Writer Kirsten West Savali on her wedding day
Writer Kirsten West Savali on her wedding day. (Courtesy of Kirsten West Savali)

After 8 years of marriage and three children, Valentine’s Day is not what it used to be – it’s better, richer, honest. More than a celebration of love; it’s a re-calibration of purpose. When I was a single woman that’s something I never thought I would say. Love is nothing without action and marriage can only thrive if both partners are dedicated to not only saying, “I love you,” but doing it – every, single day. That doesn’t mean rose petals and champagne; it means a willingness to love your partner even in the absence of romance, aligning your dreams with theirs and realizing that “forever” is not some abstract concept on a Valentine’s Day card but a day-to-day process that takes strength and patience.

In light of the fact that I went into marriage expecting moonbeams and stardust on Tuesdays, I decided to share with women out there who are considering marriage — because, let’s be honest, it’s not for everyone — a list of things I’ve learned as I continuously strive to be a better partner.

1. Being friends first is not a cliché.
If you are not friends with your spouse before you get married, you are in for a rude awakening. There will be days that romance is just not a high priority. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a life thing. You have to enjoy making each other laugh and you have to want to spend time with your partner outside of a bedroom, or a floor, or the bathtub – whatever floats your boat. If you don’t genuinely care about their well-being or sincerely like them as a person, your relationship will sink faster than the Titanic at the first iceberg life throws your way.

2. Your spouse is not an extension of you.
As lovely as it is for some to imagine that, upon marriage, you become one flesh, it’s not true. You don’t slip a ring on your finger and magically merge souls; you actually do remain individuals. Go figure. Because of this, you cannot call your partner “wrong” for not doing everything exactly the way that you would do it in the same situation. You cannot always think of them in relation to their proximity to you; instead, it’s best to remember that while you are an integral part of the sum total of their life’s experiences, your partner should enhance you (and vice versa), not complete you.

3. Children are a game-changer.
I remember when I was three days away from giving birth to our first son. I cried my eyes out, because I realized that everything was about to change. After my father wiped his tears – of laughter – away, he said, “It’s a little too late to be worried about that now!” But after I threw my pregnancy pillow at him, he said all-knowingly, “Now you’re going to see who you married.” [Insert Vincent Price laughter here.] I didn’t understand at the time, because we had been in a relationship for years. Of course, I knew who I had married, right? I mean, you don’t get pregnant doing the electric slide.