I wrote this post when Conor and I were celebrating 14 years together.
And if you were a fly on the wall for those 14 years, there were times where it looked like we probably wouldn’t stick together.
As we went on a little anniversary road trip we started a conversation about what we think it takes to make a marriage work.
And I’m well aware of how naive it seems to even try to give marriage advice when you look at the legacy of a lasting marriage that spans almost half a century. But we can sure look at what we did wrong and share with others ‘what not to do’.
Because there were many years where we were doing all the things to make it not work so well. I’ve talked about that journey here in ‘When People Tell Me I’m Lucky to Have Him‘ (one of my most-read posts).
So, these are ways that we have been able to heal hurt in our marriage and grow stronger as a couple
+ a super special bonus of the advice we received in our wedding RSVP cards (sharing a handful of my favourites)
1. Speak well of one another
There were a lot of years where we would bicker in front of other people. Then I observed it in another couple and realized it wasn’t just cute, or banter – it was uncomfortable and disrespectful. It is one thing to bash your spouse behind their back, it is a degrading thing to do it to their face with an audience. Don’t throw your husband under the bus when you are chatting with other people, and don’t talk down to him in front of other people. How totally unsexy!
2. Learn more about yourself
Self-awareness came slowly to me, but I see that without we are just steamrolling everyone around us with our bad habits and thoughtless motives. Use something like the Enneagram or counselling to learn more about your own behaviours and habits you have when you are stressed out. Oh weird, I’m talking about the Enneagram again. But really! Learning your Enneagram type can set you free when you start to be aware of your motives. I can recognize when I’m stressed and how it makes me act, then I can explain my needs better to Conor with what I need to move from stress to calm. It is also a game-changer in how I relate to Conor based on his type.
3. They can’t ‘make you happy’
We know we want to feel great things in life. Like love, joy and appreciation. BUT if we don’t know how to do this on our own, we will look to others to be responsible to generate these feelings for us. It is like never learning to do our own laundry and constantly asking for others to do it for us. Sure someone will be willing to do our laundry out there, but really, it is our job.
A huge problem this creates is that others will let us down – they are only human and they can’t read our minds. So when we are let down we blame them and then they become the problem. Now we don’t have a problem feeling love/appreciate/joy, now we have a spouse problem. We just transferred our problems.
This one was a hard one for me to accept when I first realized: I am responsible for how I am thinking and feeling, they cannot generate love/appreciation/joy FOR me. We need to take responsibility for the POWER WE HAVE to generate positive emotions in our lives and let others off the hook to do this.
4. Break the cycle of resent
Resentment kills every relationship. I think the key to any lasting relationship is to constantly (sometimes multiple times a day!) break the cycle of resentment.
When that seed of resentment is planted (they didn’t offer me coffee this morn, they didn’t go get the baby, they think I’m not doing enough, they are working late again etc) then you will have this nagging feeling all day like something is lacking.
This almost always happens when you have an expectation of your spouse on what they should be doing, (did you tell them what you expect?). This little seed grows quickly and grossly into resentment and that rots away all your hard work of building a loving relationship.
Pay attention to the thoughts you think about your spouse because once that thought is present, your brain will constantly look for proof it is true (confirmation bias, I talked a bit about it here). If you aren’t even aware of these thoughts you might not be aware of how you are sabotaging your relationship. An amazing book on this that I think everyone would benefit from reading is Leadership and Self Deception.
Catch yourself. Be upfront with what is bugging you. And own how this thought you have about them makes you feel and act. Own it! Chose to change it. Which leads me to. . . .
Appreciating your spouse is like the grout that fills all the gaps. We had a marriage counsellor tell us to write down three (different) things we appreciate about each other, every day. This list forced us to shift our minds from looking for reasons to be resentful to seeking out things to be grateful for. It forced us to stack the evidence in the Appreciation pile instead of keep building up our case for ‘Reasons I get to be mad at you’.
You know, I still have that book where we have written our daily list of appreciations, and reading through it makes me see all the ways my husband expresses his love to me. Sometimes we need to stop and see that our spouse is expressing their love in lots of ways (mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, checking our oil) that might not be how we prefer it (flowers, long poems about our epic beauty, a toast to us at dinner, they put all the groceries away in the wrong spots), but it is still love.
Showing appreciation to your spouse for the ways that they show up and care for you/home/kids will let them feel seen and cherished.
6. Respond kindly
When our marriage was at its roughest I sent Conor an article about how important it is to respond to your partner (or kid, or friend, or any loved one). Back then I assumed he would give me some excuse about why he didn’t read it and I’d add another exhibit to the case of resentment I was building. Instead, he read it, and texted me back something like ‘yeah, that’s good’. It felt like a big step for us to move into a place of ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
Every day our loved ones are looking for ways to engage us. The more we shoot them down (or worse, respond with contempt) the more distance we are creating between us.
Over the next couple of weeks, I could see we were making an effort to acknowledge one another in the little daily conversations. It made such a difference, probably more for me because this was always a sore spot for me to feel like someone is tuning me out. Even if it didn’t change much for him, it made a world of difference for me.
7. Take care of yourself
I know it’s a big dedication to do some exercise each week, eat healthier, and shower at a reasonable frequency, but it makes a difference in a marriage.
It is important to support healthy habits in one another. I don’t mean nagging them to stop spending their days drinking cola on the couch – but supporting the little changes they are willing and ready to make to take care of their health.
Making space for one another to take care of our health and wellness makes us better partners.
Let me say, this isn’t how you look in a bikini or whatever you want to wear. This is about how you FEEL when you are taking care of yourself. Energetic, vibrant, proud. These feelings improve the intimacy of marriage, which can never be understated. And IF you do feel like starting an Instagram #fitcouples then you do you.
8. Be their comfort, not their confrontation
I remember many years where our home was not a place of peace. It was a place of score-keeping and tension and problems. If Conor worked many late nights, I can’t blame him, this was not a fun place to come home to.
It really hit me when I learned about a secret a friend was keeping from his wife because of how she would react to him. It made me sad to think I was creating a relationship where my husband didn’t feel safe sharing his pain and mess with me.
I knew I wanted this deep and intimate relationship with my husband, but I was putting all the vibes to actually prevent this from ever happening. Once I realized that our home was not a place of peace, I knew we needed to make changes. Not just for my marriage but for my kids too.
I wanted our home to be a place where you can find comfort instead of worried you will be confronted on something at any moment. Where you can let out your mess and have someone help through it without making you feel like a monster. A place where you are allowed to make mistakes. A place where you can confess, ask for forgiveness and move on. A place where you can just be yourself and be accepted, seen and loved for who you are.
9. Be accountable
For most of our relationship, we had two incomes. We developed a culture in our marriage of just buying whatever we felt like, whenever we felt like it. After kids, I became a stay at home mom and that two incomes went to one. Yet, we were still spending like it was two.
We have started using different strategies to help us get a handle on how we are spending. One of them is to be accountable for all our purchases to one another.
As I’ve seen this roll out in our daily life, where we talk about everything we spent money on, I can see that we are really accountable to one another in so many ways. We are a unit, a team, and how we spend our time, energy, money and resources – it needs some degree of accountability to one another. Teamwork makes the dream work!
10. Be humble
Conor said that when we went to marriage counselling (the second round) he realized that this was serious and he would have to change something. Of course, I had a lot of change to do too, but seeing that he was taking steps made me feel like my steps towards change would be another step closer to us meeting in the middle.
By our human nature, we are proud and entitled. Humility is something we need, almost daily, to grow together instead of growing against one another. Being humble enough to say ‘this is how I was thinking, and feeling and acting and I was wrong and I hurt you and I am sorry and I’m willing to change’ can save your marriage.
Also, don’t be scared of marriage counselling or work with a coach. When we are so deep in our ways and our hurts we can’t see a way out, find someone who will guide you through that process. It is worth the money, in our opinion!
11. Have fun
When we get into the grind of everyday life and add kids into the mix we kind of float through the day on our routine. This past year we made a goal to ‘enjoy our children’ more and I can see how much it changes the atmosphere in our home.
I also see how important it is to enjoy your spouse. Remember when you started dating and you would flirt and send hilarious texts and start these little inside jokes? You are still allowed to do that!
Have fun together! And it doesn’t have to be roller coasters and Vegas weekends, it is the little daily enjoyment you can experience with them. Have a water fight, watch a funny show, tell them corny jokes, just let yourself smile and have fun with those people in your home.
12. Forget perfect
Finally, I will add that we can take the pressure off. There is no such thing as perfect. No matter what you see in other couples, or what your parents had, you don’t get to see that internal mess and struggle they go through.
When we stop trying to make moments perfect or mould our spouse into the perfect mate, then we get something better. We get what is right in front of us, what is real and what is already ours.
If we live our day thinking about everything we are lacking, then our life will be a series of daily disappointments. But when we have eyes for the joy and beauty that is already right there, then we can live from a place of abundance.
We will never get the ‘perfect’ life, but we do get a hundred little moments every day that are perfect, if we seek them out.
If you are interested in pursuing a more intentional relationship and building a healthier home life, then check out my one-on-one coaching program.