30 days to a better marriage
(or in our case, 30 years)
Thirty years, baby. 1989-2019.
This month, my husband and I celebrate our 30th anniversary. I thought I’d write about marriage this week because next week we’ll be celebrating on a cruise (which incidentally, we did 30 years ago for our honeymoon). We’re 30 years chubbier and more grayed and wrinkled, but yay for us!
I’m ready to give some pointers on surviving and thriving in a 30-year marriage. My husband and I kind of feel like newlyweds again now that we’re empty-nesters. Trust me–this advice won’t be nauseating or sappy or over-spiritualized. I’m nothing if not practical. (Who wants marriage advice from people who claim they’ve never had a fight?) Here’s my thought on those people:
- They’re lying, and you don’t want their advice anyway.
- They’re remarkably well-suited and self-controlled super-humans, and you can’t relate to them.
I am neither of those. I’m not proud to say it, but my husband and I have at times been completely ill-suited for one another. We’ve had some crazy fights and many amazing romantic adventures. And we prefer being together than doing anything else on the planet. (Click here to read “Ten Statements that will change your marriage.”)
Just so you know I’m not sugar-coating the whole marriage thing: I vividly remember one afternoon when I wanted our family to enjoy an idyllic stroll through the park—stroller, roller-blades, frisbees, etc. For some reason, my husband thought that sounded like a horrific amount of work. I thought it was the perfect Mayberry-esque way to spend the afternoon. Our disagreement culminated with me saying something to the effect that we’ve married the wrong people, after which I took the kids to the park by myself and cried my head off.
Perhaps you’ve had an argument like that. Someone mentioned a Target bill or a trashcan, and 10 minutes later, it’s World War 3. When we’re afraid to address our issues properly, they pile up like dirty laundry. Then all of a sudden, someone lights a match, and poof! The whole pile of straw is aflame. Yep, just mixed my metaphors there.
Or maybe you’ve never had a fight with your spouse because you’re a stuffer. You walk around in paralyzed anxiety or stony silence, willing to punish your spouse into figuring out what’s wrong without you saying anything. Instead, you both live like college roommates who breathe a sigh of relief when you get home from class and the house is empty. You avoid the issues until it becomes impossible not to.
So, we’re all good at fighting.
In honor of our 30 years of ups and downs, I’d like to offer 30 marital suggestions. If you practice one per day for a month, I’ll wager that your marriage is better at the end of the month. No money-back guarantee, but I’m pretty confident. (Also, you’re reading this for free anyway, so there’s that.)
Here’s to one month of compassionate communication, less annoyance and misunderstanding, new experiences and excitement, and a marriage that can withstand heartache, disappointment, and hardship. (Click here to read “Why love hurts.”)
30 days to a better marriage (or in our case, 30 years):
- Apologize for what you did or assumed your spouse did to you (without tacking on “because you _______”). Own your stuff as quickly as is authentically possible.
- Laugh together, at the good and the bad. When you laugh, you give your brain positive endorphins to handle difficulty with perspective.
- Try to eat at least one meal together every day (even better without the T.V. on).
- Ask about your spouse’s day and listen to the answer.
- Spouse first, kids second. This means that you prioritize your marriage even during the busy child-rearing years so that when your kids leave home, you’re excited about more time together instead of having nothing in common. If you’re re-married with kids from your first marriage, this order might need to flip for a while; during a divorce and re-establishment period, kids should come before a new relationship.
- Don’t interrupt or talk for one another unless your spouse wants you to (i.e. the party rescue trick).
- Don’t make assumptions about what your spouse means, says, or knows. Find out.
- Develop hobbies, sports, games, past-times you can do together. These will probably change according to your stage of life. Constantly attempting and doing new things keeps your relationship exciting.
- Travel together. Traveling changes you—if you never travel together, you change at different rates and lack the same experiences.
- Serve together at your church or at community service events.
- Go to bed at the same time whenever possible.
- Set up date nights (weekly is best but do what you can) and get a babysitter.
- When you want something, ask for it; don’t expect your spouse to figure it out.
- Find points of agreement in your decision-making; develop central values that drive all your decisions. Then when you disagree, you can go back to your place of agreement and move forward from shared values rather than focusing on your differences.
- Go on a trip together without the kids every year (make it short and cheap if you have to—just do it).
- Plan surprises (I personally dislike big surprises, so when my husband plans a big surprise, he gives me 2 choices and lets me plan it. I like when the idea is actually the surprise but the details are mine to control).
- Develop a spiritual base for your marriage, centered on God.
- Read a marriage book, do a study, and/or go to marriage conference every year. You’re never too experienced to make your marriage better.
- Ask questions when you’re starting to get upset or annoyed. You might be misreading the situation.
- Never criticize your spouse in public (not good in private, either). Affirmation and questions are better. (“Have you ever thought about …?”) This includes bad-mouthing your spouse to your friends. Be careful. It’s a lot more productive to vent to a counselor or mentor than a group of friends who will affirm that you have been greatly wronged.
- Give generously of your time, attention, and self.
- Don’t keep score.
- If you’re too mad to have a discussion without being rude or hurtful, give yourselves a time-out until you can talk (even if it takes a few days). If you can’t wait without creating more tension, physically remove yourself. Set an appointed time to talk so the time-out doesn’t become a catalyst for avoidance, punishment, or abandonment.
- Show love and grace to your spouse’s family and friends. Even better: adopt each other’s family and develop shared friendships. This often takes work.
- Say “thank you” every day for something your spouse does or who he/she is. (Click here to pray “Thank you for my marriage.”)
- Don’t belittle yourself to your spouse to get a compliment. This sows insecurity into the relationship.
- Take walks together.
- Watch shows/movies together or read the same book.
- Guard your friendships with the opposite sex. I’m not saying you can’t have them. I’m saying your #1 should always be your #1. No competition.
- Clarify what your spouse says during a discussion by saying “It sounds like you’re saying ….” or “Are you saying …?”
The challenge is on.
Add your suggestions to this list and check back after a month. What’s helpful to you? What idea is a game-changer for your marriage? (Click here to read “10-Point checklist for finding a godly husband.”)
Happy anniversary, babe! I’ll go with you anywhere (except really high places with edges or into deep water without a boat or into very dark places because I know you’ll scare me and think it’s funny). But everywhere else.