Marriage is hard. No joke. Ask anyone who has been married an extended period of time and they’ll tell you they experienced great highs and lows during their time together.
My husband and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary last October. We didn’t get there by magic and fairy dust, friends. In fact we went through a very low period just before our 6th wedding anniversary. How did we get there? We made the mistake of playing the blame game. Each placing the burden of our own unhappiness and stress on the shoulders of our spouse. That resentment built up over the course of several years until it erupted. As a result we spent four months apart. The first few weeks were dark. Really dark. But in the last three months we began the process (with the help of a phenomenal therapist) of quietly working to repair our relationship.
If you know me well then you know I can be a very private person so this isn’t something I share lightly. Rather I share it because I can now look back and see how normal we were. Our mistakes. Our anger. Our discounting of the other person’s feelings. Our lack of appreciation for each other.
Maybe this will reach someone who is feeling that dangerous gentle slide into apathy. Know you’re not alone. Maybe someone will read this and evaluate the own state of their marriage. Maybe they’ll wonder if they’re giving enough or if they’re doing an awful lot of blame shifting. It’s easy to do.
Here are some of the lessons we learned when we were in the trenches rebuilding our marriage. Perhaps they’ll help you too.
- Speak words that uplift and encourage your partner. What are they doing right? Tell them. Give them credit for all the fantastic things you appreciate about them. It doesn’t matter how small or how big. Speak it. Not only does doing so make your partner feel appreciated but it also puts all their amazing attributes on the top of your mind too. We need the reminders just as much as they do.
- Let go of what doesn’t truly matter. You are never going to be the perfect person and neither is your spouse. Let that dream die. So don’t waste your time fantasizing about everything your partner should change. Doing so only hurts your relationship. If in the big picture it doesn’t matter let it go. Yes, I’d love if my husband would not roll his dirty socks into little stinky balls for me to wash. But I can’t change him and I’m smart enough to know that he too could list what he’d like to change about me. His stinky sock balls don’t prevent me from loving him or keep him from being a good father. I do and he is.
- Forgive. Sometimes things are done or said that do matter. They cause great pain. When that happens and the other person acknowledges the wrongdoing we have a choice: to forgive or not to forgive. Refusing to forgive can sometimes feel easiest. We want to hold on to our indignation. But the price we pay to do so may be our marriage and family. It’s a decision that has huge ramifications so we should approach it with great care, prayer, and study of God’s Word to determine the right course of action for everyone involved.
- Laugh often.
- Feed your friendship. This takes effort. Remember that all relationships first start with a friendship. We have to invest in that friendship throughout the marriage to maintain it. How do you maintain other friendships? You check in on your friend. You don’t just dump your complaints and what you hated about your day on them. You ask them questions about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling too. You genuinely listen. You use manners when you’re talking to a friend. We’re all guilty of neglecting basic manners when we get too comfortable, aren’t we? Often we can let all of that go in marriage. We get in the habit of simply bringing our problems to the feet of our spouse. Would you want a friend who simply did that?
- Don’t say anything you’ll eventually want to take back when you’ve cooled off. It’s easy to let anger get the best of you. Before you speak ask yourself if those words really need to be said and what their purpose is. Just to make you feel better for 5 seconds? Once they’re out there will it take hours, days, or longer to undo them? Do those words build up your spouse and help strengthen your relationship? Are they spoken in love? Maybe they’re not worth saying after all. I’m not suggesting we should bottle up our emotions. No, that can be dangerous too. I’m saying we should truly reflect on our words before we speak them into existence.
- Communicate & clarify. This is one of the biggest lessons to come out of our marriage counseling. Lack of communication and poor communication are common issues in any relationship. This is especially true in marriage. Sometimes how we interpret what’s being said doesn’t line up with what the other person intends to say. Take the time to reply with “what I heard you say is…” and give your spouse the chance to correct you. It’s astounding how often this saves everyone from unnecessary hurt and conflict.
- Pray. Pray hard. Pray often. Ask for God to bless your marriage. Ask Him to intercede. Seek His input on how we are to treat each other by studying His Word. (And put those teachings into practice!) God knows the desires of our hearts but He expects us to bring them to Him.
Don’t buy the hype. Movies and books spend a lot of time making marriage look like a fairy tale. The hero or heroine is the epitome of beauty. They make grand gestures to declare their feelings. They battle bad guys for the affection of their one true love.
This is real life. Real life is communicating day in and day out. Real life is making mistakes. Real life is sorting out who is going to do the dishes tonight. Real life is taking turns rocking a teething toddler when you both feel like you have nothing left to give. Real life means sometimes your spouse is going to put on weight, wear unflattering pajama pants, and get a hideous haircut. It happens. Real life is also belly laughing about some truly embarrassing things because this is the person you can discuss those things with. It’s having a shoulder to do the big ugly cry on. It’s having a partner to hold your hand during health scares. Real life marriages are hard and beautiful in their own way. Don’t squander that by wasting time dreaming about a fantasy life. Invest in your real life.