This was originally posted back in July 2011. I thought it would be fitting to repost on Valentine’s Day. These are 5 tips for a happier marriage my wife and I have learned along the way.
- Serve your wife: I put this one first because I think it’s the most overlooked. Your marriage is meant to mirror your walk with Christ. We must die to ourselves for our spouse in the same way that we must die to ourselves to enter into a real relationship with God. When you gave your spouse that ring it meant “I’m giving up my life and starting our life.” Now, don’t run with this one and think that you can never do anything that you want to do again. The point is you should want to serve your wife or husband’s needs before your own. For example, every morning, even on Saturday and Sunday, I serve my wife a smoothie and half a bagel with peanut butter. It’s a simple way to show her at the beginning of every morning that she is incredibly important to me.
- What happens at home, stays at home: This goes for a variety of things. I’ll address the one you’re probably thinking of first: sexual intimacy. Everyone knows you’re married – you don’t need to tell them about your sex life to reinforce it. It makes people uncomfortable. Men, by all means, kiss your wife in public. She needs this to know you care about her enough to show the world. But we don’t need to talk about the “magic” that goes down in the bedroom. My wife and I try to act and talk in ways that reflect the character of Christ, and we don’t find discussing our love life out loud is in line with that. The second area I want to address is conflict. Please don’t give the world any more reasons to think marriage is a dying institution! We all have arguments, and it’s OK. But what is not OK is exposing others to the problems that only belong between you and your God. It gets messy really quickly when we talk about things in front of other people. We have always tried to not let that happen. It undermines the strength of your marriage, and can change the way family members view you. Remember when you discuss with family members how your spouse makes you upset or angry that those statements shape what they think about that person. You will move on eventually, because you love your spouse unconditionally, but that person doesn’t share the same connection.
- Get on the same page, and stay there: Nothing is more frustrating to married couples than outright disagreements on where you stand. Not trivial things like politics or sports teams, but more important things like how you want to raise your kids or what you believe to be the most important things in your marriage. Again, this can undermine the strength of your marriage. This is why it’s so important to have deep conversations, at least some of the time, so you know where you stand as a couple. Trust me, when your wife says something like “We want to have a biblical marriage,” you better know what that means and have something better to say than “Yeah.” My wife and I will literally circumvent conversations with people on topics we know we haven’t gone deep enough on together. We also did something to put our core beliefs down on paper (at the wise suggestion of my wife). This is something John Maxwell recommends doing in his book Today Matters: we wrote out our family constitution. It contains roughly 6-8 of the uncompromising values we agreed to live our lives by as a family. (And you get to make up a cool name for it; I called ours “The Pope Manifesto!”)
- Never go to bed angry: Alright, so this is the toughest tip I have. This has been the hardest thing to maintain in a relationship, but as is often the case, it’s the most rewarding. If you go to bed angry at each other, you will still be angry when you wake up! Sleep can heal a lot of things, but not marital disputes. We decided a long time ago, after many nights of not doing this, that we would never again go to sleep angry. We will talk, we will yell, we will stare at each other in silence, ask questions in the dark – whatever it takes. Believe me, whatever it is, it’s not worth it. And it’s not usually that big of a deal once you talk it out. Life is too short. Spend your energy on sorting through your issues, not encouraging them. There’s a simple litmus test to see if you’ve talked it through enough: say “I love you” to your spouse before you fall asleep. You can tell by the way they answer you if you’ve done your job.
- Ask probing questions: This is a harder one to develop. What I mean is when you are in an argument or you are having a pleasant conversation, ask questions that probe deeper into your spouse’s inner feelings and thoughts. Nothing is more intimate than vulnerable conversation. And your husband or wife longs to tell you those thoughts they can’t just come out and say. It’s your job as their spouse to coach them along to talk about some things. For an argument example: imagine your wife just freaked out about you leaving too many cups laying around the house (which I may have been guilty of in the past). I mean really flipped out. “I can’t believe you don’t appreciate what I do for you!” or “you know I don’t like it when you do that!” It’s hard to see when you get angry that she’s yelling at you, but clearly, there’s something else going on. Most people aren’t irrational enough to scream over a few cups. What it tells you is that there’s something deeper going on that you guys need to talk about. Steer the conversation into the fire instead of fanning the flame. You can’t put out a fire from a distance. Get in there and see what’s going on. I promise their feelings are more rational than you initially think. For conversations, what I’m referring to is going deeper than normal. This sounds simple on the front end, but it takes a lot of work. We are all busy and when we finally get home it can be all too easy to accept “yeah” and “good” as real answers. Go deeper. Ask better questions. Your marriage deserves it.