Part One, Part Two) I want to say something here that should have been said at the beginning- I hope you understand that this isn't to make anyone who is divorced feel bad. Divorce stinks. It is so painful and tragic- if you have had to go through the pain of a divorce- my heart goes out to you and your family. I am so sorry. The goal of this series to help couples have happier, safer marriages- not to shame anyone who has had a divorce. Nothing but love, people! I delayed this post so that John could weigh in. Basically, he read what I wrote and then added his two cents in below in orange. You have never heard from John so this is exciting. He's such a great guy- I should have him guest blog some time. I have no idea why he never has before! Christine and I thing a lot alike, so you may see some cross over between her comments and mine, but I wanted to keep them in still so that John could give his opinion. Here we go!
1) Fierce about Facebook: Did you know that facebook is now listed as being a factor in 33% of divorces? (2011) People are getting on facebook and reconnecting with old flames, deciding the grass *was greener* on the other side and leaving. Be careful how you use facebook. John had an ex-girlfriend message him multiple times on facebook, when he wouldn't respond, she messaged again and told him she was having marital problems and wanted his help. That is so beyond inappropriate that I don't think it even needs commentary. His response? He blocked her. Bravo, baby! Be cautious... if you find yourself lurking on an ex's page, maybe you shouldn't be his/her social media friend. All inappropriate relationships start in the heart before they manifest themselves in the physical. Remove the temptation. Along that same note, John is also very careful about who he is friends with in general. He doesn't see the need to have tons of female facebook friends, so unless he actually knows the girl in a legitimate/necessary way he won't add her. If you're female and have requested his friendship multiple times without him accepting you, this is why.
Generally, looking to the past is a no-no in my opinion for several reasons. Mostly, though, it can cause discontentment in a lot of people's lives. There is always a sneaking monster that wants to revert you back to your "high school lifestyle" as it is, so the less you feed it, the less it tends to rear its ugly head. Honestly, I think it is just unhealthy to constantly compare and look at not only YOUR old significant others, but also to look at others' relationships and create a competition between you and them for no good reason. Be content in your own relationships and use facebook as a way to connect with old friends in a very hands-off, I-want-to-see-photos-of-your-children type of way--not using it as a means to reconnect with your past. That is unfair to them, your spouse and frankly, to you. Facebook is wonderful in the right contexts and can be valuable for reconnecting with friends, just make sure the reconnecting is appropriate and respectful to your spouse. And yes, I have a very strict filter for friends on facebook--don't get your feelings hurt ;)
2) Platonic friendships: This is kind of along the same vein, but watch your friendships, too. I'm not going to say, "don't have friends of the opposite sex" ... I'd be a hypocrite. I have two very, very good male friends (Silvio + Memo, that's you!). They happen to live in different countries, so we aren't hanging out in coffee shops or anything, but they are legitimate friends. I appreciate that after I married John, both of them made efforts to become friends with my new husband (and succeeded! When Silvio came to visit us in America, they teamed up against me...). In your friendships/relations with co-workers, think to yourself, "if my spouse saw/heard/read this interaction, would I be ashamed or try to hide it?" If you would, then cut and run. And don't go back. Also, be honest with your spouse. If a friendship is making you uncomfortable, say so. And give your spouse the opportunity as well. Sometimes your "friend" may want to be more and is just biding his/her time... you may not be able to see through it, but generally your spouse will.
This one is insanely easy for me to speak to. My background is in church ministry, so I always make sure my interaction could never be construed as anything but professional. I almost error on the side of TOO much caution. It even extends to limited interaction in social situations being alone with other females and just making sure that anything I say or do would never be taken the wrong way. I am friendly with everyone to the best of my ability (if it is after a certain time in the morning--not my best work is done before 8am). it even extends to what I talked about in number one, with not always accepting females as facebook friends. I am just under the conviction that there are certain things that we don't always have to be involved in once we have chosen a spouse. Please don't read this as me being cold or distant--just cautious. It is smart, because too many affairs and too much philandering start with a look, a laugh, a conversation and the list goes on. The more you value accountability and practice good social conduct in respect to your spouse, the less likely that anything will ever leave you yearning for someone else. Be nice...don't be flirty ;)
3) Speak the same language. Read Gary Chapman's book, 'The Five Love Languages'. I had to study it in school. It's all about how each person has a language that they use to communicate love with (personal touch, gift giving, words of affirmation, service, time) and you need to learn to communicate love in your spouses language. You may have just read that list and known exactly what your language was, but you also may have no idea. Chapman talks about how there are two kinds of people who have a hard time knowing, those who have had an empty tank or too long and those who have had a full tank for too long. I don't want to say anymore about this because I want you to read the book! It will be fantastic for your marriage. Also, my guest blogger, Christine- family + couple therapist extraordinaire ALSO recommended this book... which should tell you how fantastic it is. We didn't compare notes.
This book is the penultimate book on how to make your spouse feel loved. It sounds cliche, it sounds old-fashioned, it sounds "square" if you wish...but.it.works. This book is full of truth. If you are married and do not have this book...get into the delorean and go back to yesterday and buy it ;) It is one of the best resources for pre-marital counseling that I can think of. If you get two people to buy into this system of give and take, you will have a marriage that will last no matter the circumstances. Marriage is predicated around the idea that two individuals become ONE. The problem is, we are "individuals"--we are different. If you can learn what makes the other individual tick, you will always have that arrow in your quiver. We become more and more like each other when we love and learn how to make the other feel fulfilled; because it no longer becomes a selfish endeavor for me...it becomes a unified journey to make things work for "us".
4) Be unreserved. Your relationship with your spouse should have no reservations. None. You shouldn't be afraid to say/do/be anything in his/her presence. Being yourself around your spouse, sharing your innermost heart, being totally free... sure it's vulnerable, but it's necessary. It will build trust + bonds, two things that will keep you together through the toughest times. Plus, your quality of life will go WAY up!
Men who read this blog (chirp, chirp)....you will have the hardest time with this. I get it, you don't want to share your feelings, you don't want to be vulnerable, you don't want to show weakness. It is a much more fulfilling union if you can just let go and be free. There is a first time for everything, and guess what? She is going to see it all....ALL. Hear it all, see it all, smell it all...it will happen. The good news is, if you can both get on board with putting it all out there, you will be so much stronger in your relationship. I knew a professor in college whose wife NEVER let him see her without her makeup on. How sad is it for him that she doesn't trust him to look beneath her physical appearance and how sad is it for HER that she feels that insecure with the one person she has pledged her life to? Not a situation I would want you all to be in. Embrace freedom...but just with each other--if you involve the general population, it's bound to get weird ;)
5) Be friends. I read (still trying to track it down) an article all about how being friends with your spouse is one of the top ways to keep your marriage forever. It's so cliche. We're the best of friends. We were friends for a long time before we dated, we'll be friends until death do us part. If you didn't marry someone who you consider a friend, it's never too late to change that. C.S. Lewis said that "friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" and it's true! Find common ground, some hobby, activity, show, passion, cause ... whatever... that you both love and do it together. If you can build a friendship, you'll stand the test of time, long after passion fades. You should also never stop dating your spouse! Click HERE and HERE for a zillion free or super cheap dates that I posted last year.
Number 5 is my favorite. It is always nice to have friends. But if you're like me, it's nice to have just ONE person that you can share everything with. It helps that my wife and I have so many things in common and so much weirdness that we both make each other laugh and smile and have fun. But even if you live on different planets socially, athletically, intellectually, vocationally any of these differences can be overcome by a commitment to finding a common interest and exploiting it for all it is worth. Be friends with each other FIRST. The easiest way to build something is to start at the bottom, with a foundation. This is good for a marriage that may be WAY off base (in that couple's eyes). Keep it simple and draw on something that you both love. For example, you both like sports (for sake of example)--watch games on tv, go to live sporting events, go shopping and buy each other jerseys, collect baseball cards together (?).....yeah, that last one is odd. The point is, every passion that you may have in common can be exploited and sprout into many things that you can share together. Find a friend in your spouse...and hang out with them in every way possible--you might learn something new that you both love together.
6) Live on the little things. Life is made up of all the little, mundane, daily things... wouldn't you agree? So live on them. Be satisfied in the little things. Does your spouse always pack you a lunch? Does s/he wipe off your car for your in the winter? What considerate things does your spouse do for you that may seem little? Learn to recognize the beauty in that. And also, do lots of little things for your spouse. Leave notes in that lunch you pack daily, or on the mirror after you take a shower in the morning. Treasure the little, daily moments. You'll experience many more of them than grand romantic gestures, exotic vacations + new, expensive presents
I recently learned that I love coffee....yep, my mouth just started watering--it's a sickness. There's nothing better for me than going to our favorite coffee shop and sharing a coffee. It's five dollars, but the conversation, the coffee, the praising and/or complaining about the barista's concoction, the coffee, spending valuable time with my wife talking the day out, the coffee and just the entire experience is a treasure for me. It is quite literally the smallest, most basic "date" that you can come up with, but it's a little thing that I wouldn't trade for the world. (disclaimer: I don't love coffee more than my wife)
7) Remember that we're mortal. I'm about to get all morbid on you. "In all things, consider the end" is kind of how I live. Tucked in the corner of my mind is always the truth that one day you will kiss a loved one goodbye for the last time, and not even know it. It haunts me. But in a way it's helpful- I don't get mad at John for little trifles. We never part with anything but genuine love. I'm always grateful for him (and everyone I love). Live is fragile. In the light of eternity, does it matter if your spouse left her makeup on the bathroom counter or didn't remember to take the garbage out? Ps- don't ever send me anything about the brevity of life. I'm well aware. If you do- you'll have to face John's wrath.
Let me reiterate, because I like to sleep at night without a tossing wife who can't sleep because someone spoke of death, please don't forward my wife those things on facebook about the old couples who had a "notebook" type end, beginning or anything in between that would be sad, sentimental or remind her of the fact that we will pass from this life at some point a looooong time from now. And don't even get her started on Up (she didn't stop clutching me for a month after we watched that movie). All of that said, I tend to error on the OTHER side of the spectrum and sometimes am guilty of not understanding this one. Our time IS precious and don't ever fail to take every opportunity to let your spouse know their value to you. This one is double-edged, because while I don't fully understand the morbidity, I will never ever wonder if I'm appreciated by my wife, and you owe it to your spouse to let them know that you think they are worth every living second that they have to offer on this earth. I can think of no one on this earth who more fiercely would remind their spouse of how much they love them than my wife...but I challenge you to try and match her in your posture toward your spouse ;)
8) Love is peanut butter ice cream. This one of the first blog posts I ever wrote. It's all about how when you love someone, you put him or her first. That particular day, I wanted a different variety of ice cream, but we got peanut butter instead because it's John's favorite and I adore him. Learn to sacrifice for your spouse, putting him/her above yourself.
Do you NEED it...or could the money be used for something else? We went through a whole phase where everything went through this filter. We still do, but now it is more of a lifestyle and the question doesn't have to be asked, it is just ingrained. Do yourself a favor and sacrifice for your spouse. In a no-I'm-not-talking-about-karma way, this will return to you in ways that you can't imagine. It is much more enjoyable for me to watch my wife get excited over getting something that she wants than for me to have another piece of technology that I want. But what lasts longer: the happiness and fulfillment of your spouse, or the latest gadget? They are shiny and fun and generally awesome...but the things you hold in your hands and play with will never match that deeper quality of commitment that your spouse will understand when you put them first. If it is reciprocal, you will have your day in the sun at some point, but let her have her day--it's much more enjoyable :)
9) Fake it til you make it. I read a marriage counselor's advice once who spoke about his success with training spouses to act the way they wanted their spouse to act. It was really hard because usually once a spouse comes in to speak with a counselor, things have already gotten bad and they aren't interested in putting in more effort with someone who seems uninterested. But it works. If you consistently love your spouse and treat him/her with respect *even when it isn't reciprocal*... generally your spouse will do the same after some time (though sadly, not always). An example was given of a couple who was asked to write down their frustrations for one month and store them in a box instead of expressing them. So each time the husband messed up, the wife would go over, write out the offence and stick it in the jar. The husband was to do the same. At the end of the month, they would read them together. The wife went first and berated her husband for each little misunderstanding or forgotten errand + chore. When the husband's turn came, the wife discovered that he had written "I love you" on every single piece of paper. Wow. He made vows to love her for better or *for worse*. It made a huge difference in their marriage from then on. (fake it til you make it? If you act like you're in love, behave like you're desperately in love and treat your spouse like the hung the moon... eventually the feelings of love will follow. "Love is just as much a question of the will as it is the emotion."- Ravi Zacharias)
The easiest way to say something is to say it without words. If you want your spouse to work on an area that you feel they are deficient in, go there with them. This most commonly comes up with working out/fitness. If you feel he is out of shape, offer to workout WITH him--you both benefit. If he is unorganized, get him an address book...don't tell him that he's lazy? If she shops too much or spends too haphazardly, sit down and set a budget. This is how arguments and "bottling up" anger/resentment can be avoided. Talk to each other, work these issues out...your 60 year-old selves will thank you.
10) Don't sacrifice what you most want... for what you want right now. This is a good affair-proofer. Remember that you can never, ever take anything back. Don't sacrifice your marriage, your family, your life together for something as fleeting as a 'heat of the moment' kiss or worse. Even if you can save your marriage after an affair, the road will be long and arduous and there will be much lost along the way.
This can be avoided by THINKING. Use your head, husbands and wives...what tentacles could this action grow? What avenues will it take you down. Things you say, can't be taken back...Things you DO can't be taken back. Live a life of fidelity and respect to your spouse. THINK before you act...you are not an animal, you have the ability to reason and understand consequences. If you say, "it's just the way I am" or "I can't help it" you go down a notch in the food chain...you are placing yourself among animals that only act on urges and not on reason. Think about it.
11) Your marriage is sacred. And it is what you make of it. You have the power, as a couple, to make your marriage look *however you want*. In your home, in your own little world, you can create your very own kingdom. It can be silly, serious, fun, wild, whatever you want. Make your marriage sacred, treat it as though it is sacred. It isn't something to trifle with or treat like a trend. Take care of it. Invest time in it. Plot out goals together. Celebrate milestones, celebrate your marriage. It's yours. And there is no other couple like you in the world... no other marriage like yours in the world. It is unique. How do you treat something that is sacred? With respect. With care. With admiration. Treat it as though it is special, and it will be.
I'd like to think that our marriage is not only sacred...it's weird! Make traditions, stick to them, make a point to spend time with your spouse and don't cancel those plans for anything...ANYTHING, if you can at ALL help it. We treat our nights together as sacred and nothing can trump them. This one speaks for itself, in my opinion. But if you have questions, we will be watching tv on a laptop in our fort in the living room.....yep.
12) Love is spelled T-I-M-E. So stinking corny. Whatever, I don't care... it's true. You can't expect your marriage to be healthy if you never spend time together. John and I had a long distance relationship while we dated and then a commuter marriage for a long time. We learned the value of spending time together and literally *treasure* every evening together because for so long they were extremely rare. Life is so extremely busy these days, but don't let that crowd out quality time (alone) with your spouse. My best friend has done a great job of this- every single week she and her husband have a date night, despite the fact that they have a baby at home! Have a trade off with another couple if you have children- you'll take their kids for a night and then they'll take yours. Money problem solved. Spend time with your spouse, otherwise instead of growing old together, you'll just grow apart. Cut out activities, cut down hours and have a smaller home/lower style of living. Do what you need to do. What's the point in a big, beautiful home if you don't share it with the person you love?
Piggy-backing on number 11, marriage is sacred and you need to carve out time to make your spouse feel like they are more important that your hobbies or your friends or your video games or your iphone or your computer or facebook....or all the other things that waste our time and have no eternal value. Your spouse is here for the duration, spend time with them, because life IS fragile and you never know how much time you may be given. Playing a card game or watching a movie with your spouse is more important than your fantasy football team (believe it or not). Invest time in the thing that will last your entire life...that iphone will be obsolete in September ;)
13) Get to the root. John and I have practiced this since forever. I mentioned it briefly in part one. Whenever an issue arises, get to the root of the problem. Often times, you'll see symptoms of an issue (ps- generally an affair is a symptom of a deeper problem) in a marriage and just treat them instead of digging deeper to the root of the problem. I used to always get weird when John played guitar. If he stopped playing, that would just be treating the symptom and he would end up unhappy. Instead, we went to the root of the problem- I associate his guitar with a very bad period in our relationship, so when he plays it, I would feel some of those feelings again (amazing- I didn't even realize it at first). Maybe the root of the problem is a fight you had 6 years ago that was never resolved, or a job that was taken to satisfy the need for a bigger, better whatever. It could be a relationship that your spouse feels threatened by. It could be anything. Don't listen to the symptoms, look for the root.
I will write a book on this....if you promise to buy it ;) Digging deeper to the root of the issue is the ONLY way to make it disappear. I promise you, no matter what the argument, it can be boiled down to one word, one action, one THING. Until you dig and dig and find the root, you're placing band-aids on gaping wounds. What is REALLY bothering him/her? "I'm fine" never means that they are fine. Don't let him/her get off that easily. Rooting out issues is kind of my thing...and it sometimes drives people crazy. But what you have when you dig is better chance to find the root cause and also, if your spouse sees that you genuinely want to get to the heart of the matter, they will understand that you love them on an even deeper level. Don't be afraid to upset your spouse in this matter, because it needs to be fixed, or it will just keep coming back up. You'll know when it's rooted out...it generally is indicated by some heated arguments, some crying, some apologizing, some late nights and sometimes sleeping on the couch. It's worth it to get to the root of the problem. I could speak to this for hours....I will spare you.
14) Choose your battles. John is so laid back. Something has to really bother him or he lets it slide off his back. I'm trying to be that way. Not every hill is worth dying on. Learn to let things go and give each other passes, you'll be much happier. That doesn't mean that you bottle up the big issues, it just means that you learn to differentiate between big and small.
I'm the king of this...learn this phrase, "it's no big deal". It helps if you couple it with a shoulder shrug and if you do it right, sometimes your right eyebrow comes down at an angle toward your nose. Life is too short to worry about if the house is always "white glove" clean or if your shoes are put back where they go....or if you can't find your favorite shirt...or you don't have one single pair of black dress socks because the matches are all over the pla....wait, I PROMISE these things don't bother me ;) In all seriousness, it just goes back to what we are both saying. When you see the significance of marriage and investing your time in your spouse, the insignificant details melt away. I'm not willing to make anything a deal-breaker that doesn't affect the long-term outcome of my relationship with my wife....it's just not worth it--I can wear mismatched socks.
15) You're on the same team. This is a bit like Christine spoke about in part 2. You aren't competing against each other. When you have an issue, you aren't on opposing sides. You are always, always, always on the same team. Team (insert your marriage here). If you remember that you're on the same team, working toward the same goal (a healthier, happier, lasting marriage) then you will "fight fairly" and achieve those goals much more quickly.
Sooo......don't keep score. There aren't losers in a healthy marriage. I mean, c'mon...you landed her, didn't you? You've already won ;)
16) Value each other. Just like your marriage should be treated like it is special (because it is), treat your spouse the same way, too. At one point you were wooing this person and were willing to do ANYTHING for him/her. Remember that? I baked pan after pan of baklava for John when we were dating. I recently made it and he was overjoyed. He reminded me (not trying to be unkind or anything of the sort) that I hadn't made it in over three years. It broke my heart... just because I've "won" him doesn't mean I should stop wooing him. Ever. Think of the words you use for your spouse, do you build him/her up or tear him/her down with those words? Whenever I hear a spouse spit out, "Wow. You did something right for once." it hurts. Build your spouse up, especially in public. If you treat him like he can do *anything*, he most likely will. Words will hurt us, we know that. Use yours to make your spouse feel loved, competent, appreciated and special. On that note- I have to publicly brag about John. He has never said an unkind word to me, or raised his voice at me. I am so blessed.
My wife is great at this...and I hope I am even in the same atmosphere with her in my reciprocation of this. I often have to say, "allright...they've heard enough". You'd think from listening to her that I'm some sort of Mozart/Beethoven musical genius who can play every instrument to perfection while sleeping...this simply isn't true. But what she said above is very encouraging, "treat him like he can do anything and he most likely will". It is a comforting thought to know that there is someone in this world that thinks you can do anything. Do you know how easy it would be to do anything if you knew that you simply couldn't fail? Everyone...treat your spouse like they can't fail and stand back and watch what they accomplish. And even if it isn't an accomplishment in society's eyes, you will always think of them as a winner...and that's the most important part.
17) Have selective memory. Choose to remember the good days, not the bad. Choose to forget the fights, the incidents of unkindness or forgetfulness.
Focusing on the bad builds resentment. Dig up the problems, fix them, root them out....and then, throw them into the shredder. Don't keep score. Don't "save" it for the next fight so that you can "win"...we covered that. The only person who loses in a marriage that keeps score is the "winner" of the game. Selective memory will save you a lot of grief...and your hair won't turn gray as soon. Unless you have some weird fascination with gray hair....? Yeah...next?
18) Be committed. If you aren't committed to the marriage, nothing else matters. You have to be committed, all in, to making the marriage work. If you aren't, figure out why (go to the root!) and fix it. Are you tired? Do you feel unappreciated? What needs to happen for you to feel committed again?
You signed on the dotted line. At one point, either yesterday, two years ago, thirty years ago or during the Great Depression, you decided that this person was worth your life. You owe it to them to recommit to that every day that you have on this earth. Marriage is a contract. If you can't be trusted in a marriage with the one person that you have made a commitment to, then don't come knocking on my door to do business with you. Marriage is the ONE thing on this earth that you have to give your all to. If you can't...I have serious doubts about your operation in other facets of life. Have integrity in your marriage, make the best of it...and above all, commit to it. There is nothing more rewarding than having a healthy marriage. The best compliment I have received to date was this weekend when a co-worker told me that I "had that marriage thing down" and that I looked "genuinely happy" in all of my pictures on facebook. I'm not a marriage guru, and not even qualified to tell you how to do this...but I know that I'm "genuinely happy" and that I "have this marriage thing down" so far...my secret? my goal? Everyday commitment. That's what this whole thing is predicated on. I'm out....boom!
19) Hyman's Seafood. Go to Charleston, SC and eat there. It will change your marriage. Well- actually no... but it WILL change your life and give you two something to bond over! Best seafood on the East Coast, voted time and time again! Anyway- when we ate there last Spring we took home a little card from the table that said '40 Promises For Marriage' and I want to leave you with that... so here they are (author: Steve Stephens)
1) Start each day with a kiss.
2) Wear your wedding day at all times.
3) Date once a week.
4) Accept differences.
5) Be polite.
6) Give gifts.
7) Smile often.
9) Give back rubs.
10) Laugh together.
11) Send a card for no reason.
12) Do what the other person wants before he or she asks.
15) Know his or her needs.
16) Fix the other person's breakfast.
17) Compliment twice a day.
18) Call during the day.
19) Slow down.
20) Hold hands.
22) Ask for the other's opinion.
23) Show respect.
24) Look your best.
25) Celebrate birthdays in a big way.
28) Set up a romantic getaway.
29) Be positive.
30) Be kind.
31) Be vulnerable.F32) Respond quickly to the other person's request.
33) Reminisce about your favorite times together.
34) Treat each other's friends and relatives with courtesy.
35) Send flowers each Valentine's Day and anniversary.
36) Admit when wrong.
37) Be sensitive to each other's sexual desires.
38) Pray for each other daily.
39) Say "I love you" frequently.
40) Seek outside help when needed.
You haven't eaten there yet? ....seriously, what's your problem?
Tomorrow will be the last day of our marriage series, we'll be sharing personal testimony from married couples about what keeps THEM together. After that I was supposed to start a sewing series, but I'll postpone it to give some space between series. I do have some fun + easy refashions for fall to show you! I absolutely LOVE the autumn, but I'm not looking forward to the winter that follows it.
Until tomorrow, have a fantastic day! All the best and as always, thanks for reading!