Today my husband and I celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. A lot has changed in five years but one thing has remained constant; we have never stopped trying to have the best marriage we can. In the past five years we have dealt with my breast cancer diagnosis and surgeries, buying and selling our first home, having our first child, and writing our dissertations and both graduating with our doctorates together. We have both changed careers and now live in our second home and are pregnant with our second child.
As licensed marriage and family therapists, you would think we have a perfect marriage with civilized arguments, or no arguments at all, and handle every situation like professionals. At least that is what we have heard others say about our marriage from the outside’s perspective. Yes, we may have an advantage because we are professionally and educationally trained with tools, techniques, and interventions on how to work with marital conflict and resolution, but just like anyone else in this world, we are human beings and we aren’t perfect. No marriage is flawless. No marriage is without hard work and effort. No marriage is without ups and downs. Relationships are difficult, married or not married. When you add raising children to your marriage, it can be twice as challenging and even our marriage often comes second, even though we try to keep it first. As our family grows and our children get older, our relationship changes and grows in different ways. And as I said, one thing never changes through it all; we work on our marriage constantly. We never give up and we never stop trying. A healthy, strong, and stable marriage is a little like watering a plant. If you neglect the plant and do not give the plant what it needs like sunlight and water, the plant will slowly wilt away and eventually die. You have to be present and mindful and water the plant on a regular basis for it to thrive. And if you continually nourish the plant with love, respect, and giving it what it needs to grow, your plant will live for a long time.
I have learned not to neglect my marriage. Even on the tough days when you’ve had a stressful day at work, the children are sick, you are behind on paying the bills, and the house is a mess, even though it’s not at the forefront of your mind, nurture your marriage. Take a moment and ask your partner if they need anything. Say goodnight and sneak in a hug and or a kiss before bed. Make the effort, especially when you don’t want to or have the energy to. Never stop impressing your spouse. Water your plant everyday. Do not take your marriage or your spouse for granted.
I have learned to communicate. This is an oldie but goodie. But in all honesty, it’s a big one. You can never communicate enough. Tell your partner exactly what you need and want from him or her and how you are thinking and feeling for every situation you are experiencing with them. Communicate what are your expectations are of each other. Learn what your love languages are and if they differ from one another. If talking is challenging, write down your feelings and thoughts in a letter. Just keep communicating. Mix it up and find new ways to communicate until you know what works. Everyone communicates in different ways. Find the compromise. Be vulnerable. Be brave. You will not like everything you say and everything you hear, but continue to find solutions together. Communication cultivates intimacy.
I have learned to listen. Listening is equally as important as communicating. Listening is communicating. If you are engaged in the conversation, you are communicating that you care. If you are ignoring your partner while they are talking and or are distracted, then you are communicating that you do not care (even if you do). It is imperative that both partners take the time and make the effort to listen to each other. If it isn’t an ideal time to have a conversation, then kindly ask your partner to postpone the talk until a later time when the kids are in bed or in the morning when you have more energy to dedicate to each other.
I have learned to respect my marriage. Respecting my marriage and my husband is one of the biggest ways he knows I love him. In fact, research shows that respect is one of the most important aspects a husband wants from his wife in a marriage. I don’t always have to agree with him, be happy with him, or even like what he is saying or doing, but I respect that he is my husband, and a provider, a father, etc. Your spouse should also respect you as well. This is a two way street. Be proud of each other. Encourage each other. Support each other. Be appreciative. Be thoughtful. Say thank you.
I have learned to love my marriage. My husband and I share a strong and deep love for each other. Our love began as a friendship and manifested, as our relationship grew stronger. As respect is for husbands, love is for wives. Research shows that wives want and need to feel loved by their husbands more than any other factor within the relationship. Show your love in any possible way you can. Reach out and hold hands while you watch television. Say the words “I love you”. Smile and use a positive tone of voice with each other. Date each other as much as you can. Keep the love, romance, spark, and intimacy alive. Make each other laugh. Surprise each other. Remember why you fell in love in the first place. A little bit of love goes a long way.
I have learned to take a time out. There will be times when you are hurt, angry, sad, and frustrated. There will be pet peeves that will annoy you. There will be times you won’t be able to think straight. There will be times when you need a break. Allowing time to cool off will help you gather your thoughts, calm your emotions, and allow you to think with your wise mind. Respectfully ask your partner to come back to the conversation at a later time. Make sure to give yourselves a time limit. You don’t want to hit the pause button and never return to finish what you started. Give yourselves 30 minutes or even up to 24 hours. Agree on a time limit and let it go. Then come back to the conversation with a fresh mind, and possibly a new perspective. This is a healthy way to work through conflict so take advantage of this time to thoughtfully reflect on the situation.
I have learned to forgive. Trust fosters forgiveness and forgiveness fosters trust. You need both for a marriage to function properly. Furthermore, you cannot be resentful in a marriage. You cannot afford to hold a grudge. Husbands and wives will make errors. If you can be humble, learn to sincerely apologize, take blame for your role in the situation, and learn to forgive, your marriage will survive a mountain of mistakes and your relationship will flourish. As long as there is faithfulness, trust, love, and respect, and no abuse of any kind present in your marriage; process, forgive and move on. I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m not saying you’ll think each other may deserve your forgiveness right away. I’m not saying to forget the pain, but do not dwell. And certainly do not bring up past wounds. Stay in the present and look forward to the future.