Marriage. Is. Hard. Work. I'm pretty sure someone told me this, likely numerous times, before my wife and I were married, but it's difficult to understand the particular challenges that come from living with another human until you've experienced it firsthand. While it is hard work, it's also worthwhile, perhaps because it's difficult. When two people stand before God and their family and friends and pledge absolute, lifelong fidelity to one another, it's an awesome thing. And, as statistics would show, a very difficult thing. Yet, the couples that navigate the challenges, find themselves to be better people and more thankful for one another as the years go along.
My wife, Summer, and I (Mike) have had 22 years of "uphill" marriage. We married right out of high school and it was some time before we learned how to do this married thing the right way. In fact, we're still learning. A friend and counselor of ours said "I've been married many times, but always to the same woman." It's true, every 5-10 years we change and grow. Sometimes this is brought on by kids, but it also happens as we mature. Loving the person you married often means loving them in their many variations and seasons of life. Bearing with one another in patience and joy, as husbands and wives mature in different ways at different paces, is a saint's work.
This list is surely longer than five items, but it's a good head-start for any couple that want their love for one another to grow over the years.
That's right. Most marriage issues are a result of poor or lacking communication. Husbands are notorious for this, but it can be a problem for all of us. Bad communication generally starts with an assumption, and you know what Samuel L. Jackson says about assumptions. Left unchecked, the assumption leads to actions that, while they may be innocent at the time, can lead to hurt feelings and strain on a relationship.
How to Fix It?
Summer and I have a weekly planning meeting. It helps us make sure we are on the same page with logistical details such as where the kids need to be or when we'll be having dinner together.
A regular date night is important well. While the planning meeting helps with the day to day, a date is a good chance to talk about those assumptions and clear the air. Once each side understands the other, even if they disagree, respect can be found, and love must include respect.
Also, learn to be a better listener. That's key. There are plenty of books on developing your communication skills. In fact, getting this area right will make a huge difference in all of your relationships.
As the old saying goes, more is caught than taught. This doesn't just apply to children watching their parents. Many couples haven't had the best examples of marriage growing up, and without guidance they are likely to imitate the bad patterns they saw as a kid. Spending time with a couple you respect and who have imitable qualities will go a long way in helping you model those characteristics in your own marriage.
How to Do This?
We've found this to be easiest in a church atmosphere where people are sharing life together. In many cases this mentoring can happen at a distance, but it's best if you have a couple that is willing to share what works and what they've learned in their own marriage.
Prayer may be the most intimate experience a couple can have together. It typically starts with understanding the thoughts, concerns, and praises of the other person, and ends with going to God as one, united in the hardships and sharing in the victories.
When to Pray?
It has taken us a while to get into a routine with this, but we typically pray over dinner or whenever we eat as a family, and my wife and I pray at night before bed. It sets the tone for a good night's sleep and the next day.
I have no doubt that if we had understood our personality differences earlier on, we could have saved ourselves some serious heartache. People who have very different personalities can still have successful marriages, but they usually have a hard time processing the mindset of their spouse. "How can she even think that way?" Or, "How is it he doesn't understand?" When the thoughts and actions of your spouse seem mind-boggling, there's a good chance they are simply very different that you...not crazy.
How do Know Your Personality?
You can find a good personality test here. Once you both have your personalities, do your research on each other, reading the documentation available online that describes how you and your spouse's personalities line up. This will help you understand how your differences are an incredible benefit, especially as you raise a family where many personality types are represented.
Here is one assumption you should absolutely hold onto. Your spouse loves you. That's primary. But, they may also be stupid. Hey, it happens to the best of us! In other words, they may do things out of ignorance or even with the best intentions, but make the wrong call. People are complex, but deep down we're usually trying to do the right thing. Even when we make mistakes it's key to know that there is one thing that doesn't change: you've committed your life to this person because you love them, and they love you.
How to do This?
It may not be easy to think the best of someone in the moment when emotions are running high. That's why it's key to practice positive thoughts about your spouse. I like to take a few minutes each day and practice gratitude for the many things I'm blessed with and my wife tops the list. Part of this is saying this grateful-list aloud. When we speak something, it cements it in our mind better than if we merely think it. Do this on the ride to work or in the shower. It makes a difference.
We hope these tips are helpful, but like I said, there is so much to marriage it really is a lifelong journey and learning experience. There have been many seasons where our commitment to one another has been the only thing holding us together. If you find yourself in such a season, remember, even if the romantic love isn't there, the commitment love can be.
Founder of Rustic and Main