look for until I find it.

    I’m tired of settling for less than this: for self-absorbed disrespectful jerks, for wishy-washy boys who don’t know what they want and can’t make a decision for themselves, for immature man-boys who completely lack the self-awareness (which naturally begets kindness and give-and-take in a relationship) needed to make a healthy, long-term partnership work.

    But I settle for these a-holes because deep-down I’m afraid that that’s really all my generation has to offer in the way of men, and while I’d rather be single than spend months hanging out with a selfish jerk, no one really wants to be alone.

  9. Michael on said:

    Well written and I mostly agree.

    Kristen: In fairness, you probably ignore the guys who are what you’re looking for as a person based on some silly reason. It’s okay, people of both genders do it all the time. There are plenty of awesome, fun, young (or old) men out there who aren’t self absorbed jerks.

    Look in a slightly different place in a slightly different way; otherwise, you will end up with the same thing.

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