With my younger cousin’s wedding and our church’s marriage retreat both falling on this weekend, I’ve thought a lot recently about marriage. I feel that my husband and I have a good marriage, but it’s not by luck or happenstance. We had to work at it just like anything else in life that you want to see succeed.
So many people give 110% to their careers, children, appearance and hobbies. Marriage is no different and should not be overlooked. Here’s a few tips I’ve learned through experience just from being married for more than nine years.
Appreciation: No matter how much you love someone, you will never be happy if you always focus on what he or she is not rather than appreciate all the good qualities. Sometimes I wish my husband would workout with me. This is something I enjoy doing that I think would be fun to share with someone else. I can dwell on this or instead be glad that he works on my car and helps out around the house and with our kids. After all, at least he still looks the same as when we started dating (with his shirt on).
Boundaries: If I had to name just one attribute that saved my marriage (other than simply saying God of course) I would say boundaries. We needed to set boundaries not so much with each other but with outside influences that were negatively affecting our marriage. Sometimes a couple can get along great, but family, friends, work, or other outside factors might push too hard on the relationship if a guard rail is not put in the proper place. I suggest to anyone in any situation the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Counseling: One of the biggest mistakes we made before getting married was not going to marriage counseling. Some preachers actually require it before marrying a couple, which I now think is very wise. We had all the “big” issues nailed down: faith, family, friends . . . and in the South football! But we failed to realize it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15) and that any situation and circumstance can and will arise to spoil that perfect plan. Better late than never though, we went to counseling about six months into our marriage. It was there that we learned about setting boundaries and many other important tools we might not have learned before it was too late.
Difficulties: Couples will go through many difficulties together in life. The key word is “together.” You can let difficulties rip you apart or bring you together and help you grow stronger as a couple and individually.
Encouragement: It’s wonderful to tell friends and others about how great your spouse is, but don’t forget to let the spouse know so too. Even when we’re sure someone knows how we feel, telling him or her often gives confidence and reassurance to make that person feel loved.
Financial Peace: I’m not suggesting you eat beans and rice forever like Dave Ramsey would, but rather that you both be on the same page financially. It’s a blessing to give together to church and other charitable causes. Also, both people should be in the know on finances. One person may be in charge of paying all the bills, but it’s good for both to know how much money is where and to have access to it.
Grace: To be completely honest, I would have gotten married at least a few years later in life had my husband not given me an ultimatum at 23. He’s very practical and saw no reason why after dating for more than four years and both being college graduates we should not get married. For years I would bring up this issue any time we argued about anything. God dealt with me that I needed to show grace and not blame him for that forever. After all, I could have said “no” but I obviously thought he was more important than living alone on Lean Cuisines and a copy editor’s salary just to prove my independence.
Honesty: If you read my “G” reason (or anything else I’ve ever written), you know I’m brutally honest. It’s important to be honest with your spouse . . . about money, other relationships, work, and anything else that might affect your relationship. This goes for the bad and the ugly too, not just the good.
Individualism: I may not be by myself eating Lean Cuisines anymore (Thank God!), but I am still my own person. I still do things I like that my husband doesn’t like to do. But then again, most people I know don’t like exercising, writing, reading, and telling jokes in front of crowds. So I’m weird that way; but I’m me. And he’s himself. Sometimes we get so lost in what the other person likes to do that we lose sight of ourselves, and instead of being the person who attracted our spouse in the first place we become someone totally different.
Jesus: Y’all need Jesus, and so did we. You must give Him total control of your marriage, and life!
“Everybody gets excited for the beginning of the season and you get excited about getting married. But after you’re married for a while, you’ve got to have a process to make it work.” —Nick Saban
Kindness: Don’t be a female dog. I hear some people talk very rude to their spouses and it embarrasses me to hear it! They should not talk that bad to them in private, and especially not in front of others. Nobody wants to come home to a nag or a bully.
Love Languages: Unless you’re living under a brick, I’m sure you’ve heard of The 5 Love Languages. The premise of this theory is that each person shows love in one of five predominant ways. Discovering how you like to receive love as well as your spouse will help your marriage a lot! For example, my husband’s love language is “Words of Affirmation” and mine is “Acts of Service.” He unloads the dishwasher, and I thank him, and we’re both happy! *For more on this, also read “How to Become Fluent in the Language of Love.”
Memories: Every couple will eventually get in a rut now and then where one or both wonder why they married in the first place. If you’re thinking that’s not true, then either 1) you haven’t been married long enough yet, or 2) you’re lying. Remembering why and how you fell in love in the first place helps you realize what you have with that person.
Nuptials: Marriage is not taken very seriously nowadays. People get married thinking, “If it doesn’t work out we can always divorce.” Instead, they need to think, “I will make this work.” Of course there are unfortunate circumstances where people do end out divorced, but this would not happen if both people within the couple gave it 110% and committed to making it work.
Outside Relationships: This is not as bad as it may sound. Extramarital romantic relationships are not what I’m talking about. However, you need some platonic relationships outside of the marriage. It’s great to be a best friend to your spouse, but if you do everything together all the time, it will get annoying sooner or later. I have friends and family with whom I workout, shop, and talk about “female” things. My husband also has friends and who like to work on trucks and talk about sports for much longer than my attention span. Despite the cliche Hallmark cards, you can’t be someone’s “everything.” You should just be the most important thing.
Priorities: God, then your spouse, etc. Kids, work, friends, and all the likes can come in after that, but the first two are nonnegotiable and must come in that order: 1) God, 2) spouse.
Quality Time: It’s important to not just spend time together but also quality time. Webster’s defines that as “giving all of one’s attention.” It’s not enough to sit side by side in silence for a two-hour movie or go out with a group of friends. You need to talk and share actual time between just the two of you to keep a relationship alive.
Rest: It’s hard with two small kids, jobs, etc. But taking time to relax, whether that’s taking turns taking a nap on Sunday afternoon or hanging out Saturday night and watching your favorite TV show, we all need downtime. When I don’t have rest, I have stress. And stress makes me irritable, and I take it out on whomever’s around.
Sense of Humor: It’s important to not take everything too seriously. One day both of our vehicles broke down and we had an appliance mess up the next day. Another time I went through a lot of trouble to switch our life insurance to a better plan. I had finally gotten the old plan cancelled to find out my husband had found an old bill and paid it to the old company. He thought I’d be so proud of him for paying what he thought was a bill to the new plan after all I’d went through with paperwork and phone calls, when he’d actually brought back what took me months to stop debiting from our account! Sure these instances are frustrating, but if you can laugh about them you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and have a funny memory for later.
Takeout: I’m not a good cook. I try but to much avail. One thing we both enjoy is a nice meal together. We both work several jobs, and it’s always a treat when one surprises the other with food from a favorite place for dinner.
Umbrellas: Chivalry is dying out fast, but there are still a few good men. I love that my husband still does little things like hold an umbrella for me to get in the car. I try to do little gestures for him as well, whether it’s buying his favorite candy or letting him have the recliner at night.
Vacations: With small kids and multiple jobs we don’t travel a whole lot right now, but we do take time off from distractions. Whether you go across country or just go someplace for one day with no work and no kids, it’s important to take a break from life stresses. I’m not suggesting an elaborate second honeymoon every year, but time away from distractions of just hanging out together helps tremendously.
Work: Marriage takes work, and a good marriage takes even more work. The hardest working man in football, Nick Saban, said it best in his media rant this past fall: “Everybody gets excited for the beginning of the season and you get excited about getting married. But after you’re married for a while, you’ve got to have a process to make it work.”
Xes: There’s no better way to appreciate your spouse than to look at some of the idiots you’ve dated. Just thinking of how my life could have turned out if I married someone different makes me want to give my husband a huge hug and kiss!
Yield: Yield signs make you pause for just long enough to check before you go. It’s important to have a “yield sign” in your brain during arguments, or any time really. Before you say or do something you can’t take back, yield and think of the consequences of going ahead. Maybe you need to wait a while before moving or maybe not go at all.
Zoloft: A little goes a long way. As someone with OCD, it can make life more manageable for you and those around you . . . just saying.