This week, we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Our marriage is now old enough to drive a car, though thankfully none of our children are. Wise words of wisdom, here are Sixteen things we learned on our way to sixteen years of marriage.
1. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Not everything that annoys or hurts us is intentional. Think misunderstanding or ignorance before deciding that they have bad intentions.
2. Communication is seriously a key. You have to communicate your needs, your dreams, your hurts. Communication is not always fun, sometimes it is hard, but it is worth the struggle. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful are all important to share.
3. Speak the truth in love. How you communicate is just as important as the transmission of information. Don’t hide how you feel or what you think, but don’t use your words to inflict pain.
4. Pursue their good as well as your own. Listen to their dreams, help them develop their skills and pursue what they love. AND share your dreams, ask for them to participate in pursuing what you love. You might have to take turns, but you are both valuable people who deserve to have your day.
5. Do not intentionally wound them. Just don’t. Not with words, not with actions, not by cutting them off emotionally, or by withholding sex.
6. Spend time together. Play together. Hang out. Even if you just sit in the same room, you are forging bonds that make it easier to trust.
7. Live in the present. Don’t drag up the past, and don’t wish for someday when things will be different. If there is something that needs addressing, fix it now so you have a someday to look forward to. If they did something last week or two years ago, let it go, especially if you have offered forgiveness. If something happened that you didn’t already discuss and it continues to be a problem, go ahead and address it. Then move forward.
8. Have their back. Be a team. Don’t undermine them with the kids, your family, their friends, etc. This does not mean pretending like they are perfect, but a little discretion goes a long way.
9. Brag about them to whoever will listen. Again, this does not mean pretending your spouse is something they are not, but saying the actual positive things about them out loud to another human being helps to remind us and reinforce the notion that we made a good choice.
10. Keep the checkbook open. Be honest and take the time to communicate about the state of your finances. It doesn’t matter who keeps the books as long as both parties know what is in them. Decide together how to set your priorities, and don’t make big purchases without discussing it first.
11. Touch each other. Hold hands, sit with your thighs touching on the couch, put your arm around them and snuggle in. Physical touch helps build intimacy, even when you aren’t being sexual. And it might help stir up some sexy feelings later.
12. Sleep on it. Don’t make big decisions impulsively. Consider the pros and cons of big moves, career changes, child-rearing, etc. Talk about it. Find a way toward consensus if you disagree. Remember these things affect both of your lives.
13. Make new friends, but keep the old… You need mutual friends as well as friends that are only yours. Spend time hanging out together, but leave room for a ladies night or a guys night out.
14. Remember your spouse is your best friend. Don’t share things with anyone that you won’t share with your spouse. This is a dangerous road that can lead to secrets, lies, and in some cases affairs of the heart and more. Even a platonic friend shouldn’t be privy to concerns and dreams you won’t reveal to your spouse.
15. Be careful who you invite into your disputes. Don’t rope others in to fighting your battles for you. Keep your kids out of any argument. Don’t call your mom or his/her mom. At the end of the day, your enemy is this challenge you need to face together, not your spouse.
16. Be fair, but walk in grace. I know, seems contradictory. As far as it is possible, divide responsibilities and rewards evenly. Work out a balance, write it down if you have to
(2 toilets scrubbed = taking out the trash and recyclables, etc.). Try to bring fairness to the forefront, knowing that not everything can be evenly divided. (Except ice cream sandwiches, which can always be divided fairly and over which the fairness rule must always preside.)
This is not, cannot be, an exhaustive list. One thing we did not include, because it has been there from the beginning, is that we built our marriage on the common ground of faith. We have committed to follow God above all else, and to love each other with the love that Jesus modeled. We are imperfect, but through the years we have learned that Divine Love lived out in our marriage looks like the practices above. I hope you find refreshment in them as well.
Sixteen years of marriage, working life out together.