Marriage: 10 ideas to make it happy
Pat Benatar may have been right when she sang, “Love is a battlefield,” especially when it comes to marriage. It’s tough stuff. No matter how many years you have under your belt, it’s a tough institution made even more treacherous when there’s bitterness, hurt feelings and separation. Whether you’re a newlywed or a seasoned married couple, how can you ensure a happy relationship? While marriage comes with no guarantees, here are a few ways Mat and I have worked to safeguard our relationship for faithfulness and devotion and happiness:
Defer to the other as priority #1 - Mat spoils me. I spoil him too, now that I think of it. We give our best to each other.. not our jobs, not our hobbies, not the kids. That can be hard to do because each of those other things aggressively compete for our attention. Jobs want us 40 or more hours a week. Our church, our goals, our side gigs… it all calls to us very loudly. My step-son needs time too, but even so, there is a point Mat and I make to have time for us. Time may not mean a date night each week or long walks on the beach. Heck, we live in Indiana and there’s not a beach anywhere close. But “time” means shared moments between just the two of us. A smile from across the room, a laugh at an inside joke shared just between us, an act of service the says “I love you” or even a couple of text messages sent throughout the day. Each and every way tells Mat he is my guy and he’s important.
Speaking of “time,” make it happen - I hold a very unpopular opinion that date nights are overrated. Why? Because I’ve seen too many couples place all their hopes and dreams in a date night in order to breathe life into their relationship. They go days or weeks without more than business-like conversation, rattling off to-dos and appointments, somehow waiting for the magical date night to come along so they can emotionally and intellectually connect. That is preposterous! Mat and I live busy lives. Between his crazy work schedule and my full-time job plus a side gig, we keep hopping. However, in the middle of those hectic, busy days, I stop long enough to make an effort and so does Mat. Maybe it’s a long, intentional kiss at the door when he leaves for work at 5:15 a.m. Maybe it’s a sweet message from Mat in the middle of my work day. Maybe it’s us working alongside each other in the kitchen - him cooking, me cleaning. It’s in those every day moments that “magic” happens. In fact, our favorite thing to do to spend time together is to go grocery shopping each week. We laugh, we talk, we flirt, we hug — uhm hello! Clean up on isle 4! No special date night necessary in order to keep our marriage going strong. We make intentional time each day to express love, appreciation and importance for each other even in the middle of doing life. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy some time spent cat’n around town with each other, but we go out without the pressure of date night being the make or break for our relationship.
Set a few ground rules - Now this isn’t meant to be a set of bossy, demanding type of rules. This is meant to be a discussion that sets expectations on what you are both willing to allow or not allow in your relationship. In my job, I come in contact with a lot of men, but Mat isn’t threatened or worried about that because he knows, I’m not going to “friend” those folks on Facebook, nor am I going to be hanging around the office all alone, late at night with them. At the same time, I know Mat is going to have conversations with his ex-wife. There are still kids in the equation and therefore there needs to be conversations that are had between the two of them that sometimes don’t include me at the moment. But I also know that Mat and I don’t keep secrets, so we talk about everything. He asks my opinion and we talk through each scenario. I’m not jealous or threatened because Mat includes me in what’s going on and he wants to hear my thoughts. I’ve learned to appreciate this saying, “When you take care of the way things look, you take care of things.” Meaning, when you avoid even the mere appearance of something a little sketchy, you avoid being sketchy all together. Taking time to outline what you are comfortable with and what might make you feel uneasy is a good conversation to have. If you’re proactive in this discussion, you’ll avoid being put in an awkward situation and having to have a tough conversation after the fact with your spouse.
Set some goals together - This year Mat and I have been working on a big financial goal to pay off debt. We are both in our 40’s and want to have a secure financial future when it comes to retirement. That being said, we’ve had to make some sacrifices, but it’s been super rewarding to hit certain milestones because it is something we work on together. As a society, we take more time to plan our vacations than we do our lives. As a couple, we should be running in the same direction, carrying out the same mission and sharing a like vision. That creates tight bonds and teamwork as you walk hand-in-hand with your partner. Whether it be a financial goal, a health and fitness goal, a goal to try something new or travel to new places… whatever it is, create some goals together and watch the fun that unfolds as you create memories running toward the goal line. What a great way to score… along side the partner you’ve taken for a mate, a partner, a friend, a confidant.
Take stock in what makes your spouse tick - When you get involved in what makes your spouse tick, you immediately communicate interest and importance to your mate. Mat loves video games. I think I played the original Mario Bros when I was a kid, but that’s about it. When Mat and I met, I was only beginning to grasp how much video games meant to him. Fast forward five years and I am still no video game master, but I have played a few and even won a few. There are a few we play together and some I just like to watch him play. Either way, when I ask questions about a new game, or get excited when he levels up in a game, this is saying to Mat, “I am never gonna love video games as much as you do, but I love you so therefore, I want to know what’s going on here with this game…. (even though it looks like the same 25 games before this lol). Whether your guy likes sports, racing, hunting, camping… try to step in his shoes a bit. He’ll really like sharing some of his passion with you and who knows, you might find you like a little of it too!
Secrets not allowed - If I need to hide something from Mat, I need to stop right then and ask myself why. A relationship can only last so long without honesty and transparency. Secrets don’t create mystery…they create mistrust. If you find that there are some things you don’t share because you have difficulty being open and honest, make time to talk in an environment that makes you both feel comfortable sharing. Maybe you go on a walk, maybe it’s sitting in a quiet place, maybe it’s before you go to bed. Whenever it is, just make time and stick to it. You need to force the conversation if it doesn’t happen easily. Believe me, secrets create deep, dark valleys between two hearts. Little by little the secret carves a deeper crevice that divides you and separates you over time. Don’t wait until you are so far apart you have to yell across the miles to be heard. Bring secrets into the light immediately.
Dance with the one who brought ya - Don’t be tempted to look for greener grass or better options. Keep with the one you’ve chosen and better yet, keep reminded of what made you pick him or her to begin with. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the things that made you fall in love way back when. What are the things that he/she does that is special? What talents do they have? What makes them smile or makes them shine? What do they do for you, your family, your marriage, your life? When we focus on the good things and cultivate an attitude of gratitude for our spouse, we can learn to be happy and fulfilled with what we have…not looking over our shoulder at what else may be out there. No one can make me laugh like Mat does. He makes life easy and fun and keeps me from driving myself crazy. He knows when I need to be talked off the ledge and when I need pushed to take a step outside my comfort zone. I can’t imagine having anyone else be a great cheerleader for me and my dreams. Recently, my step son and I took a few minutes to fill a mason jar with slips of paper, each one telling a memory, act or trait we loved or were appreciative of in Mat. That exercise alone made my heart swell with thankfulness for this man I get to share life with. I challenge you to try the same!
Keep the inner circle exclusive - Mat and I are private people. You might find that hard to believe consider how much I write and speak about my marriage. But I only share that which Mat and I have agreed to, and rest assured there aren’t any spicy or intimate details being shared at all. Our inner circle, the folks we talk to about the most intimate parts of our life, is small. In fact, I can only think of maybe one other person besides Mat that I would let in on those details. It’s not because we have anything to hide, it’s just that our marriage is between Mat and I …. not Mat and I and all our Facebook friends, or all our family and co-workers. Keeping somethings between just the two of you builds intimacy and keeps respect in place for the other person. Besides, who needs more voices and more opinions to contend with? If you’re like me, you’ve got enough just on your own!
Speak highly of the other in front of others - There’s a fad in sitcom TV where the husband is a goof who can’t do anything right. His inept ways and childish mannerisms leaves the wife to fix it all and at times, her friends jump in on the laugh as her husband is caught in a mess created by his stupidity. While this might make for funny entertainment, I caution you gals in adapting this way of talking about your man in front of others. When you can praise him, compliment him or in general just speak positively of him, you boost his confidence and sense of self. Other options can emasculate him and belittle him. Guys can afford to do the same for their gals. Everyone likes a compliment or to be spoken off highly. Next time you’re at a work party, don’t just compliment the boss… reserve some praise for your spouse and watch the returns pay off in spades!
Last but certainly not least… keep the temperatures high in the bedroom - Let’s talk about the bedroom for a moment. This is an important part of any marriage. I’m not saying it has to be what romance novels are made of, but it needs to be something that is meets the need for you both. If that’s not happening, make it a priority to discuss it and work on it. Keep your expectations in check and be understanding in expressing how you feel. Expressing love to your spouse in the most sacred, physical, spiritual, and emotional way possible fulfills so many needs and requirements on so many levels. One of the best ways to start your conversation is to decide together how often you both want (or need!) to have sex, and make that number happen. It will do wonders for your marriage not only because you will both be getting what you need, but you will have opened the door to other conversations! Let’s face it… if you can talk about this, you can talk about anything! Ensuring both partners are enjoying their “bedroom life” as a couple is key to affair-proofing your marriage.
My parents were high school sweethearts and have celebrated more than 40 years of marriage. I don’t ever remember them going on date nights or having lavish gifts for each other or going on vacation get-aways. What I do remember is that they laughed together, they worked together, they talked together and they love and respected each other. They were and are best friends. They have very different interests and hobbies, but each one gave the other space to explore it all the while supporting it. But most of all, my parents shared a faith in God together. It’s what held them together through financial droughts and upset children. I grew up watching them pray together and pray with us as kids. I don’t believe any one of these things is the whole and complete answer to a happy, fulfilling marriage. But I do believe its a mix of it all, with the commitment to make it happy and fulfilling that brings it about. Mat and I are far from 40 years together, but I believe we are in store for a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment.