As a wedding photographer, I see the time, energy, and money invested into a wedding. Yes, it truly can be the happiest day of your life, but what about the "from this day forward" part? How much effort is invested into the marriage itself? It's easy to slip into a relationship where you just co-exist. What about living in a marriage where you are thriving and having fun together?
We just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and I've taken some time to look back at the nuggets of wisdom I've gained. Here are some things that I wish I understood going in:
1. Respect. Thank him for the work he does each day. Trust his decisions. He has been driving for years just fine before you were in the picture and your "tips" are not actually that helpful. What he is probably hearing from you is that he's not a good driver and you don't trust him. Always speak positively of your spouse in public.
2. Watch your tongue. Make your home a safe place where he wants to be and where he can be himself. Over time, he may become more comfortable sharing his insecurities and these are things that you should never use to hurt him.
3. Realize that he's not your girlfriend. I love saying "Guess how much I paid for this!" or "What do you think of this dress?" My husband is not into that game and won't share that excitement. He isn't sure how to answer the question about the dress other than saying "It looks great." You can let him know what you'd like to hear but I wouldn't count on him gushing like a girlfriend might. Also, he will usually try to solve a problem when all you want is to be heard with a sympathetic ear.
4. Make him feel wanted. Let him know you think he's handsome. Put an effort into your appearance and initiate sex. Let your partner know what you need, like, and hope for. I know that this is one area that I can invest in where the results (a super happy and helpful husband) are so appreciated.
5. Put him before the kids (and/or work). This can be hard, especially when the kids are young and just NEED us so much. Wouldn't you rather approach parenting as a strong, happy unit? Wouldn't you love to enjoy time with your spouse each evening once those little monkeys are in bed? One day they will move out and we will be left with our spouse. It is so healthy for kids to see this marriage relationship being a priority.
6. Be intentional. Our eighth year of marriage was our hardest. We were tired from having three young kids and we were busy with work. We survived in a business type mode and there was not a lot of fun. Although we were working well as a team, we weren't connecting and enjoying each other's company. Make the effort. Even if the other person doesn't want to, just start and you will see results. Read books. Attend marriage classes or counselling. You can't change them but you can change yourself.
7. Focus on the positives. If you see a wet towel on the bed and dirty clothes on the floor, don't let your mind start going to all the ways your spouse has let you down. Instead, focus on what he does do. He works hard. He takes care of the kids. He makes dinner a couple of times a week. He takes out the garbage. Whatever it is, focus on those positive things. Turn those negatives around. For example, if you're frustrated that he's a procrastinator, appreciate that he's laid back. This doesn't mean you don't need to mention the wet towel, just be aware of how often you bring it up and the tone of your voice.
8. Spend time together talking, in activities, and in bed. Have fun together. Pray together. Share together. Figure out what you enjoy doing together and do them. What did you do when you were dating? Some of our greatest moments of connecting happen over hiking.
9. Fight fair. Try not to use the words "always" and "never" or "remember when." If possible, enter the discussion calmly. If you feel like you are going to be unable to share respectfully, I would encourage taking a few minutes to calm down. You don't want to say something you will regret. Don't be stubborn as it's not worth it to try and win. There is no winning. Working through a problem towards a solution is so much more satisfying!
10. Recognize that we see things differently. When I come into the house, I see shoes in the hallway, dirty dishes on the counter, and a laundry basket at the bottom of the stairs. What does my husband see? Not those things. Sometimes they really don't see what needs to get done and it's not that they expect you to do it; they just need it pointed out gently. Other times, it's just not high on their priority list. Often I just ask for those items on the "To Do" list to be done by a certain date or time. Believe me when I say that it's not worth it to leave an item out to see how long it will take to get cleaned up.
Please make sure you put the effort in even if the other person doesn't see the need. Check in with each other to see where you feel your marriage is at. We each give our marriage a percentage to get an idea of how each person is feeling. And finally, just to make things a bit easier, whoever gets out of bed last is responsible for making the bed.