This year, my wife and I celebrate 15 years of being married. While I know that I’m far from the only person get this far, it’s still a considerable milestone for anyone in our current culture. There are a huge number of reasons why people don’t get married or stay married and I’m not writing to talk about any of those. This is simply for those who are serious about staying married and want to be happy. I’m not going to go real in-depth, hence the brief part. Rather these are just little thoughts to get others thinking about their own marriages. My experiences may not be specifically applicable, but I would be willing to be that the underlying principles are.
I often get asked by people I don’t know very well or complete strangers, “how long have you been married?” Since this year started I have just been saying 15 years, since it’s in July of 2020, a few months doesn’t really mean a lot compared to the prior 14 and half years. Often people are like, “wow, that’s a long time,” or “you don’t look old enough to be married that long,” or my personal favorite because half the time their tone reveals a lot about their own relationships, “good for you.” Typically I respond to the “that’s a long time comment” with, “It feels longer.” That’s not a dig at my spouse, it’s just that we’ve been through a lot together. Our marriage has been far from boring. The other question I get a lot is some form of a how question? how do you make it work? how do you stay happy? what’s your secret? Okay, that last one isn’t a how question, but it’s that same idea.
I don’t believe there is any secret, but I do have some thoughts on the topic. In case you are wondering if I’m qualified to give this advice, well I’m probably not. I can say though that we have been happily married for 15 years. I’ve never regretted saying I do. I’ve never wished for something or someone else. So, we must be doing something right.
It Takes 2.
Seriously, marriage means to literally take two and make them become one. Or at least make them a union. Either way, marriage can not work if the two people are not working together. Everything else that I’m going to mention here is under the assumption that both people are on board and working towards the same goal.
In marriage the two people have to be on the same side, same team, same page, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t matter. The point is, both people must be working towards the same goal. What I mean by this is, are you both working with the same long term expectations? Do you want the same thing out of life? If one of you wants to move to a different state and the other wants to stay where you are, that isn’t the same goal. A situation that I’ve heard from a few couples is this. The husband wants to be in ministry full time and dedicate his life to working in a church. The wife, however, does not. She has no desire to work in full time ministry or really be that involved with church. Another situation may be that one person really wants to have kids and spend as much time with them as possible, while the other would rather work on their career and not be weighed down with the responsibility of children. I get it, having children is a ton of work and a huge responsibility.
Maybe it’s as something as simple as a major diet change. I don’t know if you realize it, but what you put in your body has a huge impact on your overall health, mood, and potential for illness. I’ve seen more than one marriage really strain under the weight of two people disagreeing on the family’s diet. Let’s be honest, in our world today, eating healthy can be a difficult change, requiring great sacrifice from both parties.
Finances seems to be a huge, wide spread issue for people. What do we spend “our” money on. I emphasize our because I’ve heard too many men and a few women say, well it’s my money, so this is what we are going to do with it. Or more specifically, “I make the money.” This can be a huge point of contention. Your financial situation and your spending habits effects both people in the union.
Ultimately, agree on your future together, you’re on the same team and you should have the same goals. I always recommend this to people who are in serious relationships or considering marriage. Talk about what your long term, life goals are. See if they even line up. You may have to ask yourself, am I willing to choose having a life with this person over my desires and expectations for my future? You may have to ask yourself, is there charming, needy, childish behavior going to get real old in 5 years? Or maybe it’s, is this glaring flaw in their personality going to really wear away at me over the coming years together? I know it may seem silly if you are just starting out, but these are the things that really put strains on marriages much further down the road. When working with teenagers I would typically recommend, if you can be best friends with them and never get sick of them, then you are probably a good match. I mean, let’s face it, boys and girls can almost never be best friends without at least one of them developing deep seated romantic feelings for the other.
Do Stuff Together!
I’ll be honest here, I don’t remember what my wife was interested in before we got married. I’m sorry, it’s been 15 years and she has changed a lot. Sadly for her, she has slowly become me over the years. I mean, I’m proud of that fact, I just feel bad for her. After writing this, I asked her if she remembered. So before you judge me, she couldn’t remember either.
To stay on topic, it’s crucial to your relationship to do stuff together! Now, please don’t tell me that your time together is spent watching the same tv show together in the evening or sitting in the same room together while looking at your phones. If so, this is a real problem. Now you might be asking yourself, what’s so wrong about that? You may even be thinking, at least we are both happy. The problem, ultimately, is that it’s okay to do that sometimes, but if that’s all you do, then likely you are not engaging one another. There is no interaction, and if there is no interaction, there is no relationship. If this is what you call a relationship, then you are basically in a relationship with everyone at the movie theater with you.
If you want the relationship to thrive, you have to engage with one another. Now, I’m not specifically talking about being physically intimate, although that’s a very important part of a marriage. It’s also not something that you should shy away from having honest discussions about. I’m talking about finding a common hobby or activity that you enjoy doing together, once again, not talking about bedroom stuff. As an example, my wife and I enjoy playing games together. Preferably cooperative games, because I’m amazing and she can be a bit of a sore loser…well that’s not 100% true, but lets just say that it goes better when we work together. We also play video games together, whether it’s running around the World of Warcraft or building a kingdom in Kingdom Two Crowns. It doesn’t just end there, we also like walking out in the wilderness, sitting and talking about books that we read or swimming or pretty much anything else as long as we can do it together. The important part is that you are doing something together, even if it’s just sitting and talking instead of watching tv. Be engaged.
Make plans to do stuff together. Having a life together, especially when you have kids and if you both work, can be a huge mess. It’s not lame to schedule time to do stuff together, in fact, it’s sometimes the only way you’ll get time together. So make a plan, set a date, put it on the calendar with a big heart around it. Make your intentions for that time known beforehand so that no one is disappointed. Be excited about it. Even if it’s something lame like going for a long walk, taking a drive, or just playing a board game without the kids around to distract you. Just do it together and give your love your full attention. We try to play at least 1 board game a week. Sometimes it involves playing it over the course of a full day or two, with constant interruptions, even though it’s a lot of small moments, it’s still fun.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “but my spouse and I don’t have anything in common. What do we do?” That might be true, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. My wife doesn’t enjoy everything that I do, but she does show interest because she knows that I care about it. Now, I have a ton of interests, more than any one person should have. In fact, I’d say my greatest hobby is collecting hobbies. Despite that she cares enough to listen and ask questions to a point. Typically she cuts me off before I get too deep into whatever the interest of the week is. What I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to go all in, but it’s okay to do something with your spouse that they enjoy because you know it will make them happy. This goes both ways, husbands, show some interest into your wife’s interests and wives, give your husbands the attention they crave. We are basically still children that just want to be noticed and praised. Besides, you might grow to enjoy whatever it is they are into as well. It’s also okay to look for new hobbies and activities that you both enjoy, it’s okay to try new things together. In fact, as long as it’s something that isn’t going to lead to sin, be open to trying new activities together.
Be Careful About What You Say About One Another
In the time before my wife and I got married I decided that I was not going to complain about my wife to others. Going along with that, I also added in that I’d never speak ill of her either. After 15 years, I’m happy to say that I’ve stuck to that. I’ve never gone to my friends or family to vent about my wife or any issues that I have with her. I definitely have never sought out another woman or an ex for comfort after a fight or argument. I’m going to be very honest here, I’m actually pretty uncomfortable talking about anything serious with any woman who isn’t my wife. As the old saying goes, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Surprise, that goes for your spouse as well.
Back on topic. If I have issues or problems with my wife, I will lovingly and kindly take them up with her. Okay, I’m not perfect and I don’t always approach the matters in a way that is God honoring, but I do try and always ask for forgiveness in moments of lapsing judgement. This isn’t just because she makes me either. In all seriousness though, talking to your spouse about whatever it is that is bothering you, even if it’s something that you know they aren’t going to like hearing, isn’t it better that you talk to them about it than someone else?
What if they don’t respond well? Then you be patient with them. I’ve been there. I’ve had my wife, the person I claim to love above all others, confront me with something that I did not want to hear. It was something I wasn’t ready to face or give up. I can admit that I have not always responded well and I hate that I hurt the love of my life in my response. Given time though, I always, eventually, come around and I’m super grateful to have a life partner who was willing to be patient with me, no matter how immature I can be. Had I immediately gone to someone else to complain about her, I would have only been hardening my own heart against her. Not to mention lowering the opinion of her in the eyes of whoever I was talking to. I would have been slandering her name when she was only trying to help and care for me.
Now, you may be thinking, what if I need someone to talk to? I get that, but are you actually looking to make your marriage better or are you simply looking for someone to agree with you? Are you just wanting to vent? There is a key difference. Approaching it as a problem that you want to make better and solve, you are humbling yourself. You admit that there is a problem and likely you are at least part of that problem. You want to make life better, not just for you, but for your spouse also. In this instance, find a single person, someone that will give you good, wise, and Godly advice. Approach the issue as something that can be fixed and worked out. The other path is only about destruction. You don’t really desire restoration, you desire to cause pain and lift yourself up in the process. First path is what I call maturity, the second path is what the immature person would do.
One other great reason to never speak ill of our spouses to others is that it will slowly, subtly, poison your own heart. I’m serious, the reason that my attitude towards my wife is as positive as it is, is because I’ve spent 15 years talking her up. I’ve bragged about her good qualities. I’ve proclaimed the ways she cares for me and keeps me going day after day. After watching people mock throw up and have husbands telling me I make them look bad, I can look at her with a heart that’s focused on the positive. It’s focused on building a marriage, not getting what I want and protecting my own feelings in the process. If I spent time complaining about her, I’m far more likely to respond negatively when something does happen. Likely it will impact how I view her and not for the better. It’s like having a mantra you tell yourself every day, even a lie will become truth to you if you tell yourself it enough. I know this sounds a little crazy and no, I’m not oblivious to my wife’s flaws, but dwelling on them will not make her a better person.
Be Open and Honest
This might sound weird, I know I’m not the only one in this boat, but your spouse is not going to judge you as much as you may believe they will. In fact, you may just be afraid of disappointing them (this is typically what holds me back). I’ve been shocked on a number of occasions when I’ve come to my wife, heart broken, telling her about something I’m struggling with and had respond with love and concern. In those moments, she has never once put me down, berated me or even been offended. Nobody is perfect, she loves me, and she cares enough to want to help me and encourage me. We’ve all got problems, including our spouses, and I’ve found that when we humble ourselves and seek both their forgiveness and their support, they can be surprisingly understanding.
The important part of having an understanding spouse is that you are both humble and repentant. It’s far easier to love, forgive, and encourage the person that truly is sorrowful for their mistakes and struggles than the person that is looking for justification. It’s okay to screw up, it’s not okay to continue screwing up without making an effort to do better. It’s like that person who gets in trouble and immediately says, “love you,” hoping to get out of it. This response is both fake and insincere and obvious to all.
Now remember, this goes both ways. We all make mistakes. Hardening our hearts and trying to justify our actions is just plain foolish. I’ve had to tell myself on many occasions, I love my wife more than I care about winning this argument or being right or justifying my foolish actions.
If you can’t be open and honest with your spouse, then who can you be open and honest with? It’s not fair to them or you to try and carry every mistake, regret, and worry alone. You’re a team, live as one.
Protect One Another
This is something that I take very seriously, yet I often struggle with. I’m sad to say that there have been times in my life where I’ve exploded and said some pretty hurtful words that I didn’t really mean. I’ve let my emotions take over and reacted in ways that have both hurt and scared my wife. I have to live with that guilt and shame. That’s not what home should be. We should never be afraid to come home or even be around our spouses. We shouldn’t be afraid of what they’ll say or do or how they will react.
We need to protect our spouses not just from others, but from ourselves. We should make them feel safe, loved, and cared for. They shouldn’t have to be afraid to talk to us about something happening or worry that we will leave them or wonder if maybe you’ve taken an interest in someone else. It happens though, we probably all know someone that’s destroyed their marriage and brought incredible pain to their spouse.
This sometimes requires sacrifice! Crazy, I know, but it’s true. I know people on both sides. I’ve heard of men complaining about their wives getting upset about something they like to do or a particular act they committed. I’ve heard wives complain about this too, but to a lesser degree since I don’t often spend time with married women. To these that complain,their spouses requests are unfair. They aren’t willing to sacrifice whatever it is they are doing, even though they know full well that every time they do, it hurts their spouse. I’ve also heard of others that have given up completely innocent hobbies or activities because they know it’s not okay with their spouses. I’ve heard people talk poorly about these same people, which to me is the exact opposite reaction we should have. I’m sorry, but just because you think it’s dumb that they choose to quit something for the sake of their spouses, then you clearly do not understand what it means to care for a spouse.
Protect your spouse. Remind them often they are important, loved, and cared for. Make them feel special. Don’t give them cause to fear your words or any sort of violence. Don’t give them reason to think that you have feelings for someone else. Make them feel heard and respected. Put them first, don’t make them fight for your attention. I get it, probably more than most, we need time for ourselves and that’s good. I’m not talking about spending every spare second with them, don’t be ridiculous, talk to them, work out time for both.
In the end, being married requires two people working towards serving one another. It means sacrificing your desires, time, and sometimes your goals to make sure that your spouse is loved, cared for, and protected. It means not neglecting their needs and desires in the wake of your own. It means getting to know them and using that to lift them up. It means being patient with them, even if they are being hysterical and illogical. Sad to say I’m typically the crazy, unreasonable one. If two people are working towards serving one another, your marriage will flourish. Only by working for your own ends will it be torn apart and left in tatters. I know this is going to sound crazy, but you’ll never be happier in marriage unless you are putting your spouse first.
I know I said this was going to be brief, sorry about that, it really got away from me. This is the toned down version even.