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This weekend, Brian and I will be celebrating 12 years of marriage. (You can read about our engagement here and our wedding here and here.)
In those twelve years we have experienced major purchases, the loss of close family members, the births of two children, personal growth, spiritual growth, job changes for me, and finding true, meaningful friendships with others.
Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect marriage (and if anyone says they have one- they’re lying!), but we have had a great marriage.
I began thinking about what are some basic principles in our marriage that have helped us in our relationship with each other.
Jesus is the center of our relationship- Early in our marriage, our young couples Sunday school teacher taught that the marriage relationship is like a triangle. Each point on the triangle was one of the three members in the relationship- God, your spouse, and yourself. The closer you both move in the direction of God, the closer you get to each other.
Try it! Get a paper, write down the three names in your relationship (with God being at the top most point, put your fingers on the names of you and your spouse and move toward the top point. Cool, huh?
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (NASB) If we seek Jesus above all, all of the other things in our lives (including our marriages) will fall into place. Will it always be cake walk? No. But having Jesus at the center will keep all of the pieces in place.
Permission to ask each other the hard questions- One of the foundations of a good marriage is trust. Sometimes, in order to establish that trust, we have to ask the hard questions, not just the surface questions. Questions that deal with integrity, faithfulness, and the heart. All the way back to our dating days, we gave each other permission to ask the hard questions. But if you are going to ask hard questions the next principle has to also be established….
Total and complete truth and honesty- When asked a hard question, our rule is that complete truth and honesty has to be the answer. After twelve years of marriage, we have established a firm foundation in honesty and truth. We have also learned how to respond to each other in a way that there is no apprehension in being completely honest. (It also helps to have married someone with a predisposition to being truthful. For any Divergent fans out there, Brian would totally be Candor! The jury is still out on which faction I would fit into.)
Full support of each other’s endeavors- Our spouses come to us with things they enjoy doing. Sometimes, our spouse wants to go out on a limb and try something new. Supporting our spouse and their endeavors is crucial.
Brian loves sports. When we were dating he was part of a softball team. While we were engaged, he played basketball with a league (and won the championship I might add). When we were first married, he played basketball in our church gym with some of the other guys. After we had Addie, he rejoined a softball team. He has been a part of Fantasy sports leagues for as long as I have known him…. and I have supported each of these. But I have found that supporting him does not mean we stay in that place forever. Because he has the space and freedom to enjoy these, when he feels the time has come for him to hang it up, he does. I don’t have to tell him to. I don’t have to push him to.
In turn, when a few years ago I was asked to be the interim Children’s Ministry Director at our church, I had Brian’s full support and backing. He jumped in and helped me with chores that had always been “mine” so I could effectively do what I needed to do without worry about my house duties.
Having “our thing”- Do you and your spouse have a “thing”? Something specific to you? Something you enjoy doing together? Brian and I enjoy closing the evening by sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee while watching a show on Netflix. We like to do series shows because we get invested in the lives of the characters (and, yes, I always cry when the series ends). During the shows, something we see may trigger a thought that leads to a conversation. We keep the remote between us so either of us can grab it at anytime, pause the show, talk/laugh/remember something from earlier that day with the kids or work, and then get right back into the show. It’s our thing.
Communication- Communication is more than just talking about your day. As Peta tells Catniss in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, “Friends talk about the deep stuff.” How did something make you feel? Did you read or hear something that made you think? Do you have plans, goals, or ambitions for your family? Is there a direction you want to go, but you need support? These are all questions that can get you started in communication. Just don’t ask them during a sports game… or when he’s really hungry.
We have begun working on communication skills with our children. At dinner we play a game called “High and Low.” We go around the table and each person has to share their “high” for the day and their “low” for the day. That jump starts us into asking deeper questions and moves the conversation further.
And if you are really at a shortage for ideas, you can always take Peta’s cue and ask for a favorite color.
Respecting each other’s role in the relationship- Brian works full time outside of the house, I am a full-time stay at home homeschooling mom. Brian brings home a paycheck, I am investing into the lives of our children. We have chosen these roles for ourselves, and we respect the role we each play in our marriage. No one is looked down on for not bringing in a paycheck, and no one is more revered for bringing home the bacon. Each role is respected…. and when necessary, we gladly help the other in any way we can.
Respecting each other’s convictions- Marriage is made of two people from two different original families with two different sets of convictions. Regardless of whether you agree with the convictions your spouse came in to the marriage with, respecting those convictions is important. Convictions are deeply embedded feelings of right and wrong, and telling someone they are silly to hold a conviction is wrong and definitely not going to build your relationship closer. If anything, it will push you apart.
I came from a home where going to the movies was not permitted. My parents had their reasons for making those rules which I completely understand and respect (they grew up in a time when movie theaters were used for making out in and wanted us to avoid seeing that). Because of those rules, Brian and I did not go to the movies while we were dating even though Brian had no problem with movie theaters. He completely respected the convictions of my family and never questioned them. It took several years of marriage and God establishing my own personal convictions in my heart for me to say it was okay for me to go to the movies with my husband. But I am thankful that there was never any pressure from him to change my convictions.
Always looking out for one another- We each know our spouses strengths and weakness better than anyone else. We know if they are biting off more than they can chew. We know if they are spreading themselves too thin. We know if they are allowing themselves to be a doormat. It’s our job to look out for each other.
Beyond supporting each other, we have always been a sounding board as well. I would remind Brian that as much as I loved watching him play sports, he needed to pull back a bit of the enthusiasm. Pulling hamstrings, spraining ankles, and popping his neck out of place (all things that really did happened) did not allow him to fulfill his responsibilities to our family. In turn, when I make too many plans, Brian reminds me to pull the brakes and plan a few days where we do not leave the house to get the rest the kids and I need.
Freely giving grace- There are going to be days when things don’t get done, when the grass gets too tall, when it has been so busy there are no clean towels, when dirty clothes are left on the bathroom floor, and when take out needs to be picked up. And that is where grace comes in. Grace doesn’t nit pick at what wasn’t done. Grace looks at what was done.
Grace sees the husband who works hard everyday, who comes home exhausted, and lets his kids jump on him.
Grace sees the wife who has taken her kids out of the house for the day, who has given them new experiences to put under their belt, and who still completes the bedtime routine even though she just wants to put her feet up.
We all need grace.
Laughing/having fun together- Can you laugh with each other over the smallest thing? Can you have fun with each other anywhere? Can you turn an evening at home into an adventure?
We have had progressive dinners around the house.
We have laughed hysterically over the no clean towels incident mentioned above.
We have pulled out plastic hangers, pretended they are bows and arrows, and chased the kids around the house while shouting Robin Hood quotes.
We have made popcorn, rented a long awaited movie, and created a date night for ourselves.
We have pulled up carpeting (and laughed), rearranged furniture, and turned it into an adventure.
We have looked for all of the loose change in our home and cars and gone on a date with just that and discovered how creative we could really be.
Spending quality time together without the kids- Children are a blessing. Always. But one day our children will grow up and leave us. Will you be left with a stranger or with your best friend?
Growing up, my parents always went away once a year by themselves. Sometimes it was for a weekend, sometimes it was for a week. But they always spent time together without us. And Brian and I have followed suite.
Now, you don’t always have to go away. Having a date night works. If you can’t pull off getting a babysitter, you can spend time together at home, too. One of my favorite sites for at home date night ideas is the Dating Divas website.
And because the day after our wedding anniversary is the 13th anniversary of our first date, here is a bonus principle.
Don’t allow friendships to replace the deep relationship that should be shared with your husband- Friendships are valuable. Friendships are important. But don’t ever allow a friendship to replace the relationship you have with your spouse. The relationship you share needs to be protected, cherished, and valued more highly than any other relationship you have.