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My husband and I weren’t supposed to make it as a couple.
You see, the odds were stacked against us. Friends and family members told us our relationship wouldn’t last because we:
- Were high school sweethearts
- Had our first baby our senior year of high school
- Got married “too young” at 19
- Got married while my husband was in the Navy heading to his first duty station in San Diego, and I was taking advantage of a full-ride scholarship to EWU.
- Planned on remaining in two different states, at least for the short term
And yet, with God’s help, we are beating the odds. In fact yesterday, on Pi Day, we celebrated our 15th anniversary. And we both are more in love with each other than we were the day we got married.
So what are our secrets to a lasting marriage? In honor of our recent anniversary, here are 15 of them.
1. Don’t keep score
Marriage isn’t a ball game, so don’t keep score.
Do kind things just because and not because you think your spouse will feel obligated to return the favor.
2. Say I Love You Daily
Bryan’s Grandma shared this important piece of advice with us during our early years of marriage. She said to make sure we tell each other, “I love you” daily.
Some days you might not feel lovey. But, say it anyways. Even if it’s just to remind yourself why you are together. Your emotions can be fickle, but you don’t have to be.
3. Realize God Isn’t Bound By Odds
I think many marriages end precisely because they are supposed to. When everyone around you is sharing statistics about divorce rates and telling you why you shouldn’t have gotten married, it can be hard to focus on anything else.
I think these marriages become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since they are meant to fail, it’s not really failing to fail. It’s just doing what everyone expected.
But, odds and statistics are man-made numbers. They overlook one important little detail.
God is in charge. And while there are patterns we can look for and learn from, we should focus on God’s truths instead.
And here’s the thing. God supports a lasting marriage. So any statistics that don’t aren’t coming from a godly perspective. He has the power to help you overcome the stats.
So trust in God, and not the crazy things people think it’s ok to spout off at a young married couple.
(And on that note, stop telling young people their marriages are going to fail! Be an encouragement instead.)
4. Remember Your Spouse’s Preferences
My husband and I don’t always agree on everything.
Sheets on the bed inside out?
I don’t even notice.
My husband? It drives him crazy!
So, when I change sheets I take the extra two seconds to make sure they’re turned the right way before putting them on.
It literally takes seconds. But, it blesses my husband because I remember something he prefers and do it.
Now sheets on a bed don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. And it isn’t hard for me to do it my husband’s way because I really don’t care. It’s an easy way to put his preferences first.
Making this decision will not always easy. But, it is always important. As often as you are able, put your spouse’s preferences above your own.
Lasting marriages don’t happen when pride and selfishness take over.
5. Make a Budget
Money problems are a huge cause of divorce.
Be on the same page with money by creating a written budget. Talk about your long-term goals and be willing to make sacrifices now to get where you want to be. Then stick to the plan, or take time to discuss any last-minute changes.
Also, talk in advance about what you’re going to do with any extra income (bonuses, gifts, etc.) That way there are no surprises.
And have some blow money, even if it’s $20 each per month. It’s important to have a little bit you can spend however you’d like.
If one system of budgeting doesn’t work for you, don’t give up. Try something different! It is important.
6. Hold hands
Touch each other. And hold hands whenever you can.
We need physical touch, and this is a public friendly way to connect. My husband and I often hold hands while sitting on the couch watching a movie or while taking a quick walk to the creek.
In stores it can be hard since we are usually each holding onto a kid or two (getting back out to the car with the same number we went in with IS important!) but as your kids grow remember to bring back this habit!
Spend at least a few minutes each day talking to each other. And not about taking out the garbage or running to the store.
Really communicate. Talk through problems, fears, hopes, and dreams.
And know how the other communicates best.
There are times when I just can’t find the words to explain what I’m thinking or feeling, especially when I’m mad or frustrated. It’s like these emotions cloud my head and I honestly can’t process the words and get them out. Oh I can say things, but they’re almost always hurtful and bitter.
But, I can almost always say what I want (and how I want to express it) through writing. My husband has learned not to push for an explanation right away, and to give me the space I need. He’s read many a letter/email that explain what I couldn’t orally say.
I’ve also deleted many of these before he ever sees them. It might be therapeutic to get it out and on paper, but as I read back through it I realized it would not be helpful to our marriage.
My mom used to make my sisters and I sing Thumper’s mom’s words (from Bambi) in a tune she made up.
“If you can’t say something nice…say nothing. Take a bit of good advice…say nothing.”
This is good advice for spouses as well as siblings!
This means we sometimes walk away from unfinished conversations. Then we pick them back up again later.
Don’t be afraid to give some space for cooling down and processing.
8. Be Intimate
I’m not going to go into a ton of details here, because my Mom and Grandma read this blog. 😀
But, marriages are meant to be intimate.
And “doing the deed” a couple of times a month or even once a week isn’t going to cut it. If there isn’t an actual reason to not come together (like right after having a baby or something), then make it a priority often.
Slip a love note into his lunchbox in the morning with a couple of suggestive comments. Then that night make dinner simple so it doesn’t take all your energy. After the dishes are done, tuck the kids in early or put on a movie and leave the oldest “in charge.”
Then get together and enjoy your spouse! Your marriage will flourish with the attention and love.
9. Never Think You’ve Arrived
Don’t ever get cocky in your attitude about marriage. My husband and I both know that in the scope of life, 15 years is not long at all. If we suddenly believe that just because we’ve figured this out for 15 years so we must be doing it all right, our marriage is in jeopardy.
You will never be able to put your marriage on auto-pilot. It takes commitment, time, and energy on a daily basis.
We know a few couples who celebrated sixty years together, and because we got married so young, we may even see that number some day. But, for now we need to focus on the here and now. We are not marriage experts. We’re just two sinners saved by grace, who love each other.
10. Make Your Marriage a Priority
This one goes hand in hand with the previous one. No matter how long you’ve been married, make sure your marriage is a priority in your life. Keep working at it.
Don’t get so focused on building a career or raising kids that you forget about this important relationship. When the kids move out or one of you retires, you don’t want to suddenly realize you don’t even know each other anymore.
11. Change Your Definition of a Date
When I was in high school, I had all sorts of visions of dating. And they all involved going out and spending money.
I carried this notion of what made a date a date into the early years of our marriage. But, as we had more kids and didn’t have as much money, I realized we never actually went on dates.
So, I started changing my definition of a “real date.”
Here are some ways we dated without spending a ton of money or leaving the house for an extra trip:
- BBQing a couple of steaks after the kids went to bed
- Playing a favorite game together, just the two of us
- Going on a quick walk before dinner
- Having my husband grab a couple of burgers on his way home from work, and then reheating them after the kids are in bed
- Cooking together
- Watching a favorite movie with some popcorn (though this usually ends with me sleeping on the couch well before the end of the movie…
To make this time happen, we tuck our kids in early routinely. Their bedtime is between 7-730, except for nights when we have church. Then they just go to bed right after we get home.
They need the sleep, and we need the time together. It’s so refreshing for our marriage.
And, since our oldest is a teen, we’ve been able to go on more dates. We’ve tucked the little guys into bed and left our oldest in charge. Then we run and grab a milkshake or just go on a short drive.
It’s a blessing to have a teenager! Just make sure you don’t take advantage of them.
12. Do What Works for Your Family
How in the world did taking out the trash become “the man’s job”?
You know who is home all day, filling up those trash bags? Yup, me and the kids.
And yet, many would tell us I should just leave those bags and keep overfilling them, so I can let my husband take them out for me when he gets home.
Um…no! That doesn’t make any sense to me.
The whole division of labor based solely on gender doesn’t really work in a marriage. Yes, there is traditional “woman’s work” that I do happily. I tackle almost all of the cooking and cleaning, because I’m home. Then we can actually enjoy time together when my husband is home from work.
I take all the kids shopping with me during the week for the same reason. I’d rather have Saturdays free to do fun things instead of going shopping by myself.
But I also mow the lawn (or have a kid mow it) during the week for the same reason.
Ironing? Nope, not something I’m good at, or have a desire to do. So my husband does ALL of the household ironing. He learned how to iron well at boot camp, and has been doing it ever since.
At first I got a silly nagging feeling in my stomach that I should be the one ironing because that’s a job most of the women I know do. But, you know what? It just works better for us to have him do it. He doesn’t mind, and he does a way better job.
When you’re dividing up jobs, do what makes sense for your marriage. And don’t be afraid to change it up over time. When I’m struggling to meet a writing deadline, I ask my husband to cook dinner. Or tackle the dinner dishes for a couple of weeks.
And let your kids get in on the housework action, regardless of gender. Their future spouses will thank you!
13. The Little Things Matter
Pay attention to the little things in life. They really do matter. Couples drifting apart don’t typically happen because of big events. It’s the culmination of a whole lot of neglected little things.
So look for ways to help each other. Cook a favorite dinner or dessert, just because.
Put the seat down, especially in the middle of the night.
Bring home a favorite candy bar and entertain the kids so it can be eaten in peace, without being shared.
Make the most of your time together, because every moment counts.
14. Remember Marriage Is a Covenant
Most people have a flippant attitude of marriage these days. Vows like, “as long as our love shall last point to the temporary view many couples place on marriage.
But, marriage isn’t just some earthly contract you sign into. It’s a sacred covenant between you, your spouse, and God. It’s a serious thing, and meant to last.
So don’t think about marriage casually. And don’t ever take yours for granted.
Pray for Each Other
No matter how hard you try, you will never ever change your spouse.
But, God can!
More importantly, He can change your attitude about your spouse.
So pray for each other often. Pray for yourself to be a good spouse. Pray for your marriage to be strengthened.
15. The Marriage Is More Important Than the Wedding!
Our wedding was thrown together quickly, with most of the details coming together the week of. We married between Bryan’s A-School in Florida and his first duty station. He flew home, we planned and prepped with the help of my family, and then we got married on a Friday night.
It wasn’t the “perfect” dream wedding. Things went wrong.
The pastor left before signing the marriage certificate so we had to call him back. Our baby girl left a huge blue stain on my sister’s (maid of honor)’ dress. Before the pictures of course. So she has a big wet spot on her shirt for everything.
Not all of our family could make it because of the last-minute arrangements.
The pictures weren’t carefully thought out, so we missed a bunch of “classic” shots.
But you know what?
A wedding is just an event. It’s the beginning of something wonderful. So focus on the marriage and not the wedding.
Here’s To Lasting Marriages!
Let’s do our part to bring down the divorce rate. Let’s let our kids grow up in a stable home with a mom and dad who love each other.
Here’s to lasting marriages, especially those that beat the odds.