It's that time of year....wedding season! The bridal shops are swarming with last minute alterations, the bakeries are pushing out tiers and tiers of buttercreme and fondant, and everyone is going slightly nuts over seating arrangements. But that's all to be expected, because it's a special day, the beginning of a union and partnership that - hopefully - will last a lifetime.
Like so many, my husband and I had a summer wedding. In fact, yesterday was our anniversary. And like many other bridezillas, I had my terrible moments that I would rather blot from my memory bank. But the wedding, while beautiful and fun, is only one day. The marriage is what lasts - hopefully - forever.
But what makes a marriage work? More marriages are falling apart, and we're not just talking about the media spectacles of holy bliss that last for less than three months. Marriages between loving, caring, Christians as well as nonchristians adults fully intended to stay together, find themselves in divorce court.
No wonder more and more couples are opting to live together without the promise of life long commitment. What hope is there?
Before I continue, let me say that I'm not here to condemn those that have found themselves on the heart breaking road of divorce. Even with marriages that should be ended, there are no winners from a divorce.
I think the road to a long marriage (note that I didn't say happy marriage, we'll touch on that in a moment) begins before walking down the alter. You need to have serious, tough conversations with your boyfriend/girlfriend before getting married. I've heard women say that they don't want to bring up the "baby conversation" with their boyfriends because they don't want to scare them away. Okay, you don't need to have that talk on date one, but I'd do it sometime in the beginning of the relationship. Why? Because, at least for me, not wanting kids was a deal breaker.
But what if he changes his mind? I know women who got involved with men who said they didn't want kids. They got married, the woman wanted kids, the man didn't. Want to take a guess what happened? Arguments, resentfulness and divorce.
Sure, some people change their minds, but if you have a "deal breaker" list, and your future spouse is "con" to something that you're "pro", you either need to abandon your "pro" forever, or find someone new. Hoping that he / she will change his / her mind is a recipe for disaster.
Which leads to the "deal breaker" list. I think everyone needs one and by the time the one year dating anniversary comes around, you need to have discussed all of them. Here's my thoughts on what should be on the list: if they want kids, thoughts on religion, and how they handle their money. Politics are something that you can disagree on, as long as you respect each others opinion. Then again, they may be a deal breaker for you. Whatever you hold most dear, put on the list.
So you've found your perfect mate, waked down the aisle and are ready to live happily ever after. Let me go ahead and dispel a few myths about marriage that will help in the long run:
Happiness is a feeling, not a lifestyle. You will not always be happy in your marriage. Let me say that again. You will not always be happy in your marriage. It's unrealistic to believe that you will never argue with your spouse. It's unrealistic to believe that you will go to bed every night liking your spouse. I know that this is upsetting some of you. You're probably reading this thinking, "she has no idea what's she's talking about. I'm not going to fight with my spouse." People who had difficult childhoods - ones where their parents fought - often think this. It's not true. You'll fight with your wife / husband. And you know what? It won't be the end of the world, or your marriage. Because one of the key ingredients to a long running marriage is....
Communication! Argue, fight, scream, then calm down and talk. Set up rules, if you must. I know a couple that insists they each take a walk, by themselves, before an argument gets too far out of hand. When you're not arguing, talk to your spouse about ways to avoid future conflict. For example, if your spouse comes home from a long day of work and you bombard them with questions and chatter about their day, your spouse may get irritated which will snowball later into an argument about the dirty dishes, ect., ect. So talk when you're calm, come up with a game plan, and when arguments happen, get it all out, calm down and work through them.
Another tip that falls into the communication category : Don't curse at your spouse or call them names. Even in jest. Words hurt, friends. And once you hurtle vile words from your mouth you can't take them back.
After the fight, make up! Bow-chika-bow-wow! When it comes to feelings, us ladies like the emotional things. We like to be TOLD that we're love. Guys like to FEEL it. Don't take this to mean women don't need the physical or men don't need to hear that us ladies love them. It just means that we communicate and reciprocate our love in different ways. If you don't kiss your man for a week, he'll take it personally while a woman can probably go even longer without thinking anything is wrong. (Yes, yes, I know not all women and men act this way. I'm generalizing.)
Another thing that helps a marriage succeed...agreeing on finances and family. Let's start with the money. Before you get married you need to talk money. Then when you get married, you need to honor the arrangement. Some couples opt for separate bank accounts, some put everything into a joint account, whatever works. But know that money is a huge stress in relationships, so be prepared.
As for family...decide if you want kids, then decide how you're going to take care of those kids, then honor the agreement. Also, you need to be able to balance your in-laws and extended family. Once a man marries his mate, the man separates from his family (especially his mother) and makes his mate his first priority. Same goes for the woman. So if your spouse is sick of your daily phone calls home to Mom, you need to cut back. If your parents are always involved in your marriage, you need to talk to them. I have yet to meet a married couple that doesn't have in-law problems. Please, please, please step up and handle your family issues and don't let them seep into your marriage.
SIMPLE DAILY TIPS:
Those were the big issues, but here's some simple daily things that can help keep a marriage going:
1. Always greet your spouse when he / she gets home from work. No excuses. It doesn't matter if you've spent all day covered in baby spit, changing diapers and haven't showered in four days. Fake a smile and give a hug. It'll go a long way. And take it from me who failed at this after the birth of our son - not doing this will quickly change the mood of your home from pleasant to tense.
2. Lots and lots of affection. Kiss, hug, hold hands, put the kids to bed early (wink, wink). Don't underestimate the importance of a physical connection.
3. Don't nag. Okay, I'm guilty of this. But still, don't nag. If you ask your husband to take out the trash, and he hasn't done it, don't nag. Ask him nicely to do it, keep your tone pleasant.
4. If it's more important to you, just do it. Meaning, if you ask your wife to cook dinner, but she's perfectly happy eating PB & J sandwiches, then you do the cooking. If you ask your husband to cut the grass, but he really doesn't care if it grows to his knees, then you cut the grass. Don't go to war with your spouse over the little things.
5. Compliment your spouse. Everyday. Send a text or email just to let him / her know you're thinking about them. Be nice, sweet, loving.
There's no simple recipe to a marriage. If there were, people wouldn't be getting divorced, but there are some things we can do to help our situations. If you have others, please leave a comment! I'd love to hear what has worked - or not worked! - for you!