This is a good moment to consider marriage, don’t you think?
I haven’t written much about relationships, but when I have the response has been immediate, passionate and, at times, heart-tugging. This is what I heard:
We care about our relationships, but it can be so difficult to nurture a family and a marriage at the same time.
Last summer, my husband, Rael, and I celebrated our 21st anniversary. Our marriage is TWENTY-ONE, which I guess means it’s legally grown up.
We are happier and stronger now than we were when we got married and we’ve each got dents and scars picked up along the way. As with raising kids, I don’t think you can honestly talk about a long-standing marriage without acknowledging both the joys and the hardships.
But the gratitude I feel for this man, and for the life we’ve build together, is something I return to every day. (Plus, he’s got a hot beard.)
What follows are are my truths about marriage. I would never presume to offer foolproof relationship advice (marriage, like parenting, works differently for every couple), but these truths are standing the test of time for us.
1. A strong marriage is built on daily actions.
It’s the little things. It’s a cliche, and it’s true.
Every time you discuss instead of demand, you strengthen your marriage. Every time you speak with respect instead of sarcasm, listen instead of dismiss, engage instead of eye-roll, you support your marriage’s resilience.
Every action in your marriage is a brick. You decide whether to use it to build a foundation or a wall.
2. …but don’t overlook the grand gesture.
Splurging on flowers or surprising your spouse with a vacation, a diamond, or a day of alone time won’t transform your marriage overnight. But it will cause your partner to look up from the day-to-day routine and take notice.
A thoughtful, unexpected gesture can kickstart a course correction in your marriage.
3. Never underestimate the importance of a good laugh.
Can we just say this out loud? At times, modern marriage-with-kids can be frustrating, boring, and exhausting. Another cliche fits here: If I didn’t laugh, I’d probably cry.
So laugh. A lot. After 21 years, Rael can still tell me a joke I’ve never heard.
What do you both find funny? Comedies? Private jokes? Sneezing pandas?
Write a “funny” list, then commit yourself to laughing at one of these things together every day.
4. …or good sex.
Even if you’re too tired. Even if you’re feeling resentful about last night’s bicker.
I promise you: the problems dogging your relationship will be easier to solve while you’re basking in the afterglow.
Just do it. Regularly.
5. All good marriages have a supporting cast.
There’s an odd fallacy about marriage (middle-class, Western marriage, perhaps) that it should stand on its own. If two people love each other, have shared values, a little chemistry, a decent job, maybe a kid or two…their marriage should be able to withstand life’s slings and arrows, if not unscathed, then at least intact.
In my experience, life’s a lot bigger than two people.
Sooner or later, something will knock you down and you’ll need help getting back up. It might be something straightforward, like a messy house or a bad habit. Or something big: job loss, a health crisis. It may be something good: launching a new business, or winning the lottery. Or something bad: a child’s diagnosis or a death in the family.
You might need a housecleaner, babysitter, marriage counselor or psychiatrist. Some need a financial advisor. Some just need their extended family or their friends. But everyone needs someone.
When you can’t fix your marriage on your own, find the people who can help.
6. Treat your spouse as you hope your children will treat theirs.
Little minds and hearts are learning about partnership, gender roles, and marriage from your example.
Therefore: hug and kiss in front of your kids. Offer to help your partner before he or she asks for it, even if you don’t think he or she deserves it. Express pride and admiration in your spouse’s accomplishments, both private and public. Assume the best of intentions. Speak up for yourself. Fight fair, then apologize. Show your kids how two loving adults can respectfully disagree with each other, then make up, move on, and have a blast.
I say this not to promote guilt, paranoia or dishonesty. The worst thing we could do is to project a facade of brittle perfection. Our kids are smarter than that, and playacting only hurts and confuses them in the long run.
Let your kids see you doing the work of a strong marriage.
We owe it to them to be mindful about what we’re teaching them.
And we owe it to ourselves to dig deep for the good stuff.
I wrote a list like this a few years ago, but every year I learn something new about marriage so I decided it was time for an update. The “new” for us is a return to something we haven’t done since our early years together: dream about the future.
Ever since we had kids, our focus was generally on the immediate: what’s for dinner, what’s happening at work, what’s going on with the kids, how much does that cost, what are we doing this summer. We were so engaged in the now that there was little time or energy to look much farther ahead, relationship-wise.
But now the empty nest is no longer a theoretical destination…it’s in sight. What do we want to do once the kids have moved out? How do we want this next phase of our lives look…and feel?
More good reads about relationships
More inspiration and insight for you:
Marriage, Hurt Egos, & Good Intentions: Amanda Magee is as poetic as she is honest. Even better: this is a collaborative post with her husband, Sean.
Sexy Times Are Here Again: A Primer For Parents Who Aren’t Getting Any: Self-explanatory, by one of my absolutely favorite writers, Meagan Francis at The Happiest Home.
The Lie and Truth About Marriage: Glennon Doyle writes with such power her words burst off the page.
10. We Drove Thru…And Kept On Driving: Rebecca Woolf has been writing movingly about her marriage for years. This post begins with a wedding in Vegas and just keeps on going.
Richard Paul Evans: How I Saved My Marriage (Deseret News): What can happen when you decide to give first. This one hit me in the chest.
Parenting With a Partner: Straightforward advice from Portland family therapist and parent coach Tracey Biebel.
Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life (at Amazon): Kyran Pittman’s memoir should be required reading for all parents. I couldn’t put it down.
And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives, by John Gottman (at Amazon): Parent Hacks reader Michael gave this book the thumbs-up. I’ve read Gottman’s other books and I agree — they’re excellent.
Finally, here’s a two-minute video I shot for the parenting resource Kids In The House on marriage and kids:
Special thanks to Kate Bayless, Elizabeth Cox Nielsen, Tracey Biebel, and everyone else who shared “good read” suggestions with me. They’re linked up in the comments of this Facebook update. (Most of my personal Facebook updates are public; click “Follow” on my personal Facebook profile to see them in your feed.)
If you’ve got a link or thought to add, leave it in the comments here!