Lindsey and I have been married more than a decade. The first seven years or so were full of more downs than ups, more bad than good, more sickness than health. During those dark and fearful days, we both considered quitting more times than we’d like to admit.
These days, we’ve become best friends. But there was a whole lot of living in between the hard times and these much better days. So please don’t read this like there was some cosmic snapping of the fingers and suddenly our marriage was a Nicholas Sparks’ novel. No way. Not a chance.
No magic potion will promise you a pain-free marriage or a perfect life. But here’s 45 things marriage lessons we’ve learned in the past decade. Maybe they’ll help you, too.
Love is a give and give, not a give and take. Try to out-serve each other.
Screw the social norms. If she likes to be outside, let her mow the lawn! If he’s creative, let him help decorate the house! Your marriage is unique – celebrate that!
Form a unified front. Whether you are dealing with friends, family, or your children, be united. Talk to your partner first! Make a game plan and have each other’s backs.
Own your issues but don’t feel like you have to own theirs. It isn’t our job to “fix” the other.
Honest and direct communication should be at the top of every list for a successful relationship of any kind. Say what you need. And say what you don’t need. No one is a freakin’ mind reader. A badass marriage starts with robust communication.
Balance the serious with the fun. Life is too short, and marriage is hard work. Do what you can to live it up!
Be vulnerable. If you use humor as a defense mechanism, stop. Speak your truth. If you want to stop feeling overwhelmed with marriage, sometimes you’ve got to let it all hang out.
Be trustworthy. Trust is the cornerstone of any good relationship. You can’t have love without trust. That means that if your partner tells you something personal or hard, it goes to the grave with you. Ride or die.
Forgive quickly. Keep the small things the small things. I’ll never forget the ridiculous fight we once had over the exhaust fan in the master bathroom our first year of marriage. Decide what matters, and work it out.
Take some time apart. A good marriage knows not to smother each other. Let him have a guy’s night. Or leave the kids with him and go enjoy a glass of wine with the ladies. A little absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Know which family you belong to. Your spouse and/or your kids are your family now. You can honor your parents and respect your in-laws without letting their opinions control your relationship.
Don’t neglect date night. I know life is busy and babysitters are expensive, but don’t neglect time away with one another! Whether you go out, or order pizza and stay in, be intentional about your time together.
Even if you love your person, sometimes they are going to piss you off. In times like that, the best thing you can do is calm down before you blow up. This will allow you to respond instead of reacting.
Stop running. Sometimes the best thing is to take time to “cool down,” but it is never okay to have something that serves as your “escape” from your family. If you feel the need for a constant “escape,” you need to ask yourself what you’re running from.
You are not his mother. Find a man who loves the way you think and look, who enjoys your company, and – most of all – who respects you as an equal. If a man is looking for someone to wait on him hand-and-foot like his Mama did, keep moving, sister.
Take care of yourself. Caring for your spouse and children doesn’t mean you neglect yourself. Don’t ignore your soul. Life is busy, marriage and children are demanding, and if you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else will! Say what you need and don’t be afraid to confess what you want. Mamas are not machines!
You are the only people who live inside your specific marriage. No one else lives in your house, knows what your spouse is like behind closed doors, and no one is going to stick this thing out but you. You are the one doing the hard work to make things last, so ignore the critics.
Choose your battles. Socks on the floor don’t matter.
But she ain’t your Mama. Put your own dishes in the sink.
When things fall apart (because they will), hug her tight and silently count to thirty. You’ll be surprised just how much that can fix.
It’s your marriage. If it’s excellent, it’s because you put in the work. If it sucks, you better put in more work. Only the two of you can make your marriage healthy. So push away distractions, shut out negative opinions, and do what it takes to make it last.
Guys: flowers for no particular reason are always a good idea.
Don’t just hope for the best. Do something. Don’t avoid the hard conversations so long that resentment takes root. Address problems as soon as they come up.
Listen more than you speak.
When life is stressful, look for opportunities to laugh together.
Girls: Don’t throw away his favorite t-shirt without asking first. No matter how many holes it has.
Intimacy is about more than sex.
Guys: notice the details. The new earrings, the shoes, the fact that she put clean sheets on the bed. And don’t just notice it, say something.
Compliment each other regularly. Let your words bring life to one another.
Girls: Don’t expect him to intuitively recognize a problem. It probably won’t happen. If something is up, tell him!
Forgive until you actually mean it.
Guys: If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie. Girls, if he doesn’t, do it for him. This is not a hill worth dying on.
Sort out the chores between you. In our house, if she cooks, he cleans.
Fight fair. Stick to the present issue and do everything you can to resolve it. Don’t pick at old scabs.
Don’t be afraid to reach out when you’re in over your head. The thought of marriage counseling really freaks people out. Most folks do not like the idea of airing their dirty laundry to a complete stranger. I get it, but there’s no shame in seeking professional help when you just can’t fix it.
You will not always “win” the argument, and that’s okay. The point isn’t “winning or losing” in the confines of marriage; the goal is mutual understanding and respect of one another’s views. We’ve got to start viewing our spouses as partners instead of opponents. It’s not about being right, it’s about understanding each other.
Don’t kick them when they’re down. We all go through seasons and have tough times. If you are choosing this relationship for a lifetime, then choose your battles and your timing wisely.
Stop trying to fix your spouse. I am not my wife’s therapist, and she isn’t mine. While we play a primary role in each other’s support systems, we are not professional helpers.
There is conventional wisdom that says not to go to bed angry. I disagree. Sometimes you go to bed with a hurt heart, with the full intention of waking up and talking about it once things settle down.
Know your limits. I don’t believe “When you have done all you can do, stand” is always the best advice. To the one suffering in silence, this kind of advice can feel like a death sentence. I have seen firsthand that separation or divorce can be the next right step, and can breathe peace into a family. Sometimes the best way to love and honor everyone involved is to leave.
Take time for yourself. Marriage is stressful, no matter what. Sometimes it’s impossible to leave your responsibilities. In that case, find moments of quiet to enjoy something simple – a cup of tea, a few pages of a book – even within your routine. Give yourself space to breathe. It matters.
Be honest. When something frustrates you, speak up. There’s nothing worse than an old sore that’s been left to fester. If something hurts your feelings, say so. Nobody wants to have to dig to find out why you’re pouting. Just follow this simple rule: tell the truth in love. It’s always the right choice.
You must set clear boundaries with outsiders (yes, this includes friends and family). Your marriage–both its joys and dysfunction–is nobody’s business but your own.
No more comparisons. Nobody has the perfect marriage. Let go of what you think it is supposed to be, and live in the relationship you actually have. Stop trying to have your friend’s marriage or mimic your parent’s relationship. Nobody has the magical romance they portray on Facebook, so shut that noise off.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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