This is the FIRST in a brand new series called “Exploring Your Questions about Body Image and Comparison.” But this question isn’t really about body image or comparison (Oops!). Instead, it’s about marriage. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to those other topics next week.)
Last week, my husband and I took a trip to Italy to celebrate ten years of marriage. It wasn’t a whim. On our honeymoon we decided that we would save and plan and do this trip as a celebration of the decade mark. By God’s grace alone—we made it! (To both Italy and the ten year mark that is—I’ll sprinkle in a few photos from our trip below.)
The ten tips title of this post seems to oversimplify what it takes to make marriage better. This is not my goal. Marriage ranks highest on the list of things I’ve found very difficult—right up there with parenting and free falling without a parachute (though I’ve never actually tried that, it seems hard).
Some seasons it felt like we were barely surviving—while others it seemed like we were on cruise control and not conscious enough about growing our marriage. A reader in Texas sent me this question almost a year ago, so I’m thrilled to finally have the perfect opportunity to answer it here!
My husband and I have been married for almost seven years now. We try to do regular date nights and such, but our lives (with two young children) get pretty predictable, pretty quickly. Do you have any suggestions for keeping our marriage’s fire burning?
E in Texas
A good marriage is so much more than creative date nights. Though city-wide scavenger hunts or other elaborately planned excursions sound super romantic, the key to a strong and stable marriage is in finding contentment in the normal. Most of us have this horrible case of adult ADD—we always want the new, the exciting, and the stimulating—which makes staying happy with the same guy, in the same house, in the same town, with the same old same old, so much more challenging.
I get it.
Here are ten ways to keep marriage hot—areas of focus that I believe, will help strengthen your marriage. It’s from that strength is where the real passion, heat, and fire can flow:
Can I confess that in times of marriage struggle—the first lie whispered in my ear sounds like this, “You’d be better off alone. You can do it all by yourself.”
One time I was furious at my husband for not agreeing with me on a parenting issue. So, I (maturely) sat in our downstairs leather chair crying (read: pouting), listening to that message in my head, and considering how I could pack my bags and leave that evening.
What’s so ridiculous is the issue was really just a difference of opinion. It held no importance by the next morning. Yet, had I “listened to my heart” (Wow do our hearts deceive us!) I could have followed my pride right out the door and caused irreparable harm to our relationship.
It was Eve’s original sin and it continues to haunt us women today—that prideful independence.
But, it has a cure. It’s called appreciation. Practically, I believe appreciation stuffs our pride. When we train ourselves to appreciate all that our partner does and offers (instead of telling him that he loaded the dishwasher or folded the towels wrong) we let go of the reins and say, “Your way is okay too because I respect and love you.”
This is true appreciation.
When I feel like my way is the “best” way, I maintain a one-up, power position over my partner. This kills a healthy marriage. No one enjoys being married to someone with a superiority complex.
Want to heat up your marriage? Appreciate him. Learn to respect the ways he serves and loves you. (Make a list if you need to!) Even if you feel like he’s not doing his fair share, you’ll likely find when your attitude shifts to one of appreciation, he will be more motivated to show his love.
2. Ask for Help.
He cannot read your mind. He just can’t. Matthew McConaughey and other leading men in chick flicks can do this, but real men whose lives were not scripted by women, cannot. Tell him what you want. Tell him what you need. Tell him the truth. Stuffing your feelings only leads to resentment.
Having a man read your mind isn’t romantic. It’s kind of scary.
3. Assign Roles.
It doesn’t matter who cooks, cleans, does bedtime kiddo rituals, or takes out the trash. It only matters that the two of you have an understanding of what the other does. When I’ve been tempted to complain that I’m “doing all the work” at home, my husband is quick to list for me all that he does and it’s a healthy reminder that we are both contributing. Where I’ve seen marriages stumble over perceived disparity in contributions it’s often because one spouse (or both) isn’t rightly seeing all that the other does.
Communicate about who does what and talk through any perceived inequity. Don’t let it fester.
4. Get Grounded.
My husband was a new believer when we first married. I was an “old” (not mature) and “born into Christianity” type of Christ-follower. He’d spend time in his Bible every morning and I’d spend time in mine when everything in my life was going south. We’d have a fight and he’d say, “When’s the last time you read your Bible?”
I’d get so mad I’d want to throw something at him (okay, I did throw things sometimes—light things—like pillows—don’t call the police).
Our marriage got a whole lot healthier when I got grounded in my relationship with Jesus. When I prioritized fifteen or more minutes in the morning to read my Bible and pray (amazingly) our petty quarreling diminished.
5. Get Surrounded.
Have Christian couple friends. I repeat. Have Christian couple friends. Love, love like crazy, your hurting, far-from-Christ, divorced, married or single friends. Love them well. But, your marriage needs an equal amount of health poured into it from relationships with couples who have Christ-centered marriages you admire. Don’t have a couple like this? Ask your pastor if their is a more mature couple in the church he could connect you with. This is a non-negotiable.
6. Consider Counseling.
Counseling changed the course of our marriage. Period. Loved this post by Jennie Allen which perfectly elaborates on this point. Serious, biblically-rooted, counsel will challenge who you are and take you to a new level of strength in your marriage.
This is a tough one, during so many seasons of life. Dating with a newborn. Not so much fun—if even possible. Dating when you are in a busy, tired, and worn-out season of life—just the same. We do a weekly date night but sometimes it’s just us drudging into a restaurant, ordering some food, and marching home again. Fun, eh?
Two things I’ve learned about date night.
Thing one: Don’t do date night on a night you are tired. Work hard to find the best night of the week for you both.
And, thing two: Don’t compare your date night to anyone else’s (especially not on Facebook.) What works for you as a couple may be different than what works for them. Every date isn’t going to magical. Likely, most won’t. Sometimes sitting at dinner in silence is just what happens and you are grateful for the time you had alone to bring the hard issues to light. Other times, you’ll have fun—in a way that you both appreciate and enjoy. Savor them both.
Getting out of “Dodge” from time to time has breathed new life into our marriage. It doesn’t have to be international travel (Can I be honest? Being across the world is as wearing as it is enjoyable!) Go to a hotel in your city or nearby. Go camping at the closest state park that is not your backyard! Just be somewhere, different, together—even if only for twenty-four hours and experience that reinvigoration regularly.
Some of my fondest memories from our trip to Italy will be interactions we had with other couples while we were over there. We met a charming couple from the UK at lunch one day and chatted for an hour about international travel and politics (of all things!). We took a day trip with an older couple from Australia and laughed our way through a meal and a ferry ride while discussing what we were experiencing and how our world is changing from their perspective and ours.
Studies show that double dating makes you appreciate your partner more (see number one) and helps you enjoy your time out together in a different way. Who can you ask out for a double date this weekend?
When life gets routine, we can add new spark by dreaming of the future, together. As we planned our trip to Italy I felt us draw closer together through the process of researching and talking about what we would experience together. Friends of mine dreamed together of starting a camp for teens. This shared vision added a layer of dimension and strength to their marriage.
Do you dream of working together some day? Starting an organization together? Traveling the world? Seeing your grandchildren? Take a night to talk and pray about the future together. Planning for it and seeing yourselves together in that future can solidify your bond.
What do you do to keep your marriage “hot”?