Six Little Things That Make a Big Difference

August 28, 2017

When we go through significant change in life, there are rarely times people don't offer unsolicited advice.  Whether it be a new job, leaving for college, getting married, or having a baby people love to tell you their two cents.  Most of the time the advice is just in passing and sometimes feels a little brash.  I like to call that advice "hit and stun."

However, most people just want you to know they've been where you are and want the best for you.  My husband and I have been married for just over nine years and one of the greatest honors we've had in our marriage is doing pre-marital counseling for other couples.  It is extraordinarily fun to sit down with couples and talk really candidly about the ups and downs of the hardest thing you'll ever love to do; being married.  And the only reason Noah and I feel qualified to discuss these kinds of truths with other couples is because we had an exceptional couple counsel us and give us the tools we needed in our marriage before we ever said "I do."

When people ask me for wedding planning advice my number one, holy grail tip is this: have a wedding for a marriage and not a marriage for a wedding.  Now we can unpack that forever, but instead I thought I'd give a few pieces of advice that helped us make it through our first year.  
#1 - Go to bed at the same time

Seriously.  Sometimes people say "well I'm a night owl" or "he's a morning person so he goes to bed early."  Marriage isn't about changing who you are, but your sleeping habits do not in any way define you in your core identity, so they are not an excuse.  Marriage is about orienting your lives around one another so that the spaces you share are sacred spaces.  Going to bed at the same time means you put aside the other things in your life that distract you, even if they are good things, and saying this time with your love means more than they do.  Plus, going to bed is fun, I mean you can.... sleep.... :)

Oh, speaking of sleep...

#2 - Go to bed angry

Everyone has heard the adage "Don't let the sun go down on your anger."  Unfortunately that's been applied to so many marriages that it has caused lots of sleepless nights.  Let me give you some context to that phrase.  Yes it is half a verse in the Bible.  No, it is not the whole story.  That chapter in Ephesians is talking about maintaining peace in the community, giving grace and love and hope at all times.  It's about no longer living like those around you who cheat and steal and lie and kill.  So the first half says "In your anger do not sin." and then the thing about the sun going down.  If you are so angry at your spouse you feel like cheating, lying, stealing or killing, then yes, stay awake until you figure out that's a bad idea and then get counseling.  

Other than that, sleep on it.  When my emotions run high, when I feel wronged or upset or that I have a legitimate reason to be angry I also have a tendency to say whatever pops into my head and that is usually way more trouble than I started with.  There are few things that bring more clarity to tired and frustrated souls than a good night's sleep.  More often than not the morning and a cup of coffee bring new perspectives and forgiveness much more quickly than late night, heated conversations.
#3 - Look Up

So Noah and I were married for five years before we got smart phones.  Seriously.  First and foremost we couldn't afford them, but also we didn't see the necessity in them.  Now that we have them, they probably still aren't necessary but they are with us constantly.  There are a million and a half things that pull at our attention every moment and it seems like 84% of those things are connected to our screens. 

When your spouse is talking, look up.  Or at least ask for permission to finish what you're doing so you can look up.  Very few things will make someone feel devalued faster than a lack of eye contact, when they are communicating.  You learned this in Kindergarten.  You learned to look at your teacher when she was talking.  If a five-year-old can do it, so can you.

#4 - Help the House

If it's in your home, it's your responsibility.  The dishes are not one person's job and the laundry is not another's domain.  You can definitely split the workload evenly but don't say that sweeping the floor is "helping your wife" or taking out the trash is "helping your husband."  It's your home, the shared and sacred space to which you are both giving 100% of yourselves and the way you talk about your home is important.  And when the other takes that responsibility seriously, thank them for it, without any bit of sarcasm or defensiveness, gratitude brings about growth every single time. 

Speaking of sarcasm...
#5 - Watch Your Mouth

My husband and I have always had quick wits.  In fact the first time I ever met his college friends they would clap for me because I could out-wit the master of quick comebacks.  Most of the time we would laugh and call it sarcasm.  But as we fell deeper in love we realized those comebacks came with barbs more often than we hoped.  One of the best pieces of encouragement we received from our pre-marital counseling sessions was to watch our mouths.  We thought we could be above it, we could master sarcasm as a love language.  But it never failed that we would start with little jabs, little funny smart aleck comments and eventually they would push buttons and finally they would hurt.  One of my husband's love languages is words of encouragement, why would I use that language against him?

In the same vein, watch how you talk about your forever-partner in the company of others.  If you heard them say the same about you would you be humbled or horrified?  You learned this golden rule in Kindergarten as well, keep it up.

#6 - Date Your Spouse

Marriage is not the end of romance and dating.  You haven't reached a finish line where the work is done, in fact the work is only beginning.  Fit date nights into your budgets even if that budget includes childcare swaps, cheap wine from Trader Joe's and movies in the park from just beyond the lawn so you don't have to pay.  Spending time together outside your day to day schedule is an invaluable way to stay connected, to share dreams and hopes and leave the weight of reality behind for just a few moments.  Remember what you love about them, remember what makes your heart soar and tell it to each other.  Greenlight their greatest passions and smallest ideas without the harshness of logistics if only for an hour.  And then make sure to go on another date soon enough to remember how great that last date felt.

OK, so those are my six things for today.  This is obviously not a "six steps to a perfectly happy marriage" and frankly I think those lists are a lie.  Marriage is huge and complex and ever-changing and an absolute TON of work.  But it's the best kind of work, so do it well, do it right and bring champagne.

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