I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. One of my favourite book series to read was the Choose Your Own Adventure series - you've got to remember them. You read a bit into the story, then get a choice. Will you stay and try to slay the dragon? Go to page 24. Will you try to run through the forest and save yourself? Turn to page 45. Then, you continue to read and make choices until you reach the end of your story. I was always tickled at the fact that while I controlled what happened in the story, I never knew what would be on the next page. At the end of the day, whether I slayed the dragon or survived my escape through the forest, it was always up to me. These books were my first lessons on making decisions and being accountable. Yesterday was my first wedding anniversary, and it was then that I realized I've been living my very own Choose Your Own Adventure story for the past year. I've learned that marriage, like most other relationships and life itself, is what you make it. Nothing more, nothing less.

HomieLoverFriend and I heard it all in the time leading up to August 1st, 2011.

"Wow! You guys are really settling down, eh?"

"Welp, enjoy the honeymoon, because you know married folks have NO sex life!"

The bachelor(ette) party is the last hurrah! Have fun!"

I'd laugh and roll with the jokes, but wondered about marriage in the context of these comments. Was marriage like some nuclear bomb that explodes then spreads particles of boredom, complacency, and low libido? Is that what we had to look forward to? I've seen too many couples who have succumbed to that bomb - people who smiled and laughed and danced in their wedding pictures turned into people who barely spent time together, who grumbled about lazy husbands, and who referred to their wives as "the ole ball and chain". I was determined that wouldn't be us. Our goal was to duck and dodge that nuclear bomb, and find a way to create a marriage that wouldn't lose any of its passion, personality, or love as the years rolled on.

Now, a year in, I can look back and say that we've done just that. Sure, some folks who have years in the marriage game might scoff and say "Just you wait!" and reference the seven-year itch, or that other nuclear bomb known as children. However, I know that there are couples who didn't even see the first 6 months pass successfully (and I'm not talking about Kim K. and Kris Humphries) - so I'll be rejoicing in this one sacred year. The key? Stop looking at marriage as something that comes with a blueprint. Stop looking at it as something that has to be done the same way as those that came before you. Make your marriage the entity you want it to be, relish it, and be accountable to the decisions you choose to make.

Schedules get busy, life gets complicated, and compromises need to be made. Certain things are inevitable, but we have a lot more control than we think.  If you haven't french kissed your partner in months, let alone had sex with them, don't blame the dog, the job, or the kids. YOU control that. If you spend every weekend weeding the garden while your partner cleans behind the kitchen appliances, and you can't remember the last time y'all had fun, YOU control that. If you find yourself complaining about your partner more than you compliment them - again, YOU control that. I refuse to fall into the tired memes that we see played out so often - boorish husband + frazzled wife/workaholic husband + sex-starved wife/emasculated husband + overachieving wife, etc. etc. - and we don't have to!

Choose to have fun. Choose to be romantic. Choose to challenge each other. Choose to love one another. Marriage isn't something that happens to you - it's not an uncontrollable force that comes in between two people and puts a stranglehold on great relationships. Never be discouraged by other failed or unhappy marriages that you see - you can determine the course your relationship will take, and only you and your partner can be held accountable for what works and what doesn't. Will there be tough and difficult times? More than likely. But even so, you are still in control of how you steer through those rough waters and hopefully reach calmer seas.

Granted, some may see this post and chalk it up to the simplistic and idealistic nature of a happy wife of 1 year. That may be so - but creating our own relationship blueprint has always been what works for us, and would surely work for more people if they took control.

I can still see little Bee in the Jalna Library every Saturday morning. Sitting on her favourite beanbag chair by the south window, with 6-7 Choose Your Own Adventure books strewn about on the floor in front of her. Little did she know, she'd be living her own Choose Your Own Adventure books as a grown woman - and in this case, real life is definitely better than fiction.

For my married folks - what are your keys to success? For those who aren't married but hope to marry one day, is there anything you fear? For my folks who have no intention of getting married, this post can still relate to any serious romantic relationship - how do you avoid boredom and complacency? How do you keep things fresh?

IT'S CARNIVAL: Friday Night Fun

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