Friday was our tenth anniversary! It seems unreal that we have been married for an entire decade. Over these last ten years, we’ve learned some ways to encourage a healthy marriage. Although I’ll share our own examples, your marriage will look different — and that’s good! The idea is to work together to figure out what works for you.
1. Create a Vision: Having vision is vital, because it gives you purpose! Many people make a list of goals, which tell them what to do, but not why to do it. Having goals is fine, but it won’t inspire you when things get tough the way that vision will. When you first get married, you’re full of dreams and emotions! This is a wonderful time to give yourselves some intentional direction. It’s so easy to just wander aimlessly after the honeymoon feeling wears off, so take advantage of the inspiring atmosphere! First, talk about marriage in general and then about specific marriages that inspire you. What are some things you love? What are some things you never want to have in your marriage? How can you strive towards the good and avoid the bad?
Some things that we came up with were that we would NEVER threaten divorce (no matter what!), that we wouldn’t name-call, that we wouldn’t tell each other’s secrets, that we wouldn’t have disagreements in front of the kids…that we WOULD reevaluate our marriage and our lives every year, that we would work hard to stay connected, that we would do the other things on this list! My hubby and I loved The First 90 Days of Marriage by Eric and Leslie Ludy for this. It wasn’t yet written when we were married, so we used it like a refresher course. Whether you’re not even engaged or you’ve been married for years, I really encourage you to go through this book together!
2. Make a Plan: Dream together! Talk about where you’d like to live, what career field your hubby would like to be in, what kind of lifestyle you want, what you’d like to learn together and do together and anything else you can think of! Dream big and get excited about your future together! Then…
3. Scrap the Plan: I know, why make plans if you aren’t going to stick with them?! Well, having common goals keeps you pulling in the same direction, but what you love and want NOW isn’t necessarily going to be what floats your boat in ten years. You need to allow yourselves the grace to change. Ten years ago we had no idea that we would want to have a homestead in Amish country and raise chickens, goats and drink raw milk from our own cow! Sticking with our original plan wouldn’t have done any good, because it just didn’t fit who we have become. So, make those plans, but be sure to re-evaluate them periodically.
4. Be Honest: This may be harder than it sounds if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to “rock the boat”. If your hubby asks for your opinion or preference, tell him the truth, not what you think he wants to hear! If he wants to buy the only sofa in the store that you absolutely hate, let him know so you can find one that you both like. But…
5. Manners Matter: Have you ever met a person who prides themselves on being “honest,” but that just isn’t the word people use to describe them? “Harsh,” “blunt” or “brash” would be more accurate. They just “tell it like it is” without any regard for the feelings of those around them. We need to temper our honesty with kindness. The Bible calls it “speaking the truth in love.” Maybe your hubby does need to lay off the junk food and get more exercise, but you’ll get a lot further if you approach him in a spirit of concern and love, rather than with criticism.The other part of manners is the everyday “please” and “thank you” ones. When we first got married, we went to a church with a Sunday school for young married couples. In that group was a couple that was just rude to each other. They ordered each other around with no “please” or “thank you.” We decided that we would maintain our basic good manners that started before we were married. It’s so easy and it makes such a difference.
6. Be Serious, But Have Fun: This one is all about balance. Some couples are so serious that you wonder if they ever even had fun while dating! Others are so busy goofing around making a joke out of everything that you have to wonder if they are ever serious about anything. The right balance for every couple is going to be unique, but if you tend to be more serious, lighten up and play a little! If you tend to be extremely silly, sit down together and have a serious conversation once in a while! Don’t try to change who you are, but do try to stretch out of your comfort zone a little. That’s part of growing!
7. Do Things Together: Some couples spend all of their free time doing things with their separate friends. The only time they spend together is when they finally go home at night to sleep. The man is out doing sports with “the guys” and the woman is out shopping with “the girls” and never the twain shall meet. If that’s your marriage, get out two pens and some paper. Each of you can make a list of ideas for things you would enjoy doing with your spouse. Come up with at least ten things and then share your lists. Start with one thing from each list (whatever sound like the most fun!) and find something to do together. You don’t have to do them all, but be willing to try things with an open heart and mind. You might be surprised at what ends up being your favorite activity!Our favorite thing is to go camp out at the bookstore together! We each grab a pile of books and magazines, a cup of coffee (decaf mocha, for me!) and then we periodically chat about what we’re reading. Sometimes we’ll both read about the same subject (homesteading, organic gardening, gourmet recipes, etc.) and sometimes we’ll do our own thing, but we interact either way. Now that we have kids, we sit in the children’s section so that they are entertained, too!
8. Do Things Separately: Especially early in marriage, some couples tend to never do “their own thing”. Although this is less common than failing to do things together, it does happen. If this is you, I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend plenty of time with your hubby. Just try to learn some new things while you do. Having different thoughts to share spices up the conversation. What do you love that you haven’t been doing? Art? A foreign language? A sport? You can do things separately, but still together. For example, if he’d love to play on a team and you’d love to get into photography, sign him up for a basketball team and take your camera to the game. Cheer for him and learn to take great pictures at the same time. Show him the awesome photo you got of his three-pointer, when you get home.
9. Try New Things: Doing new things on your own is wonderful, but doing new things together is so good for your marriage! The excitement of learning or doing something new has a bonding effect on people, so take advantage of that and get creative.For our anniversary, we’re going to go on a zip-lining tour! How’s that for excitement?! One of our favorite ways to try new things is to experience new foods and places together. We love to explore places we’ve never been, such as other towns, state parks and such. It’s a doable version of the out-of-the-country travel that we have enjoyed so much. Exploring England (where he proposed), Mexico (where our honeymoon cruise was) and Canada (where we crossed the border briefly on a cross-country move) have become some of our favorite memories!
10. Make Family Traditions: When you are trying new things and you discover something you love, make it into your own family tradition! Did you discover a campground you love? Go every summer! Were you surprised that you both enjoy cooking Thai food? Make a once-a-month date to cook ethnic foods together! Were you excited about a local farmer’s market? Make it a family event every week or two!We like doing a traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, but for Christmas, we get creative. Foreign foods, a buffet of gourmet treats or some other unusual meal graces our table. It’s a fun family tradition that we enjoy planning and then creating together.
As I said before, every marriage is different, so while you might look at a happily married couple to inspire you, don’t try to become them. Blend your own unique personalities, passions and talents to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece!
What are your favorite marriage strengthening tips?
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