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On Marriage ...

Happy 15th Anniversary, Mr. Henderson

emily-brian-henderson

Our first date was exactly 15 years ago tonight…despite the fact that Brian had frosted tips (although those didn’t show up until 3 months after our first date, and it was 2000…).

We talked that night about how much we both loved the Coen brothers and debated whether or not Fight Club had homoerotic undertones. I’m sure Death Cab For Cutie and Dido were involved. Ugh, and David Gray and Coldplay. He was so funny, smart, and nice and the conversation just flowed so easily and comfortably. I knew that night that I would be with him long term. He felt like family, like home, almost instantly. I know it’s not always like that, but it was for us.

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That’s a photo from the actual night (the first photo is from 3 months later). Please disregard my hair and face. I think I went tanning that day (yes in a booth – did you know that people still do that?) which gave me apparently raccoon eyes. Not my best look.

I’ve written about our relationship before so I won’t bore you too much with it. Here’s the quick abridged version: We got together almost immediately, broke up amicably a few months later, got back together, graduated, I travelled, we moved to New York together, broke up again for a year, got back together, got married at 27, moved here to LA, had the cutest baby in the world, got pregnant again (currently) and will surely live happily ever after 🙂

To put it plainly, I am just so lucky to have found him 15 years ago. After starting a family you realize what you have, how good you have it, and we are just really, really solid and happy. I don’t want to go on and blab about how much we love each other or how we are such a good match, because I think its pretty evident. Besides sometimes it’s even simpler – while there might be many others that I could have been happy with, I found the right person. 

The last 15 years with him have been so good, but not without our problems. Some years were amazing (last year, for instance), and some years weren’t so good (the year after I won Design Star, 5 years ago). It’s almost like the health of a long-term relationship is similar in a lot of ways to your own physical health. Nobody has perfect health their entire life. Everybody has some problems. It’s just figuring them out, diagnosing them, knowing how serious are they are and learning how to treat them that determines whether you survive or not.

I’m clearly not a relationship expert, but I have lasted through a 15 year monogamous relationship starting at age 21, and more importantly, I am someone thoroughly obsessed with talking about relationships, watching relationships, and (lord knows) talking through other people’s relationships – thus my unhealthy obsession with anything that starts with the word ‘Bachelor…’ or any and all romantic comedies, teen or romances, etc. So during long mental babbles about how people get through problems, I came up with a bit of an analogy that I’ve found helpful to get through our problems.

This may come off super self-help-y certainly, and it’s not really meant to be, but it’s kinda helped us figure out how to deal with each problem that happens when it happens. Plus my brain just thinks in long-winded metaphors, as you probably know.

If long-term relationship problems are like health problems, then you/we have three different types to watch for and deal with.

1. The occasional flare-up. This is the cold, flu, pneumonia etc. In relationship terms it’s the bouts of career uncertainty, the working-too-much, not prioritizing each other, not getting pregnant… all the situational problems that are brought on by outside stresses that cause inside stress. These can generally be easily survived with proper care. You go on a date, talk through it, work through a new plan of action, wait it out, hopefully have sex and then monitor it to make sure that it’s getting better. If not, these little bugs can turn into deadly staff infections without you even noticing. Brian and I have had a ton of these, some we haven’t taken care of fast enough and they have led to things that are a bit more scary, but all of them were curable. In fact, I think that most of our problems can be blamed on outside stresses, but I don’t want to get too specific with y’all.

2. The chronic condition. When I talk to all my friends and family about their marriages (well, those who are open to gab like I do) I have found that everybody has those 1 – 2 things that are just kinda their problems, that they’ve had forever, but they aren’t deadly. When you don’t take care of them they flare up and cause actual problems, and some years you hardly remember that you even have them. But if you totally ignore them and don’t treat them at all they can kill you. These are larger and more inisidious than the occasional colds – more like, say, diabetes. They are manageable but still a little bit threatening. Maybe he’s prone to occasional depression, maybe it’s how you spend money, maybe he’s kinda mean when you fight, maybe you disagree on politics/religion or worse, or haven’t done it in 4 months. It could even be that one of you does all the housekeeping for the family and it is a lingering argument with seemingly no end. Brian and I, like most of us have a few chronic issues – sometimes I feel like we’ve had the same discussion for 15 years and it just feels so redundant. But we know what those issues are and we watch them, because if we don’t a good year turns into a bad year pretty fast. It’s just kinda who you are and you do the best you can to deal with them and not let them upset your general happiness.

3. The terminal disease. As I was thinking about this I kept thinking is there anything that you really can’t work through as a couple? And while I think that of course there are exceptions and miracles and people/couples being brought back from the brink of death, there are a few problems that I think will inevitably destroy you if they are part of your relationship. Maybe it’s the repeated deceit leading to total lack of trust. Maybe it’s abuse – emotional or physical. Or less dramatic, but still emotionally devastating – the never feeling comfortable, safe or like you can be yourself or even worse – maybe complete lack of respect, love, communication and trust. Luckily, Brian and I have no terminal problems, thank God. In that sense we are healthy as a horse. And if you do have these and want to survive, you should go see someone and get that treated or probably just pull that plug. I’m a big fan of trying to work things out, especially after kids are involved but then you see some relationships that should just end for the sake of the whole family – especially the children. There is nothing wrong with a healthy divorce if you have a really unhealthy marriage (in my opinion).

emily-brian-college

Now that I’m writing this I’m wondering if this is feeling very preachy, and hopefully it doesn’t. Relationships are full of happiness and inevitably some problems, but not all of them have to kill you.

I guess the point is that after 15 years (9 years of marriage) we have been through a lot – no near death experiences, but certainly some scarier moments. I guess what has kept us together, besides the basics – our genuine like for each other, open communication, respect, kindness, unconditional love, sacrifice, trust, honesty, endless fun, shared love and obsession of our child, etc – is that we talk about our problems pretty openly and consistently. At 35 years old we are starting to hear the rumblings of divorce amongst some couples that we know and it’s kinda terrifying, especially because you can’t predict who they are going to be. Couples where you just think how did they go wrong? And that makes you want to hone in on your relationship, and analyze your problems to make sure that you are doing the best you can to make sure that something small and seemingly insignificant doesn’t grow into something terrifying and destructive.

We’ve practically raised each other, seen each other through all our 20’s and now more than half of our 30’s. The fact that in 2 months we’ll have our family completed seriously fills me with such peace – and you know it’s hard for me to write in such generic terms, but ‘peace’ is truly how it feels, even though kids bring on their own challenges. As easy as it is to focus on your kids and spend time as a family, I truly think the best thing you can ever do for your kids, if possible, is to have a good relationship (married, not married, or even divorced) that shows them how to act in this world – how to love, forgive, have fun, show affection, compromise, respect each other, share and just generally be happy together so they feel safe and comfortable at all times possible.

So, that’s the goal – to have the happiest relationship we can so that our kids can have healthiest emotional upbringing possible. No big deal 🙂

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Henderson. May I continue to be as in love with you the next 15 years as I am now. xx

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*Last photo taken by Stephanie Todaro. The first three by my disposable camera in the year 2000.

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  1. My husband and I are about 6 months behind you. We started dating in 2001..and he also had frosted tips. I keep joking that they’re gonna come back in style and he and his friends can share a box of hair dye/bleach again.

  2. I had very similar music taste to you 15 years ago! My husband and I have been together for almost 11 years and started dating when he was 18 and I was 20. It can be challenging, but it’s really been amazing and wonderful to grow together. Happy Anniversary to you both!

  3. GAH you guys are so cute. and seriously, you haven’t aged!

  4. aaaawwww…that’s a true feel good post. Good luck to your little family and I hope you’ll stay that way for the next 50 years 🙂

  5. So lovely! And I couldn’t agree more with your closing sentiment. My parents are divorced, but in many ways they’re my greatest role models when it comes to relationships because they managed to remain such emotionally mature co-parents. I didn’t fully appreciate it as a kid, but being a married adult now I am increasingly in awe of how they could have gone through something as difficult as a divorce and still held it together for me and my brother. It’s a real inspiration.

  6. besy post Emily! I love your analogy and couldn’t agree more 🙂 happy anniversary sweet people!

  7. Thank you. This was so, so great. Happy Anniversary!

    Sara

  8. Happy Anniversary, Hendo’s! You guys are adorable.

  9. Happy anniversary! I love these older photos of you two! You haven’t aged a bit, and your family is the sweetest!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  10. Happy anniversary!! My husband and I started dating in high school at the tender age of 16 (but started out as friends at 15). Which means (gulp) we’ve been friends for 30 years this fall! We married after 12 years of off and on dating and celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary this past May. Which is a long-winded way to say that I agree, liking each other is the most important part. I’m still crazy in love with my Bob, but we’re still best friends, too. Not perfect, mind you, but life’s pretty great. I wish you and your Mr. Henderson a lifetime of happiness.

  11. Okay, I can’t keep saying how much I love you because it’s just gross but you are so lovely for sharing this post. I’ve been married 8 years and I think its important to remind yourself to slow down and keep the marriage strong, not an easy thing of course, but this post just reminded me, so thank you.

  12. Happy anniversary! The whole time I was reading this I was amazed because it’s so outside your usual realm and yet exactly what I needed right now. Thank you for the excellent analogy and wisdom that comes from a happy marriage! I don’t know many of those that I can point to and say “that’s what I want!” Or “that’s what makes it work!” And without good examples it’s harder to know whether to grab a bandaid or rush to the ER. So again, thanks and happy anniversary!

    PS – I’m a little embarrassed to say that Facebook was the one to remind me that it’s been 6 years to the day since Eli first got my number 🙂

    1. Hi Emily!

      I never post but I love your blog!

      I am also celebrating 15 years with my love and I just got back from our first night of a week long series of dates. We also got married 9 yrs ago and have a 3.5 year old.

      What I have learned most about having a strong bond is the importance of honesty and open communication. No matter how little something might feel if the other person feels hurt it is justified.

      Mark and I have gone through a lot. So much so that our memoir is being published by Harper Collins in 2017 (will send you a copy).

      Sending out my love to you on this special day. It’s an amazing accomplishment!

      Love,
      Giulia

      1. Giulia: I’ve just listened to your husband’s Ted talk. It was incredibly moving and inspiring; he loves you so very much.

        I am delighted you are in better health, wish you a long & happy future together and will be reading that memoir.

        Emily: wonderful post. Congratulations to you & Brian. I am also married to my childhoodish (18) sweetheart. We’ve been together/married for 25 years now. Most of it has been fabulous, but it has had some frustrating and scary moments. He is a non-communicator which I find extremely difficult, but I love him more than I ever thought possible and wouldn’t be without him for anything.

  13. Lovely post, Emily! Reading it made me look back at my own and how I got to where I am today. I met my husband in high school and we were good friends until graduation when he went into the military and I married a guy I had been dating. By the time he came home, I was divorced and we began dating. We ended up getting married 40 years ago and having 2 kids, but after the kids were grown, we discovered we had some obstacles we couldn’t get around. He acquired a taste for wine and I came from an alcoholic background and that was something I couldn’t live with. The love was still there, but living together was destroying it so I moved out 15 years ago and I haven’t looked back. Fortunately, we found we are both happier living this way. I’m with him every weekend, we talk every day, take vacations together and we enjoy our grown children and grandchildren. Would this work for everyone? Not a chance, but I’m glad it has worked for me. When there is true love, there is always a way! Thanks for sharing your story, Emily. It’s very interesting and therapeutic to read the ways that other couples find peace and happiness in what sometimes seems like a throw away society. My husband may live together again some day due to illness and the need to care for one another, but we don’t dwell on it…as long as we’re happy, we just take life a day at a time.

    1. You know what Claire. You’ve got it 100% right. We’ve all got to find what works best for us.

      One day at a time.

    2. Claire, I love your post! 40 years plus high school is a long time to be in someone’s life and you were wise to figure out a way to salvage all that time before it was destroyed. I have a family member going through what you described after your children were grown. I have copied your post and plan to share it with her. You’re right that it probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but it sounds like it was a perfect solution for you and I applaud you for not giving up. I believe in love for life (I’m the eternal romantic) and doing whatever works for you to keep it alive. Congratulations, Claire!

  14. Happy anniversary! My husband and I also started dating 15 years ago at the ages of 14 and 16, we got married 3 years later and had our first child 1 year after that, our second was born 23 months later and we are actually expecting our 3rd in December when my first two are 9 and 11, we definitely married young but I wouldn’t change a thing he truly is my perfect person.

  15. Dear Emily, I have been reading your blog, and digging some old posts of yours because somehow at age 28, I really enjoy your sense of humor. ROFL.

    I cannot believe about a year ago when I first saw you in your HGTV show, and you talked Eclectic, I rolled my eyes and thought yeah it’s for people who can’t decide what style they want. And now here I am planning my new home next year totally in Eclectic theme. I also grow to REALLY love your style, you convinced me to do my kitchen lowers in Blue. Gosh.

    This is my first comment, maybe because you’re talking about relationship and it’s such coincidence I met my husband at age 21, just like you. We dated for 2 years and now married for 4. No babies yet because well, we’re only becoming first time homeowner next year. I prefer to raise my child in an environment that I can more or less control better, and I know you can understand this. 🙂

    I think you and your husband are perfect match in heaven and your family photos ALWAYS look so cute and sweet. Please continue with your good work (in your family, and your designs, duh!). And I know you’re very excited about your baby girl, as your blog reader, I can’t wait too! 😀

  16. The health analogy is just brilliant! Love it. Never thought I would be sharing a link to a design blog with my husband, but here I am.

  17. Loved reading this post!! Happy Anniversary! Can’t wait til that baby arrives!!

  18. Gah, Frosted tips! I blame Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray….for the entire decade, really.

    Congrats, you two! Started dating my hubby/bestie/beastie in 1998 and really love your ‘diagnosis’ list. It’s perfect. Isn’t it amazing how things just keep getting better as you get older together? I mean, ‘they’ said that would happen, but I didn’t believe it at the time. High fives all around!

  19. You guysssssss. Too cute!

  20. After 26 years and 4 kids, I can say I love him exponentially more than I did when we first met. Compared to now, I didn’t really understand what marriage meant as a 21 year old; “the work and sacrifice it required” were just words I heard time after time. After having gone through all the very real struggles of raising children, starting careers, maintaining our relationship, I can say it is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I am so thankful we hung in there. Our youngest just left for college last week and we are starting our honeymoon 2.0 all over again!

  21. Emily,
    You weirdly posted your ‘pregnancy:: is to:: booking a dream vacation’ EXACTLY when I needed to read it, and now you’ve just posted this ‘marriage:: is to:: personal health trends’ post EXACTLY when I needed to hear it. Thank you for your personal posts. I enjoy everything you contribute, but know that these types of posts really do have an effect on people far and wide. Thank you.

  22. I just want to reiterate how incredibly fortunate you are. There’s nothing better than sharing your life with someone, having them witness it and support you.

    XX Analog House
    http://theanaloghouse.blogspot.com

  23. What lovely words and a great way to look at relationships. Thanks for sharing your insight with the world.

  24. Beautiful words and many congrats to you both!

    I have loving parents, so much so that they focused on my brother and I a little too much, and after we left the house they didn’t have anything to connect them anymore. They divorced but are still able to get along as friends due to their love of my brother and I. This has been a great example of a “what not to do” to learn from for my own marriage. I know this doesn’t happen to everyone but it does to a lot, so make sure you and Brian still come first in the years to come!

  25. As always, I so appreciate your honesty. And after 9 years with someone I truly love to my core, I couldn’t agree more with everything you stated above. Relationships do take work, no matter who you’re with, and when it comes down to it you simply need to decide if you’re willing to put in said work to make it flourish! It sounds like you two are on the right track 😉 Happy, happy anniversary you beautiful souls!

  26. Thank you for sharing, thoughts and photos.

  27. Such a great post Emily! A true testament to marriage and relationship. It’s work but it’s worth it. Just what I needed to read this morning! Happy Anniversary!

  28. So sweet. It’s not preachy if you’re just sharing… 🙂 I like the metaphor! And I like the reassurance that, yes, everybody has problems and most of them you can live with and work through and then some of them you can’t. Happy Anniversary!!

  29. I love this post, and I love when you “get personal” on the blog. Also really enjoy your analogies (I’m 21 weeks pregnant and still holding on to your airplane/pregnancy analogy!). Anyway, all of this is so true; common sense but also not so common! 🙂

  30. Awww, this is adorable. And I know what you mean about not wanting to sound preachy—I’m an online dating coach for a living, which means I end up helping people in a sort of unofficial therapist capacity because I talk through why their old relationships didn’t work and what we want to seek in the new ones. I always end up leaning on my own relationships as examples of good and bad, because I’m human—but I hate sounding smug talking about what has made my own marriage (9 years together, 5 married, same age-ish as you) work so well.

    I really think talking stuff out is key, like you said. Everything but the terminal stuff can be resolved with communication, but of course you do have to feel safe and comfortable enough to be able to communicate openly. It’s been adorable observing your family life from afar as a reader—happy anniversary to you both! <3

  31. We’re in the same boat – 15 yrs together, 13 married, 36 & 38 yrs old, 2 great kids, and thanking my lucky stars each day that we found each other. Your comment on divorce rumblings struck a chord – we are experiencing the same thing – Lots of divorce from couples around us all happening about the same time. Scary and eye-opening. It really does make you try to be the best person you can be for your relationship and makes you even more grateful.
    Great post 🙂

  32. Awww! Thank you for sharing your insights and reflections. My sweetheart and I have been together for 5.5 years and will be getting married in January. We’ve been through some rough $#!+ together – long distance for two years followed by the decision for him to move to me, family challenges, a few health challenges, including a really traumatic illness for me – but I can honestly say that these have been the best years of my life, all because of the loving support we share. I look forward to many more!

  33. Emily, you’re my favorite. I adore your personal posts as much as the design. And I’m all for the extended metaphor. Love reading this, even as a younger reader (24) who hasn’t found the one. I am in a new relationship that I hope has the promise to develop into a loving romantic friendship that lasts. This post makes me hopeful.

  34. Emily, you are truly a beautiful person inside and out! Just lovely! So honest and down to earth! Your husband is a very fortunate man! All the best!!!

  35. Like you my husband and I have grown together. We started dating at 18 so we’ve finished our teen years, went through our 20’s, 30’s, and gulp this year we are finishing our 40’s. Lots of growing and changing for sure but laughter has always been our constant. Much love to you and your growing family.

  36. Wow! Happy Anniversary and birthday!! and man YOU can write so good!! and decorate of course, but these words are just beautiful 🙂

  37. Beautiful post and interesting analogy and not at all preachy! It’s nice to hear that you’ve worked through hiccups and realised the key to maintaining a great relationship is keeping the communication doors open…being flexible, learning to dance together as my husband would say…I’ve known my hubby for 30 years, married for 26. The first few years were quite hard coming from different cultural backgrounds but fortunately we found common ground in our faith and raised our family on it. My daughters of 26 and 24 still want to marry a man like their dad and won’t compromise until they find him! Happy anniversary!

  38. You couldn’t have broken it down any better, preach on and happy anniversary! 🙂

  39. Happy Anniversary! Loved the post and thought your words of wisdom were right on. Except for the ubiquitous and incorrect use of “unconditional love”. You certainly have conditions for loving Brian: that he is not an ax murderer, that he doesn’t cheat on you every time he feels like it, that he doesn’t rob banks, and so on. Let’s leave the “unconditional” term for the pure innocents: children and the unfortunate folk who have lost their mental capacity.

  40. Love the post!
    My husband and I are coming upon 20 years, 15 married.
    I think the one thing I could add is that everyone may have a unique situation that works…
    I was faced with the near death of my husband overnight and it has changed our whole outlook on life/living.
    While these things happen everyday, we were fortunate for a second opinion that enabled us to look back and say doctor’s can and do make mistakes!
    We never take our health for granted!
    Happy Anniversary!

  41. I just got married four months ago after being together for almost five years. Thank you for the honest assessment of 15 years of marriage. We’re definitely on the right track!

  42. My husband and I started dating at the end of high school and have been together for 8 years now but only 1.5 married. I definitely identify with feeling like you’ve raised each other!
    You shouldn’t underestimate the value of your knowledge on the subject. It is always really nice to see couples who have been together for a long time, and this kind of advice is invaluable! GO HENDOS!

  43. Emily, we are at exactly the same 🙂 15 years together, 9 married.
    We only miss the children. We have been through two miscarriages and are again trying.
    Love your blog 🙂

  44. That first photo is awesome! You guys look very happy and still in-love 😀 Congrats on you anniversary!
    x M.
    http://nevermindnm.blogspot.com/

  45. Cutest couple ever and no you don’t look like you went tanning nor did this post feel preachy 😉

  46. I’ve had a similar experience. Your categories are spot on. Marriage takes work, but love and family are worth it. Thanks for the honest and succinct reflection.

  47. This is wonderful! As someone who has been dating their bf for about 8 years (no marriage yet!), I love reading about the long haul for people who dated throughout their 20s. Cheers to that! Can’t wait to see your new little one 🙂

  48. aww those pics are so cute! Happy 15 Years!!!

  49. Love the pictures! Happy 15th. We just celebrated our 31st. God bless you and your beautiful family.

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  50. I love everything about this post. 5 years and 1 kid in and still so much more to learn.

  51. Thank you for this post! At 24 (not married but in the same serious relationship since 21) and having just moved into together the growing pains are obvious and stressful. Thank you for the great analogy. This post was much needed and encouraging.

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