In the beginning, you dated each other–you were kind, you hid your flaws, you surprised each other, you wrote sweet notes of encouragement and love. What happened?
You got comfortable. You started acting like the real you, and they saw you, flaws and all. But that’s what you wanted. And you still want.
However with REAL-NESS, comes REAL MESS. So if you want your marriage to work, you have to learn ways to keep the same problems from reoccurring, or at least learn healthier ways to deal with them.
I’ve made a few of my own messes in our marriage, such as starting an argument in bed after my husband’s fallen asleep, shoving too many potato skins down the garbage disposal, been cruel to him in public, and trying to change him by nagging.
I’ve learned a few things along the way, and most not so easily. Big changes in our marriage came from big events–his mom’s cancer, a friend’s divorce, my own illness and disabilities, struggling in parenting and poor personal choices.
But each time we chose to eventually fight together against the hard things instead of against one another. We’ve learned to invest in our marriage by attending marriage conferences at church, finding mentors, support from friends in healthy marriages and praying for one another.
We aren’t doing marriage perfect–but we are doing it the best we can–committed to thriving, not simply surviving.
This month we celebrate our 14th anniversary and our relationship looks a whole lot different than when we first met. We’ve carried each other through our absolute worst and celebrated at our best.
Here are 14 Lessons I’ve Learned in Our 14 Years of Marriage:
Laugh together: Our honeymoon did not go as planned. We thought it would be hilarious to go to this cliche resort in the Poconos to save money, but 7 hours of driving later, it was a huge disappointment. In addition to me getting sick from the exhaustion of planning a wedding, our dogsitter lost our dog. When all was said and done, we needed a vacation from our vacation.
The reason we fell in love in the first place was because we had fun and made each other laugh. I felt safe and comfortable because it didn’t feel like work, it felt like fun. We did the best we could to make the most of a crappy honeymoon and luckily were able to have a redo the next year with a cute cabin in the woods near our home.
Laughter has brought us through many hardships, diffusing the tension in moments of agitation, as a way to see positivity in a negative situation and a reminder that we are a team, not each other’s enemy.
Forgive easily: I used to pick every battle because when you get married everyone gives you the “don’t go to bed angry” verse. Instead of interpreting as, “give full vent to all of your emotions at bedtime”, I learned to use it as a self-check. Nighttime anger may be diffused by something as simple as getting some sleep or having a good breakfast. If it still bothers you in the morning, pick a calm time to address it with your spouse. Once I used this tactic, 9 times out of 10 I was relieved I hadn’t made a big deal out of nothing the night before.
Date each other: This is so important especially once you have children. Coming together to refocus on each other and gain perspective in your parenting by getting a sitter and taking a breather will make you a happier, healthier couple. And in turn, better parents. We didnt have much family nearby so we traded a babysitting with friends and used local parents night out events.
Put your marriage before the kids: Before you had kids you were a team—continue to work together and stay on the same team. If you are constantly choosing between what the kids want and what your spouse wants, the family will crumble. Kids test their boundaries, that’s what helps them learn. Train them to understand that you and your spouse support each other. Have your disagreements out of earshot of your children. Don’t disrespect your spouse by brushing off their opinion in front of the kids. (I’m talking to myself here!) Let your spouse make their own parenting decisions without feeling the need to correct constantly. Your way is not the only right way to do things. Let your spouse help!
Get away for the night: in addition to making a habit of going on dates, plan an overnight trip once or twice a year. Even just booking a hotel (check out groupon for deals) in a nearby city square and walking around to look at shops, go to dinner or a movie will do wonders for your marriage. Sleep in, get room service, have sex. Seriously, make time for your spouse and try not to talk about the kids until you get home!
Surprise each other: One of my favorite things about my husband is that he loves to surprise me (not always fun being snuck up on, but more of the “will you marry me?” Kind of surprises). This year, my family had an early birthday party for me and a babysitter came over so my husband and i could get a fancy dinner and go to a movie. On my actual birthday, we still celebrated with cards and a picnic dinner in the living room.
Encourage each other: This is so important to do so make it a habit–set an alarm once a week to leave a sticky note, send a text or write on the bathroom mirror. Tell them why you’re proud of them, why you love them or what you noticed was thoughtful that week. A little can go a long way. This is an easy way for me to feel loved and noticed.
Pray for each other: This has been my go to when I’m frustrated with my husband. It calms my mind and focuses me on my own tone and may even give me some perspective on his own situation and reactions. Support each other: I am constantly getting excited about new ideas or ventures and my husband has never told me I was foolish for attempting something new. I may not make a penny back on a new idea, but he supports me and my passions even if he is the breadwinner. So when he started restoring vintage motorcycles, my fears crept in, not about money, but about safety. But after all these years of letting me pursue my dreams, who was I to discourage his? I voiced my concerns but said I wouldn’t tell him no. He was understanding and respectful but explained he needed something new in his life–I had just been through hell and back with my disease and he didn’t want to live in fear. He wanted to go for the things we always wanted to try. This argument was mine as well when I asked for us to start spending more money toward family vacations. In having a conversation rather than a fight, we were able to both feel heard and respected and able to go after our goals.
Serve each other: This can be as simple as making dinner each night so that your spouse can take a nap after work. It can be bringing him coffee while he’s getting ready in the morning or filling up his car with gas after you use it. It can be scheduling date nights and babysitters and sending a text: We’re going out, Thursday night work? Open the door for her, give him the better seat, do little things to put their needs before your own to show that you still love them.
Prioritize your love life: One thing that helped me understand best how my husband and I are wired differently was to take the Five Love Languages Test. I discovered that I need Words of Affirmation, while he feels most loved through Acts of Service. I didn’t understand the big deal about the sink being cleaned out or my clothes folded up, while he didn’t understand my need to be encouraged. Its not a prideful thing, its about feeling loved and appreciated.
He wants the same, but he doesn’t hear it as easily through my words, he hears it through helping pay the bills and setting up vacation plans. As you grow, you may change in what areas you need to focus on the most, and chances are there are 2-3 areas that speak to you. Take the quiz or read it outloud to your husband if you need to. Learn about each other!
Get your own hobbies: The first year or two of our marriage, I felt like I was constantly waiting on my husband to finish up with his hobbies so we could hang out. This was a bad plan. He plays a million instruments, loves being outdoors, and in general, never sits still.
As soon as I started picking back up old hobbies from high school like painting and sewing, he started interrupting me to see if I wanted to hang out more.
Give each other freedom: One thing we’ve learned is to say yes as much as possible when we need our space, either because there’s something we’re excited about doing on our own (like shopping without the kids) or everyone’s driving us crazy. My favorite thing to do is writing at a coffee shop or browsing a book store. For my husband, it’s a day to go hunting or getting outside. Find your niche, and respect each other’s need for a breather every once in awhile. Try not to set time limits on the other person so you can feel free to take your time when it’s your turn.
Listen to each other: While there may be a lot you need to get off your chest, your spouse also wants to know that they are being heard as well—not that you’re waiting until they stop to take a breath so that you can interject your point. Sometimes venting is just venting, needing an outlet to be listened to, not wanting a counselor for a solution. So make sure you’re available to listen, and apologize if you start taking over the conversation with your opinion (Sorry, babe!)
It isn’t though our strength that we are going strong all these years later–it’s our shared focus on Jesus to guide us and strengthen us one day at a time, without whom I could have never changed for the better.
Don’t stop there! Start your week off right with 4 Weeks to a Better Marriage Challenge!