By military standards, I didn’t get married at an exceptionally young age. I was 23 and my husband was 25 when we tied the knot at a courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina. We had been together for a little over a year, and we agreed that the military lifestyle would be easier as a married couple.

We could finally live together and face the challenges of regular moves, long hours, and looming deployments as a team. Beyond the practical pros of marriage, we were also crazy in love and simply didn’t want to wait any longer than we had to.

While many family and friends were shocked, and some upset by our decision, we had no doubts. And once we moved to Ryan’s first duty station, we soon realized that getting married fairly quickly and at a younger age was the norm for many military families. We met 18-year-olds who had already gotten married and started families, as well as older couples who had grown stronger over the years despite saying “I do” at a young age.

But regardless of the many successes of young marriages, I think most of us who have said our vows in our early twenties or even teens can agree that it ain’t always rainbows and butterflies.

So, how do we get past the hardships of young marriages while our spouses are in the military? By letting go of our expectations. Here are some of my top tips. (Also see The Unconventional Guide to Your Young Military Marriage.http://militaryspouse.com/relationships/military-marriage/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-military-marriage/)

1. Realize early on that marriage and romance are not always fairytales.

I’ve watched enough romantic comedies to know that the way pop culture and the media portray the idea of marriage is wildly different than the reality of having a spouse. Sure, there are romantic date nights, the occasional love notes, and maybe even a dream wedding (if your spouses’ schedule doesn’t get in the way), but there are also inevitably going to be some arguments and even moments where you question your feelings toward your partner. It’s a 100% normal to have a balance of wanting to rip your hair out because your partner left dirty dishes out yet again, and wanting to drown them with kisses after they wake you up with chocolate chip pancakes. Maybe your life isn’t like a scene out of The Notebook, but your unique, quirky, and, at times, challenging marriage can be your own version of a fairytale.

2. Keep on growing as an individual and pencil in some you time.

It’s easy to get consumed in a marriage as a young, stupid-in-love couple, but it’s vital to continue to take personal time to work toward goals, take up hobbies and practice self-care. My husband and I love spending time together as a couple pursuing our common interests, like hiking, watching movies or traveling; however, we have more interesting conversations when we’ve dedicated time to our own personal pastimes. I know I’m a much better partner after I’ve been able to hit the gym or journal, and my husband is a stronger communicator after he’s had time to catch up on the news or watch his favorite television shows. We all require different levels of personal time and privacy, but even taking as little as thirty minutes to focus just on you can help keep a marriage fresh. Plus, when you’re in your teens or twenties, there’s a lot of growing and exploring to do outside of a marriage, and it’s healthy to keep on being independent even when you’re tied down.

3. Forget your plans and embrace the uncertainty.

This is a lesson we learn as military spouses time and time again. While the average young married couple can go on a honeymoon immediately after the wedding, plan summer vacations with the family, or even do something as simple as set reservations for an anniversary dinner, we as military spouses aren’t always so lucky. My husband and I have had to spend holidays apart, miss family functions, and even reschedule our honeymoon, but we always try to look on the bright side and embrace the uncertainty of a young military marriage. We can create our own traditions as newlyweds and truly appreciate the limited time we get to spend together. The disappointments of canceled plans and late nights spent alone still get to me from time to time, and that’s okay, but the longer my husband and I are together, the easier it become (especially with support from military spouses like you.)

4. Take everyone’s advice about marriage with a grain of salt (including mine).

Every couple, regardless of how young or old they were when they got married, is going to have a different experience. Most likely, you’re going to hear a lot of unwanted opinions about your young marriage, but only you and your partner are in control of how your relationship will work. Arguing with every person who has something negative to say will only waste the precious energy you could reserve for being an awesome young military couple. After all, not everyone is so lucky to start their life together with their other half at a young age.

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