The bouquet has been thrown, the garter tossed, and the honeymoon taken.
What makes a good marriage? Here are some of the things my husband and I have done to keep our love alive throughout our 30 years of marriage.
1. Make time to touch base every day.
As the stresses of life, jobs, relatives, and children are added to a marriage, “us time” can take a back seat. David and I committed to spend about ten minutes every day listening to each other. (And trust me—during different seasons of life, ten minutes of couple time can be a challenge.)
We ask each other the simple question, “How was your day?” Sometimes ten minutes becomes several days of processing, but if we don’t start with ten minutes, we won’t know how each other is at all. Even now, with my job requiring a lot of travel, David and I try as often as possible to connect on the phone or at least text while I’m away. These small touch-points can make all the difference.
2. Allow your spouse to grow and change.
Imagine being the same person at forty that you were at twenty. That wouldn’t be healthy! So expect your spouse to change. In fact, encourage and champion his or her growth.
I often have crazy ideas about my life that David stands behind and cheers for. Because of him I pursued a master’s degree in my thirties, left a high-paying job in my forties to go into full-time ministry, and started writing books in my fifties. It is wonderful to have the freedom to change and grow. Give your spouse that gift.
3. Allow your spouse’s relationship with Jesus to look different from yours.
David and I relate to God in different ways. At first, I wanted his faith to look exactly like mine, which became frustrating for me and left him feeling guilty. When I was able to relinquish control and trust God for David’s spirituality, I could see that he was the kindest, most loving man—one who lived the greatest commandment better than anyone I’d met.
As David and I have aged, our spiritual lives have grown and changed—which is exactly what should happen. My prayer life, for example, has taken many forms, from praying lists to writing prayers in journals to spending more time in silence and listening to God. I can expect David’s prayer life to evolve as well, but it will not always look the same as mine.
Transitions in our understanding of God are generally brought about by painful circumstances. When David lost his job, he felt closest to God walking the hills with our dog for hours at a time. This was his space to sort out the big, painful questions. I’ve experienced pain from different situations, and thus have had different questions for God. Walking the hills might not help me, but the same God will guide us both into continued growth.
In Mansions of the Heart, author Tom Ashbrook explains that there are predictable stages we go through as we journey with God. His book has given me language for the changes I see in my life, as well as David’s. Allow your spouse to discover the ways that they can best hear from God.
4. Pay attention to the unspoken expectations that you each brought into your marriage.
Because you and your spouse were raised in different families, you each have expectations that you don’t even realize are there until your spouse steps on one of the “rules.” For example, my dad took out the trash, but David never saw his dad do a chore. So, even though David wanted to share equally in the work of our home, he had no context for what that meant. It took awhile for us to figure out that unmet and unspoken expectations were causing frustration and disappointment.
This is especially true in parenting. Each of us brings a different parenting model into a marriage. Years ago when David and I were having trouble with our two-year-old, we took a parenting class that might have saved our marriage. We learned how our models of parenting were clashing and developed a third way. Then we worked to support each other in consistently applying our model.
Work hard to identify hidden expectations that might be causing friction in your marriage. Once they are revealed, they can be discussed and negotiated.
5. Get help!
Marriage can be hard. David and I do a lot of pre-marriage counseling, but we find that post-marriage counseling is much more effective, because people then have more hooks to hang information on.
Unfortunately, most couples don’t seek out counseling until their marriage is in big trouble. Please, if you hear nothing else, hear this: Get help early, before one of you is halfway out the door. The most common conflicts are connected to sex, money, parenting, and personality differences. Find a good counselor, bring the issues out into the open, and learn how to fight fairly and well.
Until Death Do You Part
I can’t guarantee you thirty years of bliss, but following these five suggestions will help set your relationship on a good path toward a happy marriage.
Jacci Turner is an InterVarsity staff member in Reno. She loves chocolate in all of its manifestations and is a bestsellingauthor.