My wife and I have been married for 10 YEARS TODAY!!!! It is insane how quickly time flies and how many life events have happened in that time. I love her more than anything in the world but as they say "marriage is work". I think we would both agree that our marriage has been strong due to continuing to work with each other to make it better every day.
We certainly have had issues and had fights and it has not always been perfect but we do our best to recognize when we are getting off track and correct course ASAP. So, with that, here are 10 things we do that help us keep it all together. No particular order here. I am way to tired and lazy to re-order these now.
10 - Make Time For Each Other
This one was not so important until we had our little kiddo. With a kid on the house, all energy, time, and focus go towards learning to be a parent and making sure you are actually able to keep another human being alive.
In the midst of all this we decided to institute a bi-weekly date night. We budgeted for the cost of a babysitter and scheduled our date nights. If we had some family fun money available, we would go to the wind tunnel and then get some food but the goal was just to do something. We would have been happy going to the mall and sitting on a bench.
Date night just gave us the opportunity to have real, uninterrupted conversations. We talked about issues we were having, life goals, where we were going this summer for vacation, etc.
This time is so necessary to ensure that you can decompress together and talk about the things that never come up with you are trying to juggle all the things life is throwing at you.
9 - Never Keep Score
Chores, money, child care...anything. Admittedly, we (I) are still working on this. For chores, it matters not who has done more chores because they need to get done regardless. If I do a chore that Briana normally does, that just means more free time for us later. Rather than fuming and waiting for her to finish something else to get this chore done, I can do it and get to a fun activity together faster. The same applies to taking care of the kid. Even if I have changed the last 5 diapers, if changing the 6th is going to get us out the door faster, then I am just going to do it.
Money is always a sticking point. Money could be its own category here but then I would be over 10. GET A BUDGET! Use YNAB or Mint or a spreadsheet (not recommended). Nothing will nose-dive your marriage faster than fighting over money. With a budget, everything is out there, you both can see it, and you both can make decisions about it. With both of you making decisions about the budget, then there is no tally to be kept when it comes to who is spending fairly.
8 - High Fives
Keep it light, weird, and support each other. Seeing us perform some variation of a flamboyant high-five routine at the gym is not uncommon. Recognizing when your partner has made an accomplishment or needs a boost is critical. Just like you would do with your best friends, encourage each other, give those high-fives, act like life is a game that you two are in to win!
We do this together and at different times we each do extraordinary things to keep going towards our goals. We each deserve high-fives, pats on the back. These things are even better when you can inject a little silliness.
7 - Go to A Marriage Retreat (or many)
We have been to a couple. Some because we thought we needed it for a specific reason, some because we just felt like it. Yes, they can be corny and cheesy. Yes, they are basically a self-help book come to life. YES, THEY HELP!
Get over any preconceived notions you have about a marriage retreat/seminar. Get over the idea that you don't "need" this. Understand that every person has issues they can work on and every marriage has issues that can be addressed.
If you are willing to admit that nothing is ever perfect and everything can be improved, then you can get something out of one of these. At these we have seen couples with crumbling marriages come back from the brink, a couple that had been married for 40 years without issue, and the occasion couple trying to make it work but ultimately could not.
You can learn a lot and can get some additional tools to build an even stronger marriage. If you are military, the base often offers these things for free. If you want to jump off the deep-end, then The Marriage Bootcamp is a super intense, but life changing seminar that will help any marriage (let us know if you are interested as we can sponsor folks at a cheaper cost than the standard).
6 - Be A Team
Us versus the world, not us versus us. This goes hand-in-hand with the High Fives one. When you start to fight, figure out why. Are you fighting each other or something else? Is this really a fight or just stress about something else manifesting itself as a fight?
Work with each other, ask each other questions, try to understand what is happening underneath. We are so ready to just write-off our spouses' moods, emotions, and body language. As if living with them absolves us of all normal social interaction. You would never let a colleague at work walk out of a meeting hurt and angry without following up...so why would you not do that at home?
Treat your spouse as your teammate and partner. The only way that we can successfully navigate this world together is to DO IT TOGETHER!
5 - Be Vulnerable To Each Other
This is the "be emotional" bullet point. But seriously, DO IT! If you know you have the emotional intelligence of a snail, then work on it. An emotional deadbeat is no good to anyone.
I can hear the guys chanting some form of "men are tough and don't have to show emotion". Bullshit. If you cannot be emotional vulnerable to your partner, then there is absolutely NO way your partnership will last. You HAVE to be able to demonstrate the full spectrum of emotions. How is your spouse ever going to know how to approach you if you are always a blank slate?
Work on being able to at least verbalize the emotions you are feeling. Start with the big one’s happiness, anger, stress, sadness, etc. Nuance will come with time. Ask your partner if you suspect a large emotional swing. "Are you (mad/sad/angry/upset)?" is a question asked frequently in our house. We want to understand each other's state of mind and understand how we can respond appropriately.
Without this understanding and emotional vulnerability, we would never know how best to approach or assist the other.
4 - Time Together, Time Apart
My favorite two things are spending time with my family and spending time without my family.
Strive to spend time together and to find hobbies together but understand that you will never line up 100% on what you each want to do.
Give each other the freedom to do those things, just do not let those things create a vacuum of time together. Strive to find that healthy balance.
And don't keep tally of how much time each other spends on what things, just try to attain a general balance.
3 - Cook Dinner, Turn Off The TV
We cook dinner almost every night, which generally prevents us from watching TV...and we love it! The time we are cooking dinner is time to talk, joke, play, teach our son about life, let him get some sensory play in with different ingredients, and be a family.
We like TV as much as the next person, but having some dedicated family time each night is great. Cooking together has helped our communications skills (we still forget to thaw things though) and has helped us focus on the most important things to us.
Cooking dinner all the time sometimes becomes a drag but just the thought of not having that time makes me miss it right now.
2 - Learn the Signals (no, not that!)
I mean yes, learn those signals too but what I am really talking about here is the emotional signals. Similar to being emotionally vulnerable, know what your partners emotions look like and then engage. I know a lot of folks try to steer clear of their partner when certain emotions are on display. You have to fight that urge and start engaging.
Your partner seems happier than normal? Ask why.
Your partner seems upset? Ask why.
Your partner is doing something totally not normal? Ask why.
Silence is no one's friend (unless specifically requested). Open the dialogue, ask the questions, try to understand each other. Just a small amount of emotional openness can create a connection between you that extremely powerful.
1 - Never Assume This Will Never Change
Marriage is work, you have to work at it, and it is WONDERFUL!
I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, neither is Briana. But we are still here stronger together than we have ever been.
If you assume that marriage is static and that it will be the same for 50 years, then good luck to you. People simply do not work that way. You have to flex, rebound, and sometimes just outright change.
If you go in with the assumption that marriage is fluid and that there will always be some give and take...if you go in understanding that you both want the best for each other...if you go in with an open mind and heart to each other...then it will be great!