“We’re going to show the world how marriage is supposed to be done!”
We actually said this before we got married. Of course it was before we got married. Marriage itself has a way of humbling people.
And now we’re celebrating 20 years! Our slogan now might sound more like, “We know how marriage is not supposed to be done!”
Here are my top ten things that I have learned in 20 years of marriage.
- Be humble. In some ways I am a model American – proud and independent. My whole frame of reference from birth has been myself. Being married forced me to consider his point of view. So unnatural and uncomfortable! Impossible to imagine that there is another perspective on how to celebrate Christmas or what to do on a Friday night. Or, that our disagreement might be more easily resolved if I try to see it through his eyes.
- Slow down. This is an outflow and discipline of humility. My personality leans toward fast thinking, fast speaking, fast acting. It’s been awkward, but so helpful, to slow down those fast reactions. It’s hard to retract words that spew from reflexive anger. I even try to have a little speech prepared that will give me time to reflect before I speak. “I feel too angry right now to talk about this. Let’s talk about it later.” The challenge is to actually talk about it later!
- Journal. Everyone has a different way of processing muddled thoughts and feelings. Writing in an old notebook gives me a safe place to write out my feelings and thoughts. I start by spilling all the feelings on paper, and then I’m able to get a little deeper and unravel the source of my frustration – which is usually fear of some kind. It deflates my defensive anger, and I’m more able to engage in discussion with him.
- Sit on the couch. We are not always in this habit. But, it is a great discipline to sit and relax and connect for 15 minutes at the end of the day. Little things that happened during the day come up. Even though we’re usually exhausted it is good to connect. Our lives are usually so constrained by daily obligations that couch time doesn’t come naturally. But, it’s a good way to nurture the friendship of marriage.
- Date night. Of course! You can’t have a top ten marriage list without date night! Over the years, our date night currently looks more like date afternoon. And we have found that grabbing a cherry limeade and sitting and talking at Sonic is a nice break from a house full of kids. We also realize that hiking together is a great, budget-friendly way to do dates. Actually, it was a surprise to realize that we both like to hike! We are certainly thankful for colorful Colorado! Afternoon dates are a good way also to compromise the energy levels for a night owl and an early bird.
- Pass the pencil. I have become a conflict avoider over the years. It’s taken me awhile to realize that just blowing off conflict doesn’t make it go away. But, oh how I dread those hard conversations that can be a door to reconciliation! A great tool for us is passing the pencil. We each get a turn to “tell our side.” When it’s his turn to talk, he holds the pencil. I am not allowed to speak until he hands me the pencil. And then, during his turn, when he hands me the pencil, I am only allowed to paraphrase what he has just said. The goal is that he can express his “side” and that I can show that I understand. So much of conflict is simply feeling “not understood.” Then, when it’s turn for “my side,” we switch the pencil. It’s a great tool, but I find that I still need a time limit as we do this. Even if we don’t get to actual steps of resolution, just feeling heard is huge.
- Celebrate! My romantic husband insists that we set aside time to intentionally celebrate our anniversary each year. This year, the big 20, he actually asked me to take a day off of work for it! Not easy for me, but what a great way to prioritize celebrating our marriage! We even re-enact our first date every December 1st. He brings me a poinsettia like he did on our first date and we do our best to copy what we did on that first date.
- Keep learning. Before we were married we felt pretty confident that we knew how to do marriage, but since our first heated argument on our honey moon in Hawaii, we’ve been undeceived! We’ve read marriage books and blogs, attended retreats and workshops, and done some counseling over the years. No silver bullets. But a lifestyle of growing and learning. (Couples that have been married for 40 and 50 years tell us that this never changes!)
- Kids take a backseat. This is counter-intuitive for me as a mom. From the moment the kids arrived on the scene I was consumed with caring for them. I’ve sometimes thought, “I’ll prioritize our marriage when they leave the house.” But in the same thought I realize that it would be too late. One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is parents that worked on having a healthy marriage.
- Hang with Jesus. The greatest gift I can give our marriage is a heart that is close to Jesus. My times of quietness with Him re-calibrate how I approach our relationship. Where my instincts are self-focused, He tends to whisper wisdom. When I start to forge ahead in emotion, He tends to slow me down. He gives me courage and peace and deep, true satisfaction no matter the ups and downs. Marriage is from Him and through Him and for Him. A mystery indeed!
Here is a little list of resources that have been very helpful to me in the marriage area:
- Family Life marriage conferences
- For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn (I’m sure that For Men Only by the same author is great for husbands also!)
- The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller
- The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian
- The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
I also gain so much wisdom by talking to other people about their marriages. Everyone has a unique experience and perspective. It really encourages and enriches me to hear from others.
SO, I would love to hear your nuggets of marriage wisdom or favorite marriage resources. Please comment below so we can all be encouraged!