With Valentine’s day approaching, I have marriage on my mind. And not just the warm fuzzy, romantic side of marriage, but also the colder, harder, “can-we-really-do-this?” side, too. Because I have friends going through really hard times in their marriages right now, and a few who are throwing in the towel. And it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart for them, the kids, and everyone else that will be affected. And it breaks my heart because much of the time I think they are quitting too soon.
In fact, when I hear the complaints, I often think they sound an awful lot like mine. They are problems that come from two people who are created differently, trying to live together for a lifetime. (I guess that is the definition of marriage, right?) But the pattern — it’s nothing new: We each believe that our way of living and communicating is the right way, and we get increasingly frustrated when our spouse is not like us. (Interestingly, most often our spouse has not changed much from how they were in the beginning–we were originally drawn to them because of how different — even opposite!– they were from us.) Yet over time, we resent our differences and are sure that life would be so much easier if they would just change to be more like us.
And when they don’t change to be like us, we get frustrated. And mad. And sometimes we want to give up.
The longer I am married to Dave the more I realize how different we are wired. We each have strengths and weaknesses and we each have a role to play. I bring up hard topics and determine to work them out. He likes to keep the peace and patiently accepts me. I am playful and passionate. He is hardworking and steady. I am a communicator and process my thoughts by talking about them. Dave is quiet, and processes things in his own head.
This affects how we do life, how we parent, and everything else.
And if I sit around waiting for Dave to be just like me, (which I’ve been known to do) I am in a dangerous place. If I stubbornly wait for him to initiate conversation, or a date night, or romance, or anything else–I could end up bitter and cold. And if he demanded I be quiet, or resented my
wonderful charming surely annoying personality, he could go crazy.
When I expect him to parent just like I do, he’ll never add up. When he wants me to chill out and be quiet, well…that is probably not going to happen.
So, twenty years into marriage, I am still learning to come to terms with these things. With my gifts and his…to focus on appreciating both of us. Because the truth is: I have a lot to give (so why not give it!?) and I have even more to be grateful for in my husband; to waste a moment wishing he were more like me is nonsense.
With all of those thoughts, I want to share a list with you. I began this list (months ago actually) because I believe that one spouse alone can make a huge difference in a marriage. I know people will say “It takes two” and yes, it does, but I am determined that if one spouse reaches out, initiates, gets the ball rolling, or breaks down even part of a wall, the other is a million times more likely to cooperate. Sometimes we need to do it again and again, and maybe even for a lifetime. In fact, if some of you say “But I’ve been doing this for years, and nothing has changed” I will ask you: What if that is your role in the marriage? Can you live with that? I think most of the time if you choose to make the best of your role, you actually can live with it, and even flourish–especially if you look at your spouse and appreciate all that he or she is doing well.
Taking the pressure off our spouse to be like us, parent like us, or even fully understand us, is incredibly freeing for everyone.
So I encourage you to pick a few things from this list and do them today.
- Random acts of love…Stop and think of one thing you did when you were just dating or newly married. Something you did just to be thoughtful, or whimsical. Maybe you would pick up a gift or a favorite treat, or serve him or her in some special way. (When we were first married, I used to give Dave great back rubs all of the time — now I’m trying to remember the last time I did that?!) Pick one of those things–and do it today.
- Flirt. Don’t wait for your spouse to do it. And maybe even more importantly: don’t wait to feel like it. If you’re in a cold place, then start with something that doesn’t require a lot of emotion– sending a text message with a playful emoji and a few flirty words. A message that simply suggests a special date soon. Break your daily routine and get creative and you might surprise the both of you.
- Tell someone else amazing things about your spouse. The very act of bragging about your spouse will increase your feelings towards them. Pick a few true and positive things to tell someone about your spouse and you’ll find yourself appreciating them more too.
- Try perspective. Really. If the underwear on the floor annoys you, try challenging yourself to just pick it up with a loving heart. Imagine how awful it would be if something tragic happened and your spouse wasn’t there to leave the underwear. Give yourself that moment to actually imagine it, and then appreciate the very fact that you are in this thing together, and how sometimes that leaves either of you with a job you don’t love. You might find it is not so hard to put up with a few annoying behaviors, especially if you consider your own less-than-perfect ways.
- TOUCH. How many chances do you have to make physical contact in a day? Quit passing up so many! Remember how easy it was in the beginning to make contact. Whether you brush his arm as you pass, or hold hands when you walk…Remember when you used to snuggle in bed? Reach over and try it again. Every touch counts. Small effort = big rewards.
- Be generous in your words. Look for at least three things to compliment your spouse on today. Specific, uplifting traits or attributes. You can compliment their looks or their character. Don’t be generic or insincere, but look for the qualities you want to appreciate. They’re there if you look.
- Do something to yourself, FOR your spouse. Seriously: Get our of your sweatpants! (oh wait– is that just me?) and put yourself together for heaven’s sake. If you are in the habit of getting a wee-bit comfortable (aka sloppy) around the house, then maybe try putting on some real clothes, freshening up your makeup and brushing your hair. Taking the time (and spending a little money) to get a pedicure or any little beauty treatment is usually appreciated by our spouses. A little effort can go a long way in adding some sparks to your marriage. And here’s the thing: They may or may not notice, (totally don’t count on it) but it will most definitely affect how you feel around them.
- Write it down. Yep– love notes. Just jot down a simple “I love you,” or create a fun hand-made Valentine’s Day card. Maybe you are ready to write an entire letter telling your spouse how you feel. Just put a pen to paper and then slip it in a pocket or on a pillow. 🙂
- KISS. If you’re not kissing regularly then you’re missing out on one of the best parts of marriage. Kiss often, and sometimes hold those lips for a slow count of three. (Kids watching? Even better.)
- Have fun. Lighten up the mood by being playful and fun with your spouse. We’re all stressed out enough already, and most of us are really tired by the end of the day, but a little laughter goes a long way.
I know this is a list of ten things, but in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m adding a bonus #11.
11. PLAN SOMETHING! If you have the time and interest to read this post, then you’re probably the one thinking about marriage right now. So don’t wait for your spouse to make plans (or to drop the ball by not making plans) but go ahead and plan a fun Valentine’s Day together.
Now it’s your turn: Please comment if any of these resonated with you. Or tell me what you’re next step will be to grow your marriage.
If this post has encouraged you or you think your friends might enjoy it, please use social media share buttons to spread the Aloha.
PS A very helpful book:
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts