Sadly, I have known people who have stayed together for decades, but little, if any, of that time was blissful. I am a big believer in marriage, but it takes work – real work.
I have been married to my hubby for over 30 years and have learned a thing or two along the way, much of it from him.
So, as I see it, the following tips will help us all: newlyweds, old married folks (like me), anyone considering what makes for a strong, lasting marriage.
1. Don’t be too attached to your list of requirements for the ideal spouse. Some things on that list will matter forever; others may not matter at all. Dave was not what I thought I wanted in a husband. (Please remember I was 19 when we met and not all that bright in these matters.) It turned out, however, he was – and is – exactly the right man for me.
2. Intimacy is important. But a great marriage is about so much more than fireworks. It’s good to realize that from the get-go. Physical attraction does not necessarily make for a good marriage. Plus, like every other area of our relationship, it can be deliberately nurtured and strengthened.
3. We must, must, must not compare our spouse to the men and women we read about in books and see on TV and in movies. We’d probably all say, “Of course I don’t do that,” but these well-crafted heroes and heroines with their physical beauty and scripted dialogue, though fictitious, have a way of working their way into our minds. (I still love novels, certain TV shows, and movies, but I deliberately choose to see the cast as make believe.)
4. Even if we have a good handle on the above, it’s far too easy to have unrealistic expectations. Several years into our marriage, Dave said, “I don’t think you’d like the man you want me to be.” That statement has stayed with me and I’m incredibly thankful my hubby was courageous enough to say what was on his heart.
5. When we do speak up, it is crucial to do so as the Bible instructs, “speaking the truth in love.” It doesn’t mean we keep things bottled up, but neither does it mean we lash out. Because Dave has always loved me beyond anything I ever could have imagined, it hurt him deeply to think he’d disappointed me. My high-powered explosions, while making me feel better, wounded him. Therefore, we haven’t “fought” in many, many, many, many years. Disagreed with one another? Yes. Raised our voices and tossed around accusations? Nope.
6. Talk about everything, even before you’re married. Most of us go into marriage assuming certain things. “Oh, that will never happen to us.” “We’ll never face that situation.” “We’ll always feel the same way.” Life, however, has a way of throwing us curve balls. Don’t get me wrong, this, thankfully, never happened to us, but when Dave and I were discussing just what our vows meant to us, we thought of the worst imaginable scenario (as young people that was infidelity) and decided our vows were forever and somehow, we would make it through. I’m not saying we could have, but at least we went into things with that perspective.
7. And speaking of talking . . . We are a stereotypical couple. I talk infinitely more than my hubby does. In the early years, this irritated me constantly. And then one day it dawned on me; Dave is an active listener. He isn’t just tolerating my babble, he is really listening. How thankful I am for my sounding board – though I don’t babble near as much as I used to. I do, however, still talk – a lot.
8. Communication is so much more than words. While there are still times I wish Dave would express himself verbally, I know his actions speak louder than words – if I take the time to “listen.” I’m still working on this one.
9. Do not let your children become your life. I had wanted to be a mom since I was a little girl. My husband worked multiple jobs so I could stay home and raise our three. However, we tried to have regular date nights (even grabbing coffee and a donut, just the two of us). My daughter once asked, “Why do you and Daddy go out every week?” I said, “One day you will move out and I don’t want to be married to a stranger.” Parenting is a lifetime commitment – as is a lasting marriage.
10. Seek to be two complete people, autonomous yet interdependent. As a stay-at-home mom, many days, by the time Dave got home, I was ready to run not walk to the nearest exit. If that meant me spending an hour or so at the mall across the street, no matter how tired he was, he was game. Being the extrovert I am, even when I wasn’t done in, I wanted to go here, there, and everywhere. My husband is, on the other hand, more of a homebody. Over the years, I have learned the value of curling up on the couch with Dave and watching a movie (it is actually one of my favourite things to do) and he has become more comfortable with socializing – at least with people he knows. Over the years, we have respected and loved one another enough to support our very different personality types and interests.
Even Christians, may neglect two vital elements of a truly successful marriage: reading God’s Word and praying together. Dave and I have not done so as much as we should, but it’s not too late to start.