After 15 years of marriage and almost 17 years of being a Dad, I like to say marriage is comparable to parenting. The Bible has great words of wisdom, but there's no step-by-step instruction manual that lays out how to construct your marriage, or how to parent. And God forbid, if this is not your first marriage--what went wrong for your previous spouse may go right for your new spouse and what went right--may now go wrong. Along with no instruction manual, what works for other couples, may not work for you and your spouse. Similarly, if and when you have children, what works with one child, may not work with your other children. Marriage & parenting: both are difficult task, days of frustration, hurts, yet very rewarding--both are the the greatest blessings God blesses his children with!
After 15 years of marriage, I have lots of advice and tips that I'd love to pass on, in hopes these help your marriage thrive. This comes from my years of experience, reading, hearing sermons and being mentored. Advice here doesn't mean I have necessarily these perfected or even have them all memorized. I'm a work in progress, in several ways!
•Most days, especially on those rigid days that come: thank God for the blessing of your marriage and thank Him for your spouse. Gratitude changes the brain and is a happiness booster.
•Find kind & loving words. Promote what you like and appreciate in your spouse. Instead of focusing on what they don't do well, focus on what they do well, thank them, find way to show appreciation. They don't have to be big things, a simple "Thank you for putting new sheets on the bed" goes a long way in making your spouse feel loved and valued.
•Find that heart that is ready to ask forgiveness, as well as able to forgive. Your spouse will hurt you and you will hurt your spouse. Instead of being applauded when it happends--expect it to happen. A beautiful marriage is a union of two couples that graciously forgive each other over and over again.
•Seek God with your spouse: church, prayer, reading, conferences, classes, devotions, nature walks, trips, etc. If He's first--then you aren't, and that's a good thing. Your spouse isn't your everything, they aren't to "complete" you. They can't. God will.
•Husbands: lead your family. Church surveys show the top issue Christian wives want is a spiritual leader in their home. If you will lead your wives closer to God than yourself, you'll both be thankful for it!
•If you and your spouse live to please God over self: your priorities, your decisions, the way you treat each other is different than couples looking to get all they can from each other.
•Marriage is like an empty box, you must put something in before you can take anything out. The best marriages are focused on "how can I give to my spouse today", instead of "what can my spouse do for me today". If you and your spouse can compete to see who can out give each other, how can your marriage not be blessed?
•When disagreement arrive, avoid the four horsemen: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling. Disagreements aren't the leading cause of failed marriages, the way disagreements are handled is the leading cause of failed marriages. If you and your spouse can have a conversation, share wants & desires with each other over shouting and putting down one another--disagreements can lead to a solution. Most disagreements don't have to be settled immediately. Agree to a time to discuss within 24 hours, sleep on it, pray about it, then discuss in soft conversation after emotions have cooled down.
•Validate feelings in your spouse. For example: your spouse is upset a client canceled at the last minute. Validating says: "I can understand your frustration, there's a chance I would likely be frustrated as well". What hurts your spouse and does damage is if you say: "O-well get over it, it happens, suck it up or don't get upset." The more you validate = the better the relationship!
•Date your spouse! The beauty of marriage is, on your wedding day, your dating isn’t ending--it’s just beginning! Dates provide quality time for the two of you to catch up, discuss goals, share concerns & desires, plan upcoming endeavors, and to just talk about life. Date nights don't have to be expensive or time consuming. A 30 minute walk around the neighborhood during a hectic week can be beneficial. It doesn't matter what a date looks like, just be intentional to do it!
•Remove the words: must, ought & should from your vocabulary. They are controlling, demeaning words that place your expectations on your spouse, instead of allowing them to live under freedom, liberty and grace.
•Instead of over-using "I need", how about instead using: "I would like". People use "I need" or "I need you to ____" more often than we realize. "Need" is often used as another controlling/demanding word. The truth is our needs are pretty few, using "I would like" is softer and is more like asking instead of demanding.
•Practice using the phrase "I'm disappointed", instead of "I'm angry". We need to communicate feelings, but "telling them off" out of anger pushes them away and "I'm angry" puts up walls and leads to defensiveness. Yes, it's ok to be angry, but it's angry behavior that is sinful and does damage to relationships.
•Soft start ups lead to solutions, harsh start ups lead to criticism, defensiveness, criticism and stonewalling. Again, disagreements aren't the leading cause of divorce, the way disagreements are handled are.
•Ask questions instead of assuming. Don't assume you are the cause of your spouses mood or you know the reason for their mood. Simply ask! We typically don't ask because we assume we know the answer or we are afraid of the answer. However, asking questions does two things: 1. It confirms--gets the truth. 2. It shows your spouse that you care. After the question is answered--validate the feeling! And questions can be asked when your spouse is having a good day also. Asking questions allows them to share and for you to be educated.
•Discover your spouses "Love Language" and share yours with your spouse. You can find free love language tests online or go further in-depth by reading Gary Chapman's book, "5 Love Languages". Knowing the top ways your spouse feels loved will help both of you. If you often buy gifts for your spouse but "gifts" is their fifth love language, they probably aren't showing the appreciation you hoped for and they aren't being loved the best.
•When it comes to conflict, share your wants/likes, your feeling. When your spouse is sharing conflict with you, practice the art of listening & validating, to take conflict to a resolution. Example:
SHE: I would like the cleaning of the garage to be a priority soon. When I see the garage, it creates anxiety in me. If possible, I would like to park my car in there this winter.
HE: I understand you would like for me to clean the garage soon because the state it's currently in fosters anxiety. I can see how the garage stirs up anxiety. Having the garage in better shape so you can park your car in there this winter is your desire, correct?
SHE: yes, you are correct.
HE: ok, how about next Saturday I make cleaning the garage my priority? Will you be helping me, or should I plan on doing this alone.
SHE: I have a woman's breakfast from 9:00-11:00, then I am free. I am willing to help you after I get home from the woman breakfast. How does that sound?
HE: great. I will put it on my calendar.
There is no love in marriage, love is in people, and people put love in marriage. There is no romance in marriage, you have to infuse it into your marriage. A couple must learn the art, and form the habit of giving, loving, serving, praising, of keeping the box full. If you take out more than you put in, the box will be empty. You see, a good marriage doesn’t just come on your wedding day--a good marriage must be created! We all know that life is short, so there is no time for taking each other for granted. The little things like holding hands when you’re young and old, saying “I Love You” daily aren’t small things, they are the big things!
After God, comes your spouse. That person next to you in bed is your first ministry--it’s who you stand with together in facing the world, who you pour your heart out to, accomplish your dreams with and your prayer partner as you close your eyes for rest. Your spouse is the one you treat better than anyone else--you demonstrate gratitude towards them in thoughtful ways, while never looking for perfection.
In marriage, love is the reason--lifelong friendship is the gift. Kindness is the cause and til death do us part is the goal. Being loved deeply by someone give you strength, while deeply loving your spouse gives you courage.
In marriage you mean the world to each other and your marriage becomes better and better as you fall in love many times, always with the same person. It may not be easy to comprehend, but today you love each other the least than you ever will--isn’t that such a beautiful thing? Love is more than words, love is an action, a pattern of devotion in the things you will do for each other daily. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
May the One who brought you together bless your marriage, enrich your lives and deepen your love throughout the years.
Chris & Jenn live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. They were high school sweethearts, marrying in 2001. They are parents to one son, Luke (born November 1999) and two loving pups: Miley & Elsie.