I am not an expert, I do not have a degree in counseling or psychology at this time. This is written from my experiences. Not all marriages will fit into this mold - so please note that if you are having issues in your marriage, that while some of these things may help you, you may also benefit from counseling with a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or Psychologist.
As you know, if you read my blog regularly Chris and I just celebrated 10 yrs of marriage on January 19th. I get a lot of questions these days from other married couples. They tend to be couples who are struggling in their own marriage. What is our secret? How is it we still genuinely enjoy spending time together and being married to each other? Why are we still so mushy?
First, I had an advantage of attending a great college with some great friends who were religion majors and I have an uncle who is has a Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling. These friends and family gave me access to a lot of tools - so I knew from the beginning that it was important to talk about money, children, disciplinary styles.
Second, I also knew it was important to not go into marriage with romanticized ideas of what I thought Chris would be as a husband. This is important, because when you go into marriage with romantic ideals, they are often unrealistic and that's setting you up to be disappointed and him to feel like he's can never live up to your expectations.
Third, I think it is VERY, VERY, IMPORTANT to build your spouse up. This is a two way street. It's important to be supportive and nurturing of your marriage and encourage your spouse. It is extremely important to have your spouses best interest at heart when you make decisions together. A good example of this is several years ago, Chris was working with a woman supervisor. Now Chris and I are not game players. We are pretty direct and what you see is what you get with us - we don't do hidden agenda's. So he was not one of her favorites at all and she was doing everything she could to get him fired. Chris had left the National Guard because we thought we had a great business opportunity in South Dakota, but it had fallen through and Chris missed the structure and order of the Army. So when he approached me about going into the Reserves, I had to take a short while to think about it. Chris deploying is not convenient - and it is very stressful, on myself and the girls. However, at a time when Chris was feeling lower than dirt, I knew that the Army recognized his potential to be a great leader and it helped to feel good about himself. So while not ideal for me that he joined the Army Reserves, I told him to go ahead. I do hate deployments because he is gone and I hate the stress, however, I wouldn't reverse my decision ever. Chris' sense of self worth is at a good level now because he has an outlet and a place that see him as I see him - an amazing man with a lot to offer. If you are having trouble finding something to be proud of your spouse for, it's time to hit your knees and ask God to help you with your perspective.
Fourth, Communication is key. I don't mean yelling, I mean talking about things before they build up and almost destroy your marriage. If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, tell your spouse before you snap and lose it. It makes for a more peaceful home life for everyone living in your house.
Fifth, It is very important to present a united front as parents. This is important. Children are ruled by the Id - the thing in them that says, "I want what I want, when I want it and I don't care about the consequences." Therefore, they tend to be opportunistic and if they sense you are not working as a team as parents, they will do their best to divide and conquer you and your spouse.
Sixth, Timing is important and waiting is sometimes key in decision making. We've begun to adopt a saying when the girls come to us to ask for permission to go do something - "Let me talk with your dad/mom about it and we will let you know." While this is not always popular among our children, it gives Chris and I time to talk it out before we make a knee-jerk decision. I can't take credit for this one - I actually learned this from watching 7th Heaven. The parents always talked to one another before making big decisions. Little decisions aren't as important sometimes, but it helps you and your spouse feel like you are connected and listening to each other.
Seventh, Try to keep others out of your marriage as much as possible. I'm not saying don't talk to your friends about things. Because it is important to know you aren't the only one struggling to get your husband to take out the garbage, but sometimes people may not always have your best interests at heart. Some of Chris and I's biggest fights occurred because someone thought they saw something and it created strife and stress in our marriage. There is always someone who thinks they've read something in your marriage that isn't there. Of course, sometimes they aren't wrong, but it has to come to a head in its own time and God's time - not someone else's timetable.
Eighth, We make it a point to tell each other that we love each other several times a day. It may sound cheesy and hokey, but it helps us stay connected to each other and we always try to touch as often as possible. Sometimes, it's as simple as holding hands or just a tap on the arm to say, "hey, I love you." Sometimes we have tickle fights even but staying connected is important.
Ninth, We pray for each other. We also pray together as often as possible. This helps us stay connected and in praying for each other it takes the focus off of ourselves and onto someone else.
In a society driven by the motto, "You have to take care of yourself" a lot of marriages are falling apart because people become focused on what have you done for me lately. When is it my turn. I am not saying to become a doormat, but when you place the focus of your marriage on God and not on yourself it helps your marriage a lot. I found that in putting the needs of Chris and the girls ahead of my own that Chris has returned the favor. He knows when I am stressing out and need a break and makes it a point to fill that need for me.
Finally, It is important to realize that most marriages don't start out this way. When we first married, Chris and I had both been single for a while and so it was an adjustment to get used to telling someone what we were doing, where we were going and checking with the person on finances. It has taken 10 years of marriage to work through the kinks and flaws we each brought into our marriage. Also, I had several very good examples of good and bad marriages. I used those examples as a way to figure out what I wanted in a spouse. Having one partner from a good home, helps a lot. Two people from two dysfunctional families, usually means a lot of hard work and it might be best to seek counseling so that you can learn how to have a healthy marriage.
I hope this helps some of you. I hope you find it informative. It might not work for everyone, because people are different and each marriage is different. If you are in an abusive relationship, please let me encourage you to get out and get away from your abuser - especially if children are involved. The best gift you can give to your children is a positive example of a good marriage and abuse happens in cycles. It is difficult to break those cycles, but with work and therapy it can happen.
Have a good week.
Love in Christ,