My youngest son was married last November. He and his bride are very happy, and I wish nothing but the best for them both. But stars in your eyes can cloud your thinking, so I’m sharing some hard-earned wisdom, hoping to reach their brains, not just their hearts. In no particular order, here are my top ten for staying in love and building a happy home.
- Nurture your relationship with the Lord above all other things that press for your time. Hard time will come, and when they do you will need the strength that comes from a strong bond with the Savior of your souls.
- Nurture your relationship with each other. It can, and will, deteriorate if not nurtured. Some keys to nurturing your relationship are:
- have a regular date night – without kids!
- learn to fight fair – no dredging up old problems; just focus on the new one
- work together for a common goal – and NOT the acquisition of a better lifestyle!
- don’t let hurts fester – clear up misunderstandings and hurt feelings as quickly as possible
- spend time every day talking to each other – and try to expand beyond work schedules, kids’ behavior, and housework
- Learn to say “I’m sorry” and to forgive freely– you’ll need it for your marriage to thrive. Forgiveness is vitally important to a thriving marriage -and it will be needed daily. forgive little offenses – like forgetting to put the lid on the toothpaste, leaving the toilet paper roll empty, or not loading the dishwasher the ‘right’ way – without even mentioning them. Talk through and forgive bigger offenses readily. You are not perfect, neither is your spouse. There will be offenses that need to be forgiven. Just do it. And, as hard as it is, be the first to say I’m sorry. Don’t wait for your husband – or your wife – to say it; you go first.
- Commit to living debt-free. This is a tough one, but well worth the hard work it requires. Pay off your student loan debt as quickly as possible, carry no balances on your credit cards, only keep one or two credit cards for real emergencies, and don’t take on new debt – for a car or house – until you have a firm handle on your current debt.
- Save regularly. Live below your means! You will never ‘arrive’ if you try to keep up with the society around you. There will always be something new and better that you will want – train yourself to resist your impulses to buy. Take a Financial Peace course and commit to the principles they teach. You may have noticed I’ve included two points about money – that’s because money fights are the worst, and are the primary cause of relationship breakdown and dissolution. Handle your money wisely, don’t let your money handle you.
- Embrace simple living. Simple living is a commitment to living with less stuff, and for more experiences over stuff. I have heard and read testimonies of people who’ve embraced this ideal – they all agree it was one of the best choices they’ve ever made. Simply living wasn’t a ‘thing’ when you and your brother were little, but we embraced it anyway because we had so little money. We limited the number of toys you had and opted for ‘open end’ toys like Legos and Tinker toys over one-purpose toys like action figures and computerized toys. Less really is more when it comes to stuff. Purge your stuff – and your children’s stuff – regularly.
- Limit screen time– for you and for your children. We did this long before the screen explosion caused by phones, tablets, laptops, and big screen TVs. Remember our rule – no TVs or computers in bedrooms? Remember having to earn TV time by reading, doing chores and playing outside? It was all with a purpose: to raise well-rounded kids and protect family time. Screens can pull you in and rob you of precious time with each other and your children. You must be proactive in limiting time with screens, or you will find yourself with never enough time for everything that has to be done, or should be done. No time for stories with little ones, no time for devotions and prayer, no time for reading good books, no time for maintaining a clean, comfortable home, no time for making memories with playtime and experiences. You will lose immeasurably more than your will ever gain if the screens win.
- Give back. You are blessed to live in the richest country in the world and to have an above average income and resources. Don’t hoard that all for yourself. Give of your money, yes, but also give your time to help those in need. Your church can direct you to a good ministry to get involved in. Along the same lines, take the time to go on mission trips to minister to those in other countries that are in desperate need. With a medical degree, the doors for ministering on mission trips are wide open. Go, and you’ll never be the same.
Travel – and yes, travel with kids. The world is full of experiences that will open your eyes and heart, as well as those of your children. Travel is a far better way to spend your money than on more stuff. Visit places nearby and far away. Visit famous places and less well-known places. Travel inside our huge country and outside it. Always keep an updated passport. This is one of my regrets, that we did not travel more. Although we travel more now as empty-nesters, we could have managed it with children. Yes, we went to Germany, but that was courtesy of the US Army, and yes, we took advantage of the opportunity to travel in Europe, but there is so much we didn’t do. One of my biggest regrets as a parent is that we never went on a mission trip as a family – so plan and budget for that when your kids are old enough, but not too old!
- Learn and grow. Commit to learning constantly, both as a couple and as individuals. As you learn more, you become a more interesting person to know and to spend time with – which will give you something to talk about during those date nights! Also, learning can help you become a better person – a better follower of Jesus, a better husband or wife, a better parent, a better friend. Two great ways to continue to learn and grow as a person and a couple are to read (real books, not the comics!) and to attend marriage/parenting/personal growth conferences.
There you have it – not exhaustive and not authoritative, but my top ten ways to keep your marriage and family on the right track. Seem overwhelming? Choose these three to start with: nurturing your relationship with the Lord, talking together every day, and committing to debt-free living. As you mature in these areas, add others. But don’t let the work of having a good marriage and family stop you from pursuing it with all that you have. The results are worth it!