My husband and I have been married for 36 years. It hasn’t been all chocolates and roses – but we’ve stuck it out through good and bad. Now I can honestly say we have a very committed, very happy and healthy marriage.
I believe there are many things that each spouse can do individually, and both can do together, which helps to strengthen and build a happy and healthy marriage. But the bottom line is, it starts with commitment. Commitment to each other, to the relationship, to working hard, to never giving up.
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Of course, there are those relationships that are dangerous. No-one should ever stay with someone who might hurt her or her children. However, the reality is that most marriages don’t fall into that category. Those are the wives I’m speaking to here.
Let me repeat myself – if you feel you are in danger, take the kids and leave immediately.
If, however, that does not apply to you – then commit to working hard and staying committed through good and bad. Whether this is your first marriage or your fifth, whether you’ve been married two weeks, ten years, or three decades. It all starts with commitment.
It starts with commitment, but it certainly doesn’t stop there! There are plenty of other things that can be done to build up marriage relationships, instead of tearing them down.
The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands. Proverbs 14:1
TELL YOUR HUSBAND EVERY DAY THAT YOU LOVE HIM
Some days you probably won’t feel loving towards him – tell him anyway. Some days he will drive you crazy – tell him anyway. Sometimes he’ll forget important events that you’ve reminded him of a dozen times – tell him anyway. And he may never pick up his dirty socks – tell him anyway.
Love is as much a commitment as it is a feeling. Love is action at least as much as it is emotion. It is important to remember the truth of what love is, especially when you feel the least loving.
My husband is on his fifth career as an over-the-road trucker. He is gone a lot. But we talk every day and end every call with “I love you” being said by both of us. Although we did not establish this habit early in our marriage, we’ve learned how important it is.
It doesn’t matter if your marriage is on a mountaintop or struggling through a valley. Say “I love you” daily. More than once is OK too!
SHOW PHYSICAL AFFECTION DAILY
Sex is great, but most marriages don’t include daily lovemaking sessions – especially if you have children! But don’t let that fact stop you from being physically affectionate. Hugs and kisses (the longer the better for both) can go a long way in keeping your love alive. Hold hands in public. Walk arm-in-arm. Touch him on the arm, the back, the face. Kiss his neck and hug him from behind.
Physical touch is one of the Love Languages. It may be yours or your husband’s, but if not, this still applies. Plenty of research has been done on the importance of touch in human relationships: parent-child, husband-wife, friends, teacher-student, and even in medical settings where doctors, nurses, and others touch patients (more information can be found here and here).
When Howard and I had been married for almost 14 years, we were separated for several months due to military orders. During that time, unresolved tensions spilled over and his response was to file for divorce (flying back to where the boys and I were still living to do so).
I was shocked and extremely hurt. After about two months, he changed his mind. He was worried about losing custody and contact with our sons (it had never occurred to him that I would fight him for custody – since I wasn’t currently employed!). So, with a significant amount of fear and doubt, the boys and I rejoined him at his new duty station.
We knew we had a long road of healing ahead of us – but the turning point in my mind was on the first day we were reunited. We were both very tense and unsure – but Howard made the first move by reaching out and taking my hand. He probably doesn’t even remember it. But that touch communicated to me in a way no words could have at that point.
Now, several years (and other struggles) behind us, we hug, kiss, and hold hands frequently. Touch is my Love Language, so I probably need more than Howard – but he is good about being affectionate.
Before leaving this topic, I think it is necessary to say – your husband can’t read your mind. If you need more hugs, kisses, and touches than you are getting, ask him, tell him, teach him. Start the teaching by touching him more often – he’ll most likely be fully cooperative!
LEARN TO FIGHT FAIR
Before I go any farther, let me clear up any possible confusion here. When I say “fight fair” I do not – in any way, shape, or form – mean physically fighting, throwing objects, or otherwise trying to hurt the other person. Fighting fair, to me, means learning to disagree while maintaining love and respect. Some may call it arguing, having an intense conversation, or simply working through disagreements.
Whatever you call it, your marriage will have it. Even in the best marriages, disagreements happen. Learning how to communicate your needs, thoughts, and opinions to your husband in a calm, non-accusatory manner is critical to having a happy and healthy marriage.
You have probably heard some of the ground rules of fighting fair: use “I” statements, stick to the issue at hand (no history lessons!), and listen carefully with the intention of understanding your husband’s point of view. Every disagreement you and your husband have should be approached with the goal of solving the problem together.
PROTECT YOUR TIME TOGETHER
No earthly relationship is more important than the one with your husband. That may sound very uncompromising, but Scripture says that when we marry, we become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6; Mark 10:8; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31). When something is repeated many times in Scripture, you can be sure it is important. No other relationship on earth is as important as our marriage relationship.
Life seems to conspire against us when it comes to nurturing our marriage relationships. There is always so much to do. Work. Church. Daycare. School. Sports. Cooking. Cleaning. Shopping. The list is endless.
That means there will never be enough time to make your marriage a priority. You must simply make the time. Put date nights on the calendar in ink! Schedule an overnight trip once or twice a year. Make time to talk with each other daily. Put the kids to bed early so you have alone time for reconnecting.
In some seasons of life, prioritizing your marriage will be easier than in others. If you have a newborn and a 2-year-old and a fulltime job you will obviously need to work harder at prioritizing your marriage than someone with two kids in college and a part-time job. But no matter how hard or easy it is, you need to make it a priority.
DREAM AND PLAN TOGETHER
I would guess that when you were dating your husband the two of you talked a lot about the future. What kinds of jobs you wanted, where you would live, how many children to have, places you’d like to visit, and even where to go for Thanksgiving dinner.
Now that you’re married, don’t stop dreaming about the future. If you don’t dream and plan for the future, it’ll come anyway – you just might not like it.
I know many couples who have a yearly (or even quarterly) ‘dream and plan’ session. Howard and I have never done this, but with all the changes and trials in our marriage, we have always talked a lot about what comes next and where we want to go as a family and a couple.
Do you want to celebrate your 10th anniversary in Paris? Make a plan to make it happen. Does your husband want to start his own business? What training and finances will he need? Make a plan for that. Have you always wanted to foster? Budget for adding on bedrooms or buying a larger house.
I’m sure you have ideas of your own – as does your husband. Talk about those dreams. Who cares if you don’t hit the mark? At least you’re moving forward. So you’ll go to Paris for your 12th anniversary, start the business five years later than planned, or foster only one child at a time instead of five. Without discussing, dreaming, and planning, those milestones would not have been reached.
HAVE JOINT BANK ACCOUNTS AND A JOINT PLAN FOR FINANCES
Get rid of the idea of “his money” and “my money.” If you are married, nothing is ‘his’ or ‘hers’ anymore – it is all ‘ours.’ Remember – one flesh doesn’t just mean sex, it means one in heart, one in goals, and even one in finances.
Get one joint checking account for paying bills, one joint savings account for your emergency fund, and then more joint savings accounts for special purchases such as a down payment on a house or paying cash for your next car. Retirement accounts have to be individual, but you can have other investment accounts that are joint.
I know it can be a hassle to combine separate accounts, especially if you have a lot of bills drafted automatically. But what is more important to you – building unity and trust in your marriage or doing things the easy way?
As you tackle the task of combining accounts, don’t forget to make a plan for your finances. Most people call this a budget – but if that word causes you to break out in a cold sweat, call it a plan, a program, or system. Sit down together and figure out how much income (net) you have each month as a couple (not his and hers!). Then write down your family expenses – including giving, saving, and investing. The income and outgo should match. If they don’t, cut expenses or increase income until they do.
You can get far more detailed advice from others, but you get the basic idea. Pool your money, decide together how to spend and save your money, and have a plan for resolving conflicts about money. For more information, I like anything by Dave Ramsey.
Two final points here. First, give regularly to your church. I recommend 10% of your gross income, even if you think the tithe is just for the Old Testament. You most likely give far more than that to the government in taxes, the mortgage company for housing, and yourself for luxuries and comforts. Why short-change God?
Second, set a dollar limit that each of you can spend without consulting the other – and never spend over than amount. This could be a monthly amount for any incidental purchases (Starbucks?) or a dollar limit for larger purchases (you want a $350 purse – have to clear it with hubby first). Having both a monthly amount for incidentals ($100 or $150) and an individual purchase limit ($100? $200?) will cover most purchases you make when you’re not together.
Whatever plan you choose, choose it together and commit to it together. When you’re just getting starting on this, you might need to check in weekly or bi-weekly. Eventually, you may need only monthly or quarterly family finance meetings. Start this discipline and keep it up – it will prevent a lot of problems and help protect your marriage.
ATTEND CHURCH TOGETHER
I consider this a no-brainer. If you are a Christian and you married a Christian, then build your faith together by attending church together every week. Make time for praying together and reading the Bible, a devotional, or a Christian growth book together also. Plan for five days a week, so you have some wiggle room for life’s interruptions.
Like everything else, there are exceptions. Some people have to work on Sundays. Others are married to nonbelievers. Still others have chronic illnesses that make getting out difficult. Whatever your situation is, make a commitment to build your faith together in whatever ways work for you.
However, if you don’t work on Sundays, you are both believers, and you just don’t like the hassle or prefer going to the lake – change your attitude and actions. Church is important to the health and future of your marriage and family.
APOLOGIZE AND FORGIVE
If you are anything like me, apologizing is hard. Sometimes really hard. But the thing is – the harder it is to apologize, the more important it is to do. Apologizing is hard because it takes humility. To apologize sincerely we must admit to our bad behavior – whether it was intentional or not, big or little, yesterday or three weeks ago.
When should you apologize? Whenever you say or do anything that hurts your husband. And yes, that means even if “he started it” or “I didn’t mean it that way.” Some of the most difficult actions I’ve ever taken in my marriage were to apologize first – when what I really thought (and felt) was that my husband was more at fault.
But, and this may be hard to swallow, “more at fault” doesn’t mean I’m off the hook. He could be 95% responsible for the situation – but I need to own and ask forgiveness for my 5%. Apologizing for my part doesn’t let him skate on his responsibility, it just opens the door to conversation, forgiveness, and a fresh start.
Apologizing and forgiving go hand-in-hand. I don’t think it’s possible to be sincere in apologizing to anyone if you are holding a grudge of unforgiveness against them. So, it is possible that you may need to spend some time alone with the Lord before you apologize. You may need to seek God’s forgiveness for your actions and let Him work on your heart to forgive your husband unconditionally before you speak to him and apologize. Learn more about forgiveness here.
But here’s the thing about apologizing – it’s just words unless it is backed up with a change in actions. Are you apologizing for yelling? Then make a commitment to stop. Allow him to point out to you when you start yelling. Pray for the Spirit’s help to change. Do some reading and try to figure out your triggers. Take some sort of action to begin to change the patterns of behavior that made it necessary to apologize.
STAYING MARRIED IS HARD WORK
But it is hard work that is so worthwhile. By honoring your commitment to each other and working through differences and disagreements (small and large) you are modeling for the world what love looks like.
True love just isn’t sex and candlelight dinners – it’s sticking together through job loss, anger, cancer, miscarriages, debt, hard-headedness and hard-heartedness, sick children, and career changes. It is putting each other first always – ahead of your mother, your children, and yourself.
These eight habits aren’t magic – the magic happens when you make them a part of your marriage. And these habits aren’t all that is necessary. Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of protecting and nurturing your marriage. But these eight habits may be a good place to start.
An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:10-12