10 simple ways to make your imperfect marriage a whole lot better.
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
Great words of encouragement for marriage! Loved your insight. Blessings to you and your family:)
Thank you Karen! You have a great example of a beautiful marriage. Thank you for your faithfulness for those of us following behind you. (not too far, but…:)) xo
I’ve enjoyed reading your article on this topic, it’s almost 4 am in the morning, and I’m here listening to my husband snore away…but it’s true, how much would I miss that snoring, if he weren’t here? Loved all of your points, very poignant, and a great reminder.
We tragically lost our youngest daughter, 2.5 years ago, two weeks after she turned 16 years old, and for a year, I was pretty sure our marriage couldn’t withstand the heartache and grief. But God is still good, and it’s taken me time to accept it, and if it weren’t for God, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be married 30 years next month.
We will never get over the loss of our daughter, but I’m guessing God had other plans for us and for her. There is some peace knowing that she is in heaven with her grandpa and uncle, and we soldier on as we must for her two older siblings.
Marriage is not always easy, but it is a gift, and like your points highlight, it is a gift to be cherished and not taken for granted.
Penny, Wow…Your comment really stopped me and made me think on so many levels. Thank you for sharing your story and I am so sorry for your loss. How wonderful that you have chosen to soldier on, and I know that God does have many blessings in store for all of you. Please keep in touch. Sending Aloha your way…
All good. Love is an action verb, not a feeling. I like the idea of trying to make peace with my role in the marriage, rather than chafing against it.
This article made soooo much sense! My husband of 10 years and I have just had a seperation and actually I think it made me realise how bogged down in all our parenting/life issues we had got and I know I had definately been taking a lot of things for granted.
This has helped me think again about the value of loving and accepting the person as they are not what we think they should be.
Thank you…I’m off to change out of my sweat pants now! 😂
oh bless you Kate. I pray that you can pour into your marriage and that there will be fruit! Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. Kids do change everything but with a little intentional effort I believe you can things back! 🙂 Much aloha-
yes yes yes to all of these! Powerful suggestions, thank you!
My husband and I have been on the brink of divorce twice. Once we had a marriage counselor look my husband dead in the eye and say, “Then I guess you have to leave your wife.” At that point I was talking to my lawyer and drawing up the paperwork. We came back from that (how? how? He decided he didn’t want to leave his wife.) The second time was much more subtle, but it got so bad we were living apart. And it was that separation that made us realize that we didn’t want to live without each other. It was for legitimate reasons – marriage is hard.
As amazing as it sounds we have an incredible marriage now. I can’t imagine my life without him (I don’t want to) and I tell him that all the time. I don’t ever join in when my friends are complaining about their husbands because I CAN’T. After everything we went through we put so much effort into each other that it’s wonderful. I know everyone can’t say the same, but it really is in the little things. Look for the little things that you love about your spouse. Especially when you’re upset 🙂
And, one other thing. For Christmas this year my husband bought this really cute little thing that helps us remember to “say” I love you in different ways. Because if it’s hanging on the shower wall, you’re more likely to occasionally write something up there! It’s a waterproof notepad that comes with a pencil and everything that suction cups to the wall of your shower. Great for valentine’s day!
Becka–what an incredible story!! I love that so much. Thank you for sharing it with us. Seriously gonna order the waterproof notepad right now! 🙂 I would love for everyone to hear your story…God bless you and keep enjoying that awesome, imperfect husband!! xo
Thanks for another great post, Monica. I get annoyed that my husband NEVER suggests going out for dinner or a movie or an ice-cream or a walk or anything, but perhaps as you said, that’s my role, and he is great at loads of other things, so I’ll get planning….
Atta girl, Sheena! And if your husband is like mine, he actually will love the dates as much as you do–planning them just may not be his gift. Keep me posted, k? XO Aloha-
Monica, I always read your posts but this one was a real wake up call for me. I am encouraged and inspired by your list! Now I just need to get to pull myself out of the mood if you know what I mean, it definitely hard to do the first step. I really need to though.I believe you are 100% right. Because the truth is I cant keep living like that, I cant wait any longer and feel frustrated.
When did you make that choice?
Carina–Bless you. I know it’s hard to take the first step. Mine has been a work in progress over twenty years of marriage. Please make sure to read the comment here by Becka if you haven’t– it is an incredibly encouraging story. I will pray for you and believe you can make a huge difference. Also, sometimes marriage counseling is really the best choice so if you haven’t, you might consider that too. Much love and all the best to you and your family!
I love them all. I’m especially fond of #9 but I need to work on #8 because I am not at all fond of cards. But I know other people like them so I should make more of an effort.
As for #11. Done. We made reservations a couple of weeks ago. Woop woop! It’s AWANA night so we get to have a date without having to pay for a sitter. Love that!
Thanks for all the great tips. You ROCK!
Thanks for this article. After reading it, I leaned over and kissed my husband for three seconds. And then I called a wonderful French restaurant, Cafe Du Berry, and we’re going to go have a Valentines breakfast together on our way into work . A Valentines breakfast or lunch works best for us, it’s less expensive, and hardly anyone shows up for a Valentines breakfast or lunch. After 30 years of marriage, a leisurely breakfast is lovely.
ohhhh, so glad, Melissa! (Also, coming home to a house to yourselves sounds pretty darned romantic to me right now!! :)) Love you friend, and thank you for always modeling a committed, intentional marriage to me! XO Aloha-
This is spot on! Thank you for sharing! My husband passed away in Nov 2016 and I miss him every day. These are simple things that can make all the difference in a marriage. I hope everyone who reads this can try implementing these. They’re not hard, you have to try but it’s worth it in the end. Beautiful!
Oh Lisa…You just made me cry. Thank you for the awesome, positive comment, and it means even more knowing you recently lost your husband. I’m so sorry. Thank you for the encouragement. Bless you–
Thanks for the reminders! All great points! It’s easy to get caught up in life and not do the extra little things that can make a difference. Another slippery slope can be our thoughts (putting the other one down or complaining inwardly, etc.) I must focus on the good and not dwell on the things that go wrong. Forgiveness and humility go a long way … Also, I once read that “marriage is not supposed to make you happy – it’s supposed to make you holy.” Whenever I remember this, it doesn’t make me cringe or dread – it helps put things in focus and makes me realize that the institution of marriage is not what Hollywood would portray with constant romance and feel-good emotions. It’s part of life, and a life lived for Christ is one that should get us closer to being like Jesus every day. Our struggles in marriage are usually because one or both partners are selfish, sinful individuals. Thanks again for a very timely post!
Great advice, Monica! Thanks.
Very well put, thoughtful, and helpful! Thank you!
oh thank you Kim!! Aloha and have a great weekend! XO
So good – I love that you included Flirt & Have Fun! There is so much seriousness and heaviness involved in marriage and parenting – I am realizing how important it is to keep our relationship fresh and yes, fun. Life is to short to not actually ENJOY my husband – he is the best gift God’s given me.
Yes, you are right Julie! We lose perspective in the busyness, but having a great partner (even if imperfect ;)) is truly a gift!! aloha–
Wonderful points! At the end of the day, our happiness is our own perspective. Learning to appreciate a person for who they are, speaking in a ‘loving’ manner rather than yelling or screaming, and making time to date one another is really important. It takes work by both parties, but when done in love and prayer it makes a huge difference.
Amen–you are so right!! Thanks for commenting! aloha-