(This is Part 2 of a two-part series about intentionally investing in your marriage. If you missed Part 1, you can read it right here.)
In last week’s post, I gave you the story of how Todd and I met and that I believe in the power of having a noble plan. It is critical to have and keep a plan after you married.
Getting married is the easy part, staying married is the rewarding part and one only gets a reward for hard work.
I was watching Bill Gaither being interviewed and he was asked what he attributed to the success of his marriage. He looked at the interviewer and with a smirk and replied, “I never got divorced”.
I loved that answer. As to the best of my ability I intend to “never get divorced”. I know that there are circumstances that arise and there are just reasons for a divorce, I can only hold myself accountable for not providing a reason for such a need.
The Bible makes it clear that we need to continually seek wise counsel. Proverbs is a book full of such wisdom. Proverbs 12:15 is the first to come to mind. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
The pre-marital counseling we did twenty-eight years ago was so helpful in preparing us for the challenges that come in marriage and continues to guide us. I am so thankful that we sought and continue to seek wise counsel and I pray that you make it a priority.
From seeking advice, reading, and continued counsel here are eight suggestions that I have found strengthen my marriage.
1. Blood is thicker than water
Since your spouse has grown up with their family dynamic and usually knows how things will get handled, stay out of any most in-law decisions or disputes. If what is going on with the in-law family does not affect or threaten your marriage and/or children, keep out of it!
Have you ever been upset with your parents, or siblings, and find yourself complaining to your spouse?
What if he or she chimes in and agrees with your observation, or they add to it? When that I occurs I find myself looking for ways to find a fault in his family just to even the score. This is a no win situation and often leads to hurtful comments. Keep your opinions to yourself and just listen, or maybe give a different perspective that their family member might have had, but don’t add to the tension.
2. Negative connections vs Positive connections
If my in-laws read this then the secret is out after 27 years! Invitations for family events can get tricky, we often feel like we have to explain yourself and it could come across that we don’t value family time.
Sometimes a yes cannot be given. To be more blunt: someone is going to have to hear “no”.
Randy (our pre-marital counselor) was clear that a “no” answer is received negative, no matter how it is delivered. Furthermore, the negative feeling of rejection is often associated with the person who gives it.
When Todd’s family invites us and we are not able to attend, Todd needs to be the person who declines the invitation. If we are able to attend, I can be the one who graciously accepts and thanks them. Vice versa for my side of the family.
I have heard parents of married kids lament that their adult child isn’t “allowed” to participate in family events. When I hear that I wonder, is their daughter or son-in-law the one who declined the invitation?
3. Be the spouse you want to have
One day I was touring a friend’s new home and we went into her daughter’s room. A neat-nicks dream. Orderly, bed ready for the quarter to bounce. I was taken aback, and she could tell I was coveting this trait in a teenager.
I must have remarked as such because she was quick to take no credit or hold any child-rearing secret about how her daughter liked to keep her room. She then cautiously said to me (knowing me very well), “Have you ever wondered what it is like to be your kid?”
It hurts to even put this phrase down and look at it on the page, but I knew she loved me and that she was right. She knew that I probably would have gone home and held my family to a new fantasy standard.
I took her words to heart and worked at applying them to my marriage as well. On days when I want to pout or steamroll, her words come back to mind. I ask myself, “What is it like to be married to me”?
4. Embrace your differences
What makes a puzzle so fascinating is that each piece is a unique part of the whole picture. I believe it is not just okay to be different, but we were created to be different in order for our partnership to work.
In this day and age, when being equal is the hot topic, and the cause of many a relationship disputes, we are starting to no longer value or even accept differences.
In her book Without Rival, Lisa Bevere discusses being equal vs. unique: “Unique carries so much more depth. There is only one like you”. She goes on to say that equal “implies that we might be somehow replaceable or interchangeable.”
If I believe that my husband and I have to be equal in all areas of our marriage, there will be an unnecessary rivalry.
5. Keep your marriage private
I love to run! The running group that I belong to often refers to our time together as “pavement therapy”. I agree. Many of us have found clarity on issues that needed an objective perspective while we are putting down the miles. If you would like to run with us we would love to have you come along, there are only two requirements.
What is said on the road stays on the road.
Spouse complaining and personal marriage information are not welcomed.
As in our running group, the same goes for calling your friends, siblings, or even parents to complain or share private information about your spouse. When I was engaged my mother told me that she would always be there for me, but that I was never to come home because of a dispute and that I was never to complain about my husband to her either.
She said unless I or my children were in danger I should stay home and get professional help in regard to marital bumps in the road.
Yes, mother, you were right.
6. Continue to date your spouse or someone else will
When I speak to youth on the topic of marriage this concept always gets their attention. They often say, “What do you mean? You are already married.”
When I was dating Todd I enjoyed looking my best, being as sweet as I could, and even making him a sandwich. Doing little things to make sure that a next date would occur never felt like a bother. 27 years and 3 kids later, I have moments when I am too busy to even want to do the little things.
One day a lady called into a radio talk show I was listening to about someone else who was “dating” her spouse. When the host asked her what she used to do to make him want to date her the caller had the same response, “I just don’t have time for that”.
The host took a deep sigh and replied, “Well you had better find the time, or you will have plenty of it when you’re divorced”.
I know I appreciate it when my husband continues to court me, brings me flowers, flirts with me, gets mushy to embarrass the kids, gives me silly nicknames, and sends me random texts, just because.
Take the time! Keep dating.
7. Remember to whom you made your vows.
When my nephew got married the pastor did such a great job clarifying that this new union was now what they were to consider their immediate family.
My parents, sibling, and cousins are still family, but they are now considered extended family. The definition of extended family is: a family that extends beyond the nuclear family. The person that you vowed to love and cherish is now your nuclear family. They should be the first priority in your decision making.
Mark 10:9 (NIV) makes it clear that we are to “let no one” separate our union—even extended family.
When situations come up, I need to ask myself ‘Would this disrupt my nuclear family?’ because they are who I made my vows to.
This is last on the list not because it is least important but because it is the most important (and, hopefully, the point you will remember).
Prayer unites you spiritually before God, whom you made vows before and started off your marriage with. It is humbling and requires a special attitude. “Your marriage will be built up because you will be built up. You will never be the loser by giving yourself to pray with your spouse. Scripture makes it clear that when a believer prays he or she will be built up as a result.”
Marriage is very rewarding, but a reward is something given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement. We go through valleys in our marriage, and we climb mountains as well.
I believe that the only person who will admire the view from the top of those mountains is the person who climbed it with you.