Over the last year, my husband and I have seen marriage after marriage break up. I don’t know why this year seems to be the year that did so many couples in, but in every aspect of my life, families have split in two.
Friends from high school. Friends from college. Friends from church. Friends from my neighborhood. Friends from my group of other moms whose kids play with mine. Everywhere I go, I come across another failed marriage. I don’t even want to get on my Facebook newsfeed sometimes because I know I will find another one.
My husband and I ache for these families. What heartache they all are going through — husband, wife, and each child. A few years ago, I doubt any one of these couples would have thought it possible that they would split up in 2018. So what happened?
I’ll never know the exact details of each situation, and I don’t need to. All I need to know is that marriage takes work. A concentrated effort to stay connected to your spouse. I don’t want to wake up one morning, look at my husband, and think, “Who is this man? Why am I married to him?”
In fact, I made our last date night very enjoyable by blurting this out while we were eating: “Honey, what are we going to do now to make sure we don’t split up when we’ve been married twenty years?” Thankfully, my husband is used to the way my brain works, and he knew I wasn’t sitting there on our date thinking about divorcing him. 🤣 He joined right in, and together we came up with some ideas — some safeguards — to protect our relationship.
In no particular order, here are some tips to build a strong marriage that will last through the tests of time.
1. Keep a similar schedule.
Everyone knows that communication is the key to a good marriage, but how do you foster good communication? By spending time together. My favorite time of day is when my husband and I go to bed and lie in the dark and whisper like middle schoolers at a slumber party. We have some of our best conversations in those moments.
Communication is the key to marriage,
but how do you foster good communication?
By spending time together.
But we have kids, hobbies, jobs, activities, and so on and on and on. It is very easy for one of us to stay up later than the other and miss that time. I mean, I’m a stay-at-home homeschool mom who likes to write. I could have a completely different schedule than my husband, who has to drive downtown to work in an office five days per week. My husband is a tech guy who has started a successful part-time home business running an eBay store by refurbishing computers and selling them, doing computer repairs, and making this cool adapter cable he figured out himself. (As I write this, he’s sitting across from me working on replacing a tablet screen right now!) He often has to work late at night to get things done.
But after thirteen years of marriage, we know the importance of our late night talks, so whenever possible, we go to bed at the same time.
2. Serve each other.
Wow, this is a doozy for me. After taking care of four children all day, when my husband gets home, I am inclined to let him fend for himself. I don’t want to do another thing for another person. If I am not careful, I can go for days expecting him to serve me without reciprocating and reaching out to him.
erving each other doesn’t have to be anything big. For example, I am a strange human being who doesn’t like coffee. My husband is a coffee fanatic. A few years ago, I learned how to make coffee, and now, when I can, I make him coffee in the mornings. It takes less than a minute, but my husband tells me it makes him feel loved and cared for, so I think it is a very good use of a few seconds out of my morning! My husband knows it is important to me for him to join in cleaning up after dinner. By that time, both of us are exhausted and not excited about more work, but he knows I hate waking up to dirty dishes, so he pitches in and we have good conversations while we clean together.
The worst time in our marriage was after our second child was born. We had tons of stressors in our lives – a cross-country move, a rental house, a pay cut, a fifteen-month old and a newborn with colic. Add in some major anemia for me and a northeast Ohio winter with tons of snow, and you have a recipe for disaster.
I was worn out ALL THE TIME. He was worn out ALL THE TIME. All we did was fight. I wanted him to do more. He wanted me to do more. Our baby cried, vomited, and then cried some more. Peace seemed like a long-lost dream.
But God is good. He used a trip south to visit family to get us to wake up to our selfishness. I realized I wasn’t loving my husband and seeking out ways to show kindness to him. He realized his selfishness, as well. And now we both know how easily we can slip into serving only ourselves, and let me tell you, that kind of attitude destroys relationships very quickly.
3. Listen, for real.
I like to chatter to my husband. I definitely talk more than he does in our relationship. You know what makes me really annoyed? When I am telling a story to him, and I look over and see him scrolling though his phone. Now, he may be listening to me. He might be able to repeat back what I said word for word, but I don’t feel like he truly heard me. In that moment, I feel de-valued and unimportant.
Don’t think I don’t do the same thing to him. Or to my kids. Smart phones are wonderful, but they can be harmful. I need to put away my phone, my computer, the TV, and anything else distracting, and listen when my husband talks to me. The kind of listening where I can ask questions, where I can dig deeper to hear what he is truly saying. I want him to want to talk to me. I want to be a good listener who doesn’t brush him off, who doesn’t interrupt, who helps him think through problems. The one he talks to when he has hard, hurtful days at work. The one he calls when something good happens. I want to know about his co-workers, about his boss, about his projects at work.
And I want him to know about my life. I love it when he meets another homeschool mom I have told him about and he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the one with the two boys from gym and swim class”, even though he’s never met her before. He listened, so he knows my life.
When your spouse talks to you, make sure you listen. Sit down. Turn your phone over so you can’t see any notifications. Look him in the eye, and let him share his thoughts with you.
4. Be vulnerable.
Our culture takes pride in independence, in the attitude that says, “I can do anything. I don’t need anyone.”
Independence is great, but not in a marriage. The purpose of a marriage is to meld two independent lives into one unified life. That means letting my husband see my weaknesses. Letting him help me when I am helpless. That’s hard.
The purpose of a marriage is to meld
two independent lives into one unified life.
In our marriage, I have had the most issues with physical health. Obviously, I was the one who got pregnant and bore children, and in those times, I needed help. Really gross things can happen around pregnancy, and it can be embarrassing to let anyone know what is going on, even your husband. But God arranged it so that I had to let him in, and it was good for both of us. It was good for him to feel needed. It was good for me to learn to accept help as an act of love. In situations like these, I think it is actually easier to be the one taking care of the sick spouse than to be the sick spouse accepting care. I don’t want to be a burden to my husband. I want to be a strong, attractive woman, not a patient in a horrible hospital gown.
But part of marriage is letting your spouse in. So be vulnerable. Let them see your weaknesses, your troubles. Let them help you.
5. Give grace.
When you’ve been married a few years, you learn what your spouse’s triggers are. You know what makes them annoyed, angry, sad, whatever it is. Hopefully, you also learn to give grace in those triggered times. While being tired or hungry is never an excuse for poor behavior, if I know my husband just came in from work, still on a stressful call about a project that’s going wrong, I am not going to pick that time to jump on him if he acts irritated for no reason. I can give him grace. I can just let it go and spare us both a fight. I don’t have to prove myself right. I Peter 4:8 says,
“Love covers a multitude of sins.”
I know I sin a lot. I don’t respond with kindness as often as I should. I am selfish and think more about myself than about my family. My husband, by the grace of God, is learning more each year about when to call me on my sin and when to love me through it and let it go. I strive to be more forgiving with him, as well. He’s human, just like me, and he’s going to make mistakes. I don’t have to react in anger. I can love him and feed him dinner and let him rest. And you know what? Chances are later he’ll come to me himself and apologize for being crabby. Our relationship gets stronger through gracious forgiveness than it does through self-righteous judgement. After all, when I think about how many sins Christ has forgiven me for, how can I expect my husband to be sinless?
Love is so much more than just a few tips. Love is found perfectly only in our Savior, Jesus Christ, but I hope these first five tips will be helpful to you. My next blog post will cover the last five. As always, if you find this post helpful, please share. And if you have any questions about God or the Bible, please send me a message. I would love to talk to you.