I recently read the BEST post (written by the lovely ladies over at Pretty Providence) about having a marriage that gets better with age that I had to share. As you know, I am a self help junkie and I love, love anything that is about self improvement or making relationships better!
So without further ado…
I have been really hesitant to write this post, not only because it is a personal subject, but because I don’t want anyone to think I’m claiming to be a marriage expert. I’m not one, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to write this. Finally, I decided that even if this post helped to strengthen just one marriage, it would be worth writing. Every marriage is different, everyone has their own struggles and challenges, and I don’t claim that this is a comprehensive list. It is a sincere attempt at dissecting why my marriage is the best thing in my life, and what it is that makes ours and other marriages successful.
Don’t keep score. Marriage is not a game. It’s not a contest either. So why are we inclined to keep a mental tally of who is ahead? If you notice yourself checking a mental scoreboard when you do something to benefit your spouse, chances are your heart is not in the right place and you probably aren’t even noticing all the things he does for you and your family.
Learn to communicate well. Men and women are so different (duh) and it seems like communication is one of the ways these fundamental differences like to manifest themselves. When we were engaged our ecclesiastical leader strongly recommended that we take a marriage prep class. I’m so glad we did. When it comes to communicating I always remember one particular story the instructor told. He and his wife were newly married and they were driving somewhere in the car. His wife asked him if he wanted anything to drink. He replied he did not. She responded, inquiring if he was sure he wasn’t thirsty. He assured her he was fine. She said, “there is a 711 right up here on the corner, it would be really easy to stop if you are.” He said again that he didn’t need a drink, but thanks anyway. When they arrived at their destination he was shocked to realize that his wife was upset with him. All she wanted was a drink. The reason I remember this story is because as comical as it is, I catch myself doing this even after five years. As soon as I realize what I am doing I force myself to say, “babe, I want a drink, can we stop?” and amazingly he is always quick to agree. Ah, direct communication. Everyone’s communication issues are different, but miscommunication causes fights and tensions that can otherwise be easily eliminated. Try to figure out what your communication differences are and breach the barriers.
Forgive immediately. My husband is so good at this. I remember one night saying something so mean to him in a hormonal frenzy and running up the stairs to our room. I am a proud person, and even though I knew even as the encounter happened that I was in the wrong, it was still hard to make myself go downstairs and apologize. I remember getting up my courage and finally going down. No sooner had a tearful “I’m sorry” escaped my lips than my husband had swept me up into his arms and told me it was okay, and how much he loved me. I was ashamed at this moment to realize how often my husband had committed smaller offenses which I then made him suffer for as he laid out extensive explanations for his tiny misdeeds. Or, the times when he had sincerely apologized and I had responded with an indifferent “it’s fine.” I am trying to teach myself to forgive right away, acknowledging that no one is perfect, and remembering how much I love him despite any weaknesses. Not to mention how I want him to forgive me mine.
Make the time you have together count. Life is demanding. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t time in the day to get your chores done, let alone go out on a date with your spouse. One thing that has really blessed our relationship is that we have always tried to make the time we do have together worthwhile. For example, if you are going to watch a show, don’t sit on separate couches while you each browse your phones during commercials. Hold hands. Talk about what you’re watching, Talk about anything. Another way we have tried to do this is by establishing an early bedtime for our son. As soon as my husband gets home he focuses on our son, giving him his full attention, playing, laughing, teaching, and then he puts him to bed so that he gets a good amount of quality time with him each day. It has been such a blessing for us to have a few hours together before we go to sleep when we are kid-free. I realize everyone’s schedules and demands are different. Ours have changed several times since we’ve been married, but the point is to make an effort to spend meaningful time together.
Pray and read scriptures together. I know that not everyone is religious and I’m not saying you have to be to make a marriage work, but I couldn’t leave this out if I am being honest about what strengthens our relationship. We read our scriptures and pray together every night and I can’t begin to explain how it has blessed our marriage. For starters, it is really hard to hold onto a silly grudge or argument as you hold hands and pray together. To take it deeper though, I can’t explain the love I feel as I hear my husband plead with God for me and for our children, for strength to keep our marriage covenants and for solutions to our problems. It is also a time when he gets to see that I recognize the things he does for our family as I tell my Heavenly Father about them and express my gratitude for such a loving husband and family.
Keep the sexual flame alive. Since this is a personal subject I am not going to go into details, I’ll only say that the physical side of a marriage not only matters, but is critically important. It always makes me sad to hear couples joke about how this dies out over time, after kids, etc. It doesn’t have to (shouldn’t) be that way. I’m not saying things don’t change, I’m simply saying make the physicality of your relationship a priority.
Don’t ever talk negatively about your spouse to others, especially your parents. If you and your spouse are having an issue or disagreement (and we all face them), it should stay between you. Complaining about your spouse to your mom not only doesn’t solve anything, but is a breach of trust and sews seeds of worry and dislike of your spouse in your parents and friends. Write in a journal, talk to God, talk to your spouse, and sincerely try to deal with the issue on your own. If you still struggle, consider consulting a councilor or ecclesiastical leader. Once you’re past the problem, you will be glad you didn’t tell the whole world about it, and so will your spouse.
Focus on the positive. To state it simply, every relationship has good things and bad things. Focusing on the bad things only blurs the good ones out of your line of sight.
Serve your spouse. All relationships have peaks and valleys. It’s totally normal to have times that are particularly good and times when things are just static. During times when I feel static and not head over heels in love, I ask myself “what have I done for him lately?” “What am I doing to make this relationship fresh and exciting?” “What am I doing to make him love me more?” Try to do something special. Write a love note, clean his car, set up a date, or simply look into his eyes and tell him you love him so much. It’s amazing how when I change the way I treat him, it automatically changes how I feel about our relationship.
Set goals together. You are a team and it helps to have common goals. Talk about your hopes and dreams and then set about to work hard and realize them. As you work and sacrifice toward the same things it will bring you closer together and neither partner will feel like they are “doing it alone.”
Live frugally. It would be naïve to act as if money doesn’t often cause marital discord. Monetary issues are one of the top three reasons cited for divorce in the United States. There is a really simple solution to this: live within your means. Be grateful for the things that you have. If you focus on how you can work together and save to achieve your goals it will bless your marriage and help you focus on what is really important in life. I have loved writing this blog because it constantly reminds me to simplify and live frugally, which in turn has blessed our relationship.
Shed your selfishness. If I was going to give only one suggestion to anyone who was having marital trouble it would be this last one. Put your spouse first. If you let go of your own wants and needs and seek to meet the wants and needs of your partner you will be amazed at how your love will grow and your happiness will multiply.
Even though I am nowhere near perfect I am willing to work hard every day to make sure that my marriage succeeds, so now you have a list of the things I work on. I hope that this post helps someone else to do the same.
If you have any other thoughts on what makes a marriage work or ideas that have helped you strengthen your relationships I’d love for you to share in the comments, I am always learning from your thoughtful responses.