I went out for a bachelorette party with a dear friend recently, and although we had a blast, there was something that enraged me and broke my heart - strangers constantly approached the bride-to-be (who was wearing a sash, of course) to say “Good luck” with a grimace on their face, or “Don’t do it!” with a laugh. First off, who are those people to put that negative energy into my friend’s atmosphere, and second, when did we as a society become so cynical about marriage?
It’s incredibly rare that a couple approaches the altar with the mindset, “If this one doesn’t work out, I can try again.” Instead, there are hopes of forever, of spending your life with this person whom you love. But marriage isn’t easy; those divorcees surrounding us prove how very difficult it can be. So how, in the midst of terrible statistics and negativity, can we make a marriage last? It all comes down to choices.
We choose our spouse. We choose to love them, to spend our lives with them. But we can also choose to be selfish in our actions, to put ourselves first in all situations, to believe the best of ourselves and the worst of others. We all have the ability to choose to make our marriage work, to nurture and grow our relationship through every stage, just as we can choose to walk away when things get tough. But today and every day, let’s choose love, commitment, and hard work. Let’s choose to make our marriages last.
Choose to Prioritize Your Marriage
If you’ve chosen to get married, you’ve made the biggest decision of your life. Congrats! Every choice after this should be easier - in part because you have a life partner to help make those decisions. “The marriage is number one, the children are number two, and work is number three,” according to Dr. Harville Hendrix, coauthor of Making Marriage Simple, who has been married to his wife for 32 years. “If you make marriage number one, your children will do better and you won’t have to spend that much time managing them—and you’ll be more productive at work. But if you reverse those priorities, nothing works. Make it first. Make it top.”
Often, the simplest way to prioritize your spouse is to simply make time for them. Yes, this may mean procrastinating on cleaning the house to binge watch movies once in a while. It may mean turning your phone to airplane mode after 9 pm - we promise those emails will still be there in the morning. It definitely means continuing to date your spouse! Your spouse should be treated like a gift to be loved and appreciated, and it’s important to remember that throughout the relationship.
This also means prioritizing intimacy. Sex matters, and anyone who’s told you otherwise is lying. Having sex in marriage - and not just the tired, obligatory sex - means your spouse won’t look for sex outside the marriage. But it’s not just about staying committed to each other. It should be about fun, pleasure and romance; the shared release in endorphins that makes you both feel happier and more in love.
And if you ever feel like your marriage isn’t working, remember - the grass is greenest where you water it. Focusing on strengthening your marriage and yourself will help to re-grow the original beauty of the relationship and make it better than before.
Choose Communication and Compromise
Communication is a massively important part of our interactions, and many psychologists have determined that our greatest human need may be the desire to be heard and understood (Check out this PsychologyToday article, “Feeling Understood — Even More Important Than Feeling Loved?”). So naturally, we most want to be understood by the person we love, but we must also recognize that our spouse wants the same.
To practice communication and compromise, start with something small, that’s also kind of a big deal - what, in your mind, constitutes a clean room? Does your spouse agree? How can you compromise so that your definitions align, or at least don’t conflict. If you can find a way to agree on that, everything else will become much easier (and there is one less lifelong fight to be had). After that, learn to compromise on the lighter things in life - take turns making plans for how to spend a night in, or what to do on date night, and let each other talk about what they're interested in, even if you're not. For my husband and I, this means that he gets to talk to me about football, and I get to talk to him about the weird thing the cat did that day!
Proper communication and compromise also includes becoming aware of your needs, and the fact that they will change over time. Make it a point to check in with yourself once a year about what your greatest needs are at that stage, and express your top three needs with your spouse. Ask about their needs, and commit to working toward meeting your partner’s needs when able. Putting their needs above your own is good practice for every stage of the marriage.
And no matter how hard you try, you’ll both mess things up. Don’t keep score. When we keep score in a relationship, we’re essentially saying that we only care about what we get out of it. Silently refusing to do the dishes until your spouse does them can appear as entitlement, and all it does is create dissension and a sink full of dishes. Likewise, taking out revenge on your spouse for a way they wronged you creates a nasty cycle that leaves both partners suffering. Communicating the “wrong-doing” strengthens the relationship and keeps a clean slate.
“You have to be tolerant and you have to be accepting. People have expectations of who they want their partner to be rather than allowing them to be themselves. To accept them for who they are is to love them for who they are. You can’t have conditions under which you will love your partner,” says Allan Pleaner, M.F.T., who’s been married for 26 years.
Choose Healthy Conflict
All relationships face conflict, but learning how to have healthy conflict in your marriage is one of the greatest choices you can make in supporting your marriage. Work on talking about conflict with your spouse in a way that helps each partner grow and better understand the other, rather than feeling hurt or unheard.
“Conflict,” explains Dr. James Sniechowski, author of The New Intimacy, “is generally understood to be either win or lose. And in that context, it’s unattractive and dangerous. But conflict is in fact a signal from the relationship saying, ‘Something has to change. Pay attention here.’ And once you understand this, conflict can become the doorway to more intimacy in all areas: emotional, sexual, spiritual, and intellectual.”
Always do your best to recognize why YOU are upset, rather than what your partner did to upset you. Recognizing your personal triggers and emotional baggage may greatly affect why conflict arises - and it likely isn’t because your spouse is trying to hurt you. Learn what’s worth fighting over, and choose your battles carefully.
Conflict is better managed when it’s contained within the marriage. No one wants to be that couple who gets into a fight in a public place or among friends, but beyond that, try not to bring family or friends into your fights. Those who love you may inevitably pick sides, rather than supporting your union, and may give advice that favors one side of the relationship. For those wishing to gain an outsiders opinion, seek an unbiased one from a family counselor or pastor who will lift you up together.
And for times when you keep getting under each other’s skin? It could simply be that you’re cooped up in the same space all the time, and that space starts to feel a little too small for the both of you (it happens, we totally get it). Try getting out of the house, together or separately. Simply changing the scenery can change your attitude toward your spouse, and fresh air can only help.
Choose to live a balanced life in every area. Between work and home. Between family time and time with your spouse. Between time with your spouse and time alone. While we work to remove selfish ambition when choosing compromise, you should never feel selfish about needing some alone time - it’s essential to your well-being, and it does the relationship good to spend some time apart. Alone might mean time out with friends, a gym or morning routine that’s all your own, or, let’s be real, a weekend away when it feels necessary.
Also work to find balance in your roles. Sometimes, the marriage will look more like a business partnership, and while it’s important to manage the household, chores, finances, children, etc, make sure you’re still best friends! Turning off those manager roles and focusing on the friendship MATTERS. Remember those tickle fights you used to get in? Those adventures you used to go on? Don’t let them stop! You’re never too old to have fun with your spouse.
Want more tips & tricks for a beautiful wedding and a successful marriage? Let's chat!