I was descending the cliff of the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park when the woman hiking behind me struck up a conversation. She discovered that my husband and I were there to celebrate 13 years of marriage and she immediately asked for tips. The question caught me off guard and I mumbled, “Just be forgiving, I guess.” My answer felt inadequate because there is so much more that goes into marriage. After thinking about it for several days, I’ve come up with 13 tips. These are by no means all-encompassing, and I think the things that work for me and my husband may be different for other couples, but I felt compelled to explore the question a little more. So, to the woman on a roadtrip from Oregon to Texas to start school, these are for you.
1. Be forgiving and apologize – My husband often apologizes before I am ready to forgive. I still feel mad and want to stay angry longer, but I have found it is better to let the issue go immediately and move on. Sometimes it’s brutally hard, but it’s also worth it. My husband is usually quicker to apologize than me. It’s one of his strengths, so I make an effort to apologize first sometimes, even if I wasn’t in the wrong or didn’t start the fight. Don’t hold a grudge and be prepared to forgive even if your spouse never apologizes.
2. Have fun – This one is critical for us. We continue to go on regular dates. We do fun things together that we both enjoy like dancing, escape rooms, hiking, and eating out. We flirt with and tease each other. While at a restaurant recently, my husband tugged down the collar of his t-shirt, giving me a brief glimpse of his collarbone and a bit of pectoral just to make me blush. It worked and I busted up laughing as he grinned at me. This kind of behavior makes me adore him.
3. Let your spouse make choices – My husband decided to reorganize the utensils drawer in our kitchen. It irritated me and my first instinct was to put it back the way I’d had it. But I stopped myself. The message that would have sent was that the kitchen was MY realm and he wasn’t welcome there. That is most definitely not what I wanted him to feel. He loads the dishwasher and cleans the bathroom differently than I do and I REFUSE to “fix” it or do it over. Different does not mean he’s wrong or I’m wrong. It’s just different.
4. Encourage each other’s goals/dreams – My husband is a champion at this. I have long wanted to be an author. When we got married, I had published a couple articles and a couple poems. I really wanted to publish a novel. I was frequently writing, but I never really discussed my work with my husband. I guess I was a little embarrassed and worried about what he would think of me. He never read anything I wrote, but he ALWAYS supported me! It was never “if” I got published with him. It was “when”, even though he didn’t know if I was any good! He never resented the time I spent writing. He would even take on my responsibilities so I could continue working if I was on a roll. Do this for your spouse!
5. Share the work – Our work is split by traditional gender roles. He works as a high school math teacher and wrestling coach. I stay home to care for the kids and run the household. However, there are no jobs that we refuse to do because he is male and I am female! When he is home, he doesn’t hesitate to do the dishes or change a poopy diaper. And I have often spent long hours helping him grade homework or enter test scores. Work is just work, and when it needs to be done, we both do it.
6. Cycles of sexuality – I will try to address this delicately without revealing TMI. Our most difficult year of marriage was one where we had polar opposite physical needs. He needed a lot of intimacy. I…did not. I could not convince him that I still loved him and found him attractive despite my lack of passion. He just couldn’t comprehend my viewpoint. Yet at the beginning of our marriage our roles had been reversed because of side effects from medication he had been taking. Recognize that desires fluctuate and often have more to do with biology than with emotion. Be patient with these type of phases, but also be willing to compromise if you are in such a phase.
7. Kids – Children get a bad rap in society, but I have found that besides my husband, they are the greatest source of light and joy in my marriage. We have more than either of us planned on, basically because I won’t touch birth control with a ten foot pole (don’t get me started), but I don’t regret a single one of them. I hope to be done now after five, but if another one comes, it will be loved and welcomed. Don’t be afraid to let the babies come. They are wonderful.
8. Religion – My husband and I are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Religion plays a huge role in our marriage. We believe that marriages can last for eternity instead of “till death do us part”. Going into a marriage with this type of belief creates a strong sense of commitment. Knowing that my husband isn’t going to divorce me if things get hard gives me a tremendous sense of security and safety. I am free to be me and to make mistakes. We also pray for each other and for help in creating a strong marriage. Calling upon divine powers makes me feel more capable of success.
9. Don’t spend money you don’t have – There is not much more burdensome to a marriage than debt. Stress from inadequate funds will trickle into every other aspect of your marriage and sour it. If you don’t have money, don’t spend it. Period. Being debt-free creates a tremendous amount of peace.
10. Communicate appreciation – Say thank you. Say it over and over and over. Notice your spouse’s efforts and acknowledge them. If your spouse feels appreciated, your spouse will keep making the effort. Always focus on your spouse’s strengths instead of his or her weaknesses.
11. Don’t talk badly about your spouse – In order to demonstrate rapport with a struggling couple, I would tell them about the fights that my husband and I got into. My intent was not to put down my husband, but he always came out looking like the bad guy. After a few of these conversations, my husband asked me to stop because I was making him feel like an idiot. So I stopped. Now I only praise and honor him in public. We have disagreements, but those are strictly our business.
12. Service – My husband came home late from work and started eating dinner while I took the kids downstairs to clean the basement bathroom. The kids did not like this and threw a few tantrums. By the time we finished, I was feeling cranky and irritated that my husband had never appeared to help. But while herding the kids upstairs to get ready for bed, I smelled cleaner and realized that as soon as he had finished his dinner, he had cleaned the upstairs bathroom for me. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that I just about started crying. This type of service goes a long, long way. Do it often for each other.
13. Sacrifice – This is really important, so pay attention. We are taught by today’s society that the only way to find true happiness is by being what we want to be and doing what we want to do, no matter the cost. The career, the income, the house, the car, and the international travel must all be achieved before even considering a spouse or children. This is false. Sometimes, the purest form of happiness is found by sacrificing what we want so that someone else can fulfill what they want. And sometimes, as in my case, those very sacrifices lead to the fulfillment of everything you were dreaming of before those sacrifices were made. Happiness comes in many forms. It is not less valuable because it comes by a different method than you thought it should.
I feel like a hack sharing these. Thirteen years isn’t all that long and most of the time, I’m as bewildered as everyone else as to how to make a marriage work. I’ve never had to deal with issues like abuse or infidelity, so I don’t know how I would handle those. But hopefully you have some ideas of things to try in your own marriage. I wish you abundant love and happiness in your endeavors. If you have tips of your own, please share them in the comments.