Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a newly-wed, not married or lying. No matter how awesome your spouse is, no matter how much you love each other, the daily grind of real life with two people can be tricky at the best of times. Throw in some life hurdles and it can be really, really tough.
I’m not knocking marriage here. I love my husband and I think we have a pretty fantastic marriage, but we work at it. When we get busy with life and stop working at it, we both feel it. We start to feel a little distant from each other. We start to notice the things the other is NOT doing rather than appreciating what they ARE doing. We start to focus on all of the things WE ARE doing and how unappreciated we feel rather than on what THE OTHER PERSON is doing and how we can make the other person feel appreciated.
A few years ago, when we both were feeling less than appreciated and that things weren’t going especially well in our marriage, we got the news that our friends who had been married for ages and (we thought) had a great marriage were getting a divorce. We were both shocked and saddened by the news. They are both good people with amazing qualities…..it seems like a no-brainer that they would be great partners in their marriage and could work through anything together. But they didn’t…they couldn’t…they were done.
It made us both stop and take a long look at our marriage. We planned a much needed date night where we had dinner and talked about their marriage and then our marriage and how we could make it better and stronger. We went to the bookstore and bought a book: “Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America’s Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship” by John M. Gottman. We agreed to take turns reading a chapter each week and discussing the highlights and points that we felt could help us. Not because we were broken…we weren’t. We were okay, but wanted to be better and stronger and unbreakable.
We worked through the book together. We realized that neither of us feel comfortable bringing up a perceived grievance because we don’t want to hurt each other. We decided to make up a “State of the Marriage Quiz” that we could take periodically just to make sure we both had a non-confrontational way to air grievances and work on them BEFORE they get to be a big problem.
We decided to date each other again. We try to have a “just us” date night every couple of weeks. Sometimes it is a “going out night” (we are lucky enough to have grandparents near enough to babysit regularly). Sometimes it is a “staying in date night” where we put the kids to bed early and have dinner together, watch a movie we have recorded, play a game together, or lay on the hammock and snuggle under the stars.
We talked about a few of the parenting strategies that we differed on and talked through what our end goals are (raising healthy, loving, productive members of society). We came up with some plans for how to blend our parenting styles into one strong and united front so that the kids can’t unintentionally become a wedge between us.
This sounds like we had one big giant conversation that made things perfect. That isn’t right. We had lots of small conversations….lots of discussions over chapters in the Gottman book and how they applied (or didn’t apply) to us…..lots of date nights where we had the chance to talk about our wants, needs, fears, dreams and frustrations, from the every day little ones to the giant, life-changing ones.
As we went through these many conversations and dates and chapter discussions, we found ourselves feeling more loved and appreciated. We both started doing more little things to express love to each other and we started NOTICING and showing gratitude for every little thing the other person did for us.
Example: My sweet husband gets a glass of ice water for each of us every night before bed and puts it on the bedside table. He always has and, in the many years we’ve been together, I have had a sip of that ice water at some point every single night. I had come to expect it and would have been unhappy to reach for it one night to find it missing, yet I had never told him how much I appreciated that loving gesture. During this process, I found as many of those little things that he did for me and told him how much I loved him for those little things. I managed NOT to point out any of the little things I did for him…..I just trusted that he would start noticing and appreciating some of them on his own. And he did. And it felt so much better to know that he got there on his own without me having to direct him.
So now we’re awesome and perfect and….um. Wait. Back to the first line: Marriage is hard. It takes work. We still have to work on us all the time. Even with date night and trying to appreciate each other more, we still go on living our lives. And after a few weeks, or months or a year, we may wake up again and realize we haven’t had a “real” conversation that didn’t include the kids’ behavior or the next week’s to-do list. So we again have to take a moment to refocus and recommit to working on TEAM US. We’re a work in progress. Our marriage is a highway, not a destination.
Reminders and ideas for keeping a marriage strong are really helpful for me….I love finding cool websites that talk about how to date your spouse, seeing cool pinterest pins about romantic things you can do to fan the flames of your marriage, hearing great stories about how other people keep the spark, learning cool techniques from books or friends about how to stay positive in your marriage…..I need these things and love finding them and sharing them. I am going to post a few links now, and I will add to them as I find others.
The Dating Divas: Strengthening Marriage One Date at a Time (Seriously great ideas—I need to take some time and scroll through this whole website)
Need automated reminders for anniversary, birthday or just to do a romantic thing? Try this: Automatic Romantic
Five Love Languages (sometimes understanding that you and your spouse are just speaking a different love language helps a lot)
Have a great website or idea you’ve come across? I’d love to hear it.
Spark it up.