Saturday marked 10 years since the day I vowed to walk through life committed to Brian. I was 32 years old that day and after 5 years of dating him, I assumed that I was as prepared as anyone could be. But you can never know then what you know now. I have learned countless things, but these 10 stand out as nuggets- the gold when it comes to a healthy marriage.
1. Remember that you’re on the same team
Don’t make important decisions without the other, don’t be fooled into thinking you are better, don’t compete with each other. Keeping score never works. Remember that you are meant to be companions, helpers and partners. Brian and I tend to do the team thing well, but life is still full of unexpected, hard, crappy stuff and is always trying to make us fail. At least that’s how the past few years have felt. So whether the challenges are in your relationship itself or hardship just keeps banging on your door, you must work together or you will fall apart. You were made to be better together than you could be alone. (Insert 100 different quotes and books written on what it means to be a team and that will just scratch the surface of how important that is in marriage.)
2. Try really hard not to “parent” your spouse (even if they want you to)
All of us come into marriage with deficits. Things we suck at, things we never learned, broken and hurting places that we use childish coping mechanisms to cover. But treating your spouse like a child will not strengthen your marriage (or help them as an individual.) Straight forward and loving conversations, championing them and supporting their growth, professional counseling; these things will go so much further than the condescending, nagging or co-dependent things we might want to do or say.
3. Stop trying to prove that your way of relaxing is superior to theirs
Early on I realized that I am a “do-er” and my husband is a “be-er” when it comes to down time. I spent a good while being convinced that I was somehow more productive, less lazy and generally superior to him when it came to “resting.” Over these 10 years we have rubbed off on each other and are both more balanced as a result. But it required me to stop trying to make him just like me. People are different (light bulb) and need different things to rejuvenate. There are plenty of instances when bad or unhealthy behaviors need addressing, but more often we just need to focus on embracing who our spouse is and let them be themselves.
4. Celebrate milestones
Life flies by and if we don’t plan special experiences and mark milestones along our way, we will miss out. Both Brian and I wanted a glamorous, relaxing and romantic trip for our 10th anniversary but with no extra money and a nursing baby, this just isn’t the year. Instead, we drove our little family up to the place we got married to share with them and be reminded ourselves of the sheer gravity of that day. As another wedding was about to be underway, we snuck up under that pomegranate tree and spoke again the vows that we live by. For better and worse, richer and poorer- those words carry even more weight these days. Our 7-year-old videotaped and took pictures, I hadn’t showered and was wearing an old maternity shirt, we left our sleeping baby in her stroller on a path below, delivery trucks drove by…glamorous maybe not, but life-giving and powerful for sure.
5. Take vacations
Even if you are on a tight budget. Even if your kids are small and it takes more days to get ready/ recover than the whole vacation itself. Even if getting out of town feels like it takes an act of God. Go. We all need a change of scenery, a different pace and concentrated time together. The shared adventure will draw you together and help build your history. If you don’t value get-aways now, check back with me after you’ve taken one and I’ll bet you’ve changed your mind.
6. Commit to reconciliation
If you have an argument, get your feelings hurt or feel misunderstood- DON’T PRETEND IT WILL GO AWAY. Revisit the interaction and set an expectation in your marriage that those things will not be stuffed under the rug. Take responsibility, apologize, ask for things to be different next time- whatever you need to do. Keep talking until there is understanding and reconciliation for both of you. Again, you are on the same team and no one should be trying to win against the other.
7. Know & love Jesus
The reason we even know love, commitment and sacrifice (and everything else really) is because God did it all first. He IS love, He sacrificed himself to the fullest extent and He will never leave us or forsake us no matter what we do. Being in relationship with Him and relying on the strength, wisdom, self-control, forgiveness and example he provides is exactly what we need in our marriages. And the reported divorce rate among couples that pray together daily is less than 1%. Not kidding.
8. Don’t look to your spouse to make you complete
Marriage can bring about happiness and healing. Marriage can be really fulfilling. But marriage isn’t magic and it is not capable of meeting all of our needs. When we expect our spouse to fill all the void, replace all our friends and make everything right, we are setting everyone up for disappointment. When we recognize that we are lovely because God loves us and that it is Him alone that is capable of making us complete, we can offer our whole selves to our spouse and love deeply.
9. Keep the important things important
Success in marriage is not measured in paid off houses and retirement plans. Good things of course, but rather empty if the marriage relationship isn’t rich. With so many important things to put our efforts toward, it’s easy to lose sight of which matter most. Our culture celebrates and often demands hard work to the detriment of family, child-centeredness to the detriment of marriage and chasing dreams to the detriment of being present. In order to keep marriage central we need to be prepared to fight the current.
10. Invest in your friendship
My dad’s advice on my sister’s wedding day video was to “be best friends and find things you love to do together.” For my parents that included playing tennis, going on trips and working in the yard. Shared activity helps create a closeness that eventually lends itself to confiding in, depending on and trusting each other. And if you play together and enjoy casual time, the deep and serious times feel less draining and more natural. It might be easier to call your sister, your dad or your best buddy to first share your triumphs and heart breaks, but try choosing your spouse first. They are your person. Marriage gives you a built-in confidante and when trust is in place, it can be the best friendship of your life.
I have learned that there is so much more to learn. Marriage proves to be stunningly beautiful, excruciatingly difficult and surprisingly powerful. Here’s to the next 10 years!