It’s been a little over two weeks since my husband left on his solitude retreat. Our twelve year anniversary happened to land on his day off, enabling us to have a much needed reconnect time over the phone. I was so thankful.
Which may sound funny, because we were 3,000 miles apart and we only talked on the phone for our anniversary which sounds like a pretty depressing and uneventful anniversary this year.
But something I’ve learned in twelve years of marriage is that the depth of our love is built upon multiple seemingly insignificant moments instead of one grandiose moment of love. Yes, the big splashes we’ve had on certain anniversaries or special occasions have been special and well remembered. But if those were the only times during the year that we demonstrated our love to one another, quite frankly our marriage wouldn’t last.
So even though this seemingly insignificant phone call I had with him on Saturday seems small to you, it was a sweet gift to me. God knew our anniversary would land on one of his only days off of his solitude retreat where he could call home and I would get to hear his voice. To laugh with him again (he always makes me laugh). To hear how God is working in him. To remember that we are in this together. No. Matter. What.
It made me dwell on our twelve years of marriage and I thought it would be fun to provide you with 12 things I’ve learned in 12 years of marriage that may be of help to you. We are far from perfect, but we strive to keep these things in perspective or in the forefront of our minds which I believe has been key to a stronger marriage and deeper connection for us both:
12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Years of Marriage:
1. Make each other laugh. If you’ve never heard of the couple Kristin and Danny, they are firm believers that “laughter is the best medicine,” When I met them earlier this year at an event, I loved their motto and mantra to laugh together often. Their viral posts are hilarious and their voice of biblical truth is certainly captivating as well. So if you want a good laugh, check out this video by them, or download Snapchat and do the “head swap” feature. It get’s my husband and I laughing every time!
2. Take “for better or for worse” seriously. Right before my husband and I got married, I entered into a season of deep depression which lasted throughout our first year of marriage. My husband wondered if he married the wrong woman. What happened to the vibrant, fun-loving happy woman I knew all these years? Did I make a mistake? At first he didn’t understand this sickness, but eventually he began to see it for what it was and walked alongside me through this “worse” season of our marriage. We’ve had many other moments of “worse” in our marriage, but there’s always been seasons of “better” too. And through it all, we’ve resolved to stay by each other’s side “for better or for worse” which has helped us grow, learn, and deepen our love for one another. If it wasn’t for those hard seasons that tested us, we wouldn’t be as strong as we are now and would have missed out on the depth of love we now have for each other in this season of life.
3. Figure out each other’s love language, and then love each other the way you each like to be loved. This book, The 5 Love Languages, seriously saved our marriage. (I also joke that our jacuzzi/spa saved our marriage as well.) But for real, this book helped us understand how we each enjoy being loved best. There are 5 main ways: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. I’m a words of affirmation girl. He’s a physical touch and acts of service guy. Of course, acts of service and physical touch are lower on my list of priorities or ways I express love easily. And his weakest way of showing love is expressing words to me. But, we have worked hard over the years to express the type of love we each like to each other even though it doesn’t come as easy to us. Because we both know these are the ways we like to be loved the most and we want to keep our marriage alive.
4. Get regular date nights on the calendar. When we had three babies in diapers (I call them my “Wannabe Triplets”), for years we would rarely go out for a date night. So, we created date nights “in” and had them at home after the kids went to sleep. I joke that our jacuzzi/spa saved our marriage but it’s kind of true. Because we would take our baby monitor out to the bubbling warm goodness of our jacuzzi pool outside where we would engage in fun, deep, or even difficult conversations. This forced us to talk with one another (my love language) while helping us engage physically as well (his love language). It was a perfect fit during this season of early parenthood when there was no way to get out regularly for a dinner out or some other fun activity. So, get creative. Figure out how to make time to connect on a regular basis. I’m all about at least once per week having a time to really connect with one another. Maybe watch a movie together. Play a board game. Sit on the back patio and watch the stars. Give each other a massage. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective.
5. Engage in honest, open communication… but timing and tone is everything. This is a tougher one. Yes, we are to be honest with one another, but I’m also a firm believer that there are some things we need to be careful of sharing when and how. If your husband just got home from a long, stressful day at work, now is not the time to tell him about how frustrated you are that he hasn’t fixed the dishwasher yet. Wait until after dinner, when the kids are in bed and you’ve had a chance to chat a bit. Give him the space to let off some steam first, then maybe approach him by asking if there’s anything you can help him with when it comes to getting the dishwasher fixed. Timing is everything. The tone of your voice is everything. If it blows up, repent with one another and try again when the situation is much calmer.
6. Believe the best in one another. We spend so much time with our spouse that we often start seeing more of the negatives than the positives. We are human. We aren’t perfect. We mess up everyday. Where this goes sour is when we start to think “my spouse will never change,” or “he doesn’t even care.” We think he’s the enemy instead of our advocate. But the truth is, so often it’s a miscommunication of what he or she is really trying to say. There are times when I took what my husband said and twisted his intention, thinking that it meant something else more hurtful. When in reality, it was simply a miscommunication or I didn’t see the full picture of what he was presenting yet. Other times he shared a piece of constructive criticism with me. I had to remember he was doing this out of love for me not to try and hurt me. It’s hard when those moments of tough love come up or when you feel like the other person isn’t making effort to change. But remember, God is bigger than the mess you’re in. He’s bigger than the miscommunications and the hurt and the negatives that sometimes dwell in your head and heart about each other. Even when we screw up, God believes the best in us. He believes we were meant for more and we can become who we are meant to be. And so, we must believe this about our spouses as well, especially in those times when it’s difficult to see it ourselves. (Please know, I am not advocating for an abusive relationship. If your spouse is abusive and manipulating, seek help from a licensed counselor or therapist.)
7. Get intimate regularly. There are days and seasons when this has been harder than others. However, I do believe getting intimate regularly together, and helping each other know what we both like has led to better intimacy. It reduces stress (yay!) and is truly such a beautiful experience when you respectfully embrace one another in this way. If you’re uncomfortable about sex, talk about it. Share with each other what you like and what you don’t like. That way you truly understand how to make this a win-win for you both to enjoy.
8. Dream together. Complacency can overtake your marriage if you aren’t careful. A few years ago, this was where we stood. But then, we started dreaming with God and with each other. Thinking about how we could incorporate certain teaching and life experiences for our kids. Opening ourselves up to discover what we were designed for and by God to do. Believing that we were purposed for more than creating a comfortable American life for ourselves and our children. It sparked something in us to start dreaming together until a steady fire began coursing through us as we made our way to exciting and purposeful changes to our life. The beautiful part is how much the recent steps we’ve taken to fulfilling some of these dreams together has harmonized and doesn’t compete with one another or our unique gifts and purpose. These changes we are embarking on also seem more suited for the nature of our children and the mission God has for us right now. It’s truly given us oneness in our marriage and has brought a passion to our relationship I didn’t believe was possible, until now.
9. Be a team player. Make him do baths for the kids while you clean up dinner. Appreciate that he works hard to provide while you manage the budget and bills each month. Let him take out the trash while you put the trash bag in (because otherwise he will always forget and you will be constantly ticked off). Work together. This isn’t a 50/50 type of work either. It’s both of you giving 100% to create a beautiful life together. So start dreaming. Write a list, each of you separately. Then come together and see what you can do to support one another toward these dreams. Prioritize what’s most important to you and then keep those front and center whenever you make decisions.
10. Women – hold your tongue; Men – hold the door. As women, we can often be naggers. We are gossipers and sometimes speak our mind too much, especially to the man in our life that we love. Friend, if you’re about to call him a “bleepity bleep,” or “poke,” at him again with the firm tone in your voice that sounds like you’re scolding a child, STOP! This does more damage than good. It will not get your spouse to respond to you the way you want them to and will hurt you both even more. Men, hold the door for her. Even if she doesn’t respond. Even if she thinks it’s old fashion. Even if you’ve been married 50 years, there’s still something so humbling and loving about a man holding a door open for a woman. It demonstrates love and respect towards women in ways that often speaks louder than words.
11. Stay in community with others, especially couples that you admire. We cannot thrive in our marriage by ourselves, but through other married couples giving us insight into theirs, we will be strengthened and feel not so alone in ours. We can experience the true gift that marriage is and the depth of love that’s offered there when we stand firm in it amidst the storms. I can’t tell you how much other mentor couples (who have been doing this marriage business a lot longer than us) have impacted our own marriage in profoundly positive ways. So, go ask a married couple that you admire over for dinner. Ask them questions. Share with them your story. Where you may be struggling. What is working. Grow together, because that’s the only way we will thrive together.
12. Pray together. Multiple studies say that less than 1% of couples who pray together end in divorce. THIS IS HUGE! So, why are we not doing this more? I know for me personally it feels vulnerable and a bit awkward at times. Sometimes I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid of being too honest. And yet, praying with my spouse has been a key factor to deepening our love for one another. Praying is an intimate experience and connecting with your spouse in this way regularly will deepen that intimacy you desire. It will soften your hearts, open your minds to each other’s feelings, thinking, and allow God’s presence to intercede just when you need it most. If you haven’t done this before, start small. Maybe pray once per week. Then a few times per week. Until you make it a regular habit in your daily life, together.
What about you? What do you do to keep your marriage strong?