Three Under-appreciated Marriage Habits
"A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short."
Have you ever had anyone help you with your marriage?
When Billy and I were first married (almost 19 years ago!), we joined a small group who gave us practical tips on how to go beyond surviving and actually thrive in our newlywed season. Among other things, we learned about Date Nights and why you shouldn't meet your spouse halfway. We loved our experience, so, as a result, Billy and I now lead our own small group of newlyweds.
Our goal is to provide these couples with practical tools for having great marriages. Most conversations are foundational ideas that align couples around topics such as faith, communication, conflict resolution, and finances. These BIG topics are to a marriage what a keel is to a boat; they make up a spine that gives a marriage relationship structure and strength. As we explore the aforementioned BIGGIES, we inevitably touch on the commonalities and differences in couples, on showing love and respect, and on how to serve each other.
We also cover some less foundational, more practical questions about marriage... such as holiday planning (which family gets Thanksgiving and which gets Christmas), dividing household chores, and the ever-vital "10-to-10 rule." These topics are the application of the BIG issues and act the way the rigging on a boat makes the vessel operationally functional.
However, in these myriad discussions, there are at least three practices that do something more subtle, that act as the wind in the sails of the marriage. They are habits which take a while to develop, but their effects are undeniable. The key for a marriage to thrive is to consistently value these practices:
1. Invest in the marriage
This intentionally sounds like a financial term because the principles are the same. Where there is a consistent, regular investment (both with time & money), you will eventually realize a good return. For those of you who are financial nerds whizzes, you know that "dollar cost averaging" is a discipline where money is invested at a regular, predictable clip (regardless of market highs and lows) in order to yield the greatest return. The principle says investing (whether it feels profitable or not...or even if you feel like doing it or not) will balance the highs and lows into an eventual gain.
The same is true with your marriage.
Marriages need regular investment whether spouses feel like it or not. A couple needs to spend time together even when it's expensive or inconvenient to get a sitter. The tough conversations and relational wrestling matches need to be had and worked through even when time (or energy) is in short supply. The "investment" work has to happen on a consistent, predictable basis with your emotions, time, and even finances for a marriage to reap its return and thrive.
2. Protect the marriage
Many families think about boundaries with their children such as enforcing manners, not saying swear words, even thinking through what shows to watch or which friends to have. However, fewer people think about drawing boundaries to protect their marriage.
For example, you need time-management boundaries around work and hobbies in order to consistently communicate to your spouse that they are your first priority. Protecting your marriage means managing seemingly innocuous interactions (such as flirting with a neighbor, friend, or colleague) that leave the door cracked for much greater indiscretions. Protection involves enough introspection to determine how much affirmation you derive from someone other than your spouse. These are all slippery slopes and having guard rails builds trust with your spouse and reduces opportunities for an emotional or physical affair.
Finally, the habit that makes the whole ride worthwhile is...
3. Enjoy your marriage
There's no better way to build and keep a great marriage than to choose to enjoy the company of your spouse. This habit is both general to marriage as an institution and specific to your particular relationship. Do you remember what you loved most about your spouse when you first met them?
We laugh and love easily during dating, but marriage lulls us away from that easy enjoyment. Fight for the fun. Date again. Put away the phones and the laptops and just be.
If you aren't feeling it, just keep "being." Give it some time. Remember enjoyment is reflected in listening to your spouse's stories, laughing at their peculiar sense of humor, or being interested in their world.
There is no higher praise to give someone than simply to enjoy their company.
I've always appreciated the quote, "A ship in a harbor is safe, but this is not what a ship is built for." Marriages aren't safe endeavors; they require you to be vulnerable and love beyond your means. However, I'm not sure there's much in the world that's both exciting and safe.
Harbors are for dinghies. Set sail, catch the wind, and hang on tight.