3 Ways to Make Your Marriage Better

Better Marriage

Michael and I are leading a couple we love through some premarital counseling right now–something we always feel so privileged to do–and I’m reminded, again, why we are so committed to our marriage and to marriage in general.

Marriage, more than most other relationships, has the power to harm and to heal. Click To Tweet

Marriage, more than most other relationships, has the power to harm and to heal. And in the daily grind of life and relationship and kids and jobs, sometimes our spouse gets the short end of the proverbial stick. They get our frustrations and our shortness, our exhaustion and our failures. They often get our worsts.

But our spouses also get our bests–if we let them. 

It’s a sad reality of life that we often become the most flippant and casual with those we love and need the most. If familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it can at least lead to a unspoken type of expectation where their presence and love is expected rather than treasured.

I don’t want to live that way. I want to live in an intentional, joyful marriage.

Here are three ways to offer your spouse your bests in the relationship:

1. Speak the language of thankfulness. 
In a healthy marriage, there is a give and take of responsibilities and tasks that has to be accomplished every week just to stay afloat. Bills have to be paid, trash has to be taken out, meals have to be made. When we start expecting those things of one another without being appreciative for the work and energy those things require, we miss an opportunity to cultivate joy.

Thank your spouse for what he does. Does he leave for work every morning? Thank him for being faithful in his job. Does she balance the checkbook and pay the bills? Thank her for her consistency and excellence. Thank him for changing that diaper. Thank her for cooking that meal. Gratitude offers dignity to mundane tasks–and it shows an awareness of how much our spouse does for our life to keep it moving forward.

Gratitude offers dignity to mundane tasks in marriage. Click To Tweet

2. Make time for one another.
When we invest in people, we learn to love them. Our children, our friends, even our colleagues–when we really hear their hearts, we often can’t help but love them, to one degree or another. When we neglect getting meaningful time with our spouse, we can drift apart more easily because we forget about their hearts and dreams and thoughts.

So set up a recurring lunch date, or make the half hour after the kids go down a sacred time for the two of you to talk–really talk. Get a weekend away if you can (yes, even if it takes more time and energy to set it up than you will be gone). Make your relationship a priority with your time–we invest in what we value, and marriage is no different. 

We invest in what we value, and our marriage is no different Click To Tweet

3. Do something unexpectedly kind.
Surprising our spouse with something we know they will love–a meal out, a backrub, a box of cookies–tells them that we care about them, that we think about them, and that what matters to them matters to us.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money–what matters here is thoughtfulness. So what can you do, today, to show kindness to your spouse? Wash the dishes when it’s his turn? Put gas in the car? Bring flowers home? Surprise him with a night out, complete with a sitter and a reservation?

What can you do today to make your marriage better–and stronger? Consider putting one of these ideas into practice today!

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

10 Things Every Newlywed Should Know

My newest piece, “10 Things Every Newlywed Should Know,” is up at RELEVANT Magazine. It’s a letter I wrote to my newlywed self–one I wish I’d had for those early months and years of marriage. It’s also one that I would do well to re-read every day, as a reminder of what it means to live healthily and joyfully in a marriage that’s going to make it for the long haul. I hope it encourages you!

10 Things Every Newlywed Should Know--really, things any married person should know!!

1. Repent and Forgive—Daily and Out Loud.

Marriage, in all of its glory, also brings up some ugly sins. When you know you have sinned against your spouse, humble yourself and ask for forgiveness. Out loud. And tell your spouse you forgive him or her—out loud.

Saying “I’m sorry” is different from asking “Will you forgive me?” Asking for forgiveness requires humility before God and your spouse that builds an incredible trust in marriage. Some days, you will need to repent to each other more times than you care to admit, and on those days it’s a good idea to go just to bed early and start over the next morning.

2. Lavish Your Time, Energy and Love on One Another.

There are seasons in life when you will be busier than you imagined. But if you have the time in these early months and years to spend together, take it! Enjoy one another, spend ridiculous amounts of time getting to know each other as husband and wife, laugh together, snuggle, share ideas, dream together out loud. Be one another’s biggest fans.

3. Enjoy Sex and Talk About it Together.

There’s a big learning curve in sex. It’s wonderful and difficult and fun and funny. Don’t forget that phrase your mentor told you: “there’s always an extra limb in sex that doesn’t fit anywhere!” But whatever you do, keep talking together about sex. Be gentle with the vulnerability offered from your spouse. Don’t blow anything off if your spouse brings it up; take it seriously. Satan wants to keep spouses silent in the broken places; by opening up about sex and talking through concerns and questions, you can avoid a lot of additional pain.

4. Find a Church Home and Plug In.

As important as it is to lavish on one another, ultimately, no marriage thrives well in a hermit hole. Find a community of believers and press in. Ask questions. Hang out with older married couples. Ask for help. Go to potlucks. Make friends and pursue those friendships.

Jesus loves the local church, and your marriage is a powerful part of what God is doing—in you and in the larger community you are a part of.

5. Set Aside a Date Night.

Once a week, minimum, for the rest of your lives. Build it into the budget. Intentionality equals trust and love.

Read the other five reminders over at RELEVANT!

Are you waiting for God to breakthrough in your life-

 

Connecting after Kids

Connecting after kids

My newest piece is up today at Today’s Christian Woman–an article about how Michael and I sought to intentionally connect as a married couple (and not just as parenting partners) after having our daughter. What follows is an abbreviated version of the full article, which you can read here!

Pregnancy was difficult for me. Recovery from an unexpected C-section was difficult for me. The initial transition into motherhood was difficult for me. The lack of sleep was difficult for me. Why I expected our marriage to fly through all of these difficulties without any significant emotional ramifications is beyond me. Maybe it’s because, after being married for seven years, I assumed we would continue to connect well and operate the same way.

I was wrong.

It’s not that Michael and I didn’t still love each other. It’s not that we didn’t continue to have date nights. It’s not that we didn’t still spend time together. But it felt . . . different. felt different. At times, I felt overwhelmed by how much my daughter needed me and by how little time there was to do anything other than care for her. As we emerged from the newborn stage, I found myself unsure about how to continue to invest in and develop my own passions, let alone the connection points in our marriage, when I felt so immersed in this new, tiny life.

Our marriage didn’t feel the same.

Looking back, I can say now to myself: of course it wasn’t the same. You had a baby. Your attentions are now divided. Your hormones are out of whack. You are a family of three rather than two. The external change is huge; the emotional change will be huge too.

But I didn’t have those thoughts then. I just had a lot of feelings—and primarily, I felt less connected to my husband than I ever had before. I didn’t want this shift to lead to a slow fade of operating as parenting partners rather than emotionally connected spouses.

As we talked with each other and with friends, we both committed, again, to making sure our marriage thrived in every season of life—including this new one with a baby. So we kicked our intentionality up a notch and made connecting as a married couple—and not just as parenting partners—a top priority in our lives.

The most important part of connecting as spouses? Prayer. We prayed—individually and together—for God’s grace and wisdom as we sought to stay meaningfully united in this new stage of life.

With God’s help, we also made several practical choices. First, we pared down our schedule. We had both been carrying full schedules before Ella was born; after her birth we realized our pace of life was not sustainable if we wanted to continue to have a healthy marriage. Michael took a break from graduate school, and while we kept attending a small group at church, we stepped down from leading it.

Secondly, we worked to share new experiences together. Parenting Ella was a new experience we loved, but we needed to continue to invest in our relationship as friends and lovers. Due to our exhaustion, date night had become routine—dinner at home and Shark Tank on the couch. So we mixed things up. We went to a matinee downtown. We went to a friend’s wedding without our daughter, even though she was invited. We took a vacation. These experiences offered new avenues within which our relationship could grow.

Marriage is about the God our marriage is meant to point to; it is about us looking and loving more… Click To Tweet

Thirdly, we went to a counseling and marriage retreat. With the help of a Christian counselor, we were given practical tools for how to grow together emotionally in this new season of life. We walked away from that week with a shared grid for how to encourage and support one another better.

But there’s no quick solution or easy answer to navigating these new waters since becoming parents. Our marriage has changed emotionally—as well as physically and practically—because we have changed. The transformation into becoming parents together has been a beautiful, stressful change for us, and with every new stage our daughter grows into, our marriage will have to grow as well. Our needs and hers are constantly shifting, and it will continue to take great intentionality and time—as well as heartfelt engagement with one another—to stay emotionally connected.

What does stay the same is God, along with the promises we made to one another at the altar so many years ago. We are committed to keeping our marriage as healthy as we can because, ultimately, our marriage isn’t about us. It is about the God our marriage is meant to point to; it is about us looking and loving more like Jesus; and it is also, now, about a little girl who is toddling around our home. That is worth our time, our love, our intentionality, and our commitment—in any season of life.

Read the full article here at Today’s Christian Woman!

Dating Your Husband: The Hows & Whys

Dating Your Husband

It seems fitting, during this week of the year, that I have an article up at Darling Magazine entitled “Mom’s The Word: Dating Your Husband.” As a woman who became a wife and a mother during the month of May, seven years apart, writing this article reminded me afresh of the reasons why Michael and I are so committed to continuing to date. You can read it here, but I’m including the basics below:

The Whys

Time is a valuable gift.
Making time to date one another in a season of life that is very busy (and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon) is a priceless gift we can give our spouse. Time is a precious commodity to both of us, and when we willingly spend that time with one another, we are saying you are worth my time. And because our lives are made up of just that—time—we are saying, in essence, you are worth my life.

Click To Tweet

We invest in what we value.
If you’re like me and you’re not rolling in money, the components of getting a date with your spouse can seem too costly sometimes—paying for a date and a sitter can really add up. Yet, we invest in what we value; that doesn’t mean we have to spend loads of money to date, but we do have to invest in cultivating our relationship as a couple.

When we short-change our spouse, we short-change the family.
As a mom, I want Ella to have everything she needs (and more).  But more than many other things, children want to know that their parents are in love and that they enjoy one another; this brings peace and stability to a home. Having a consistent date night doesn’t guarantee a healthy marriage, but it does offer intentional space to grow together as a couple.

The Hows 

Intentional connection.
Date night won’t add much to a relationship if there is no real connection. While watching a TV show together can be fun, it’s also important to create space to talk and continue to get to know one another. We’ve even purchased books to help jumpstart these conversations—and we keep learning about each other in the process.

Keep it simple.
Sometimes, the thought of planning a date night—on top of everything else—can seem like a burden rather than a blessing. So, most of the time, we keep it simple: dinner at one of our regular spots, coffee at our favorite cafe. It’s not the place and the surroundings that matter—it’s the time you get with one another. If you’re stuck in a routine and you need to break out of it, look at the options at your local library or community college–many offer one-night classes where you can learn a new skill, such as a cooking class or an art class.

Sometimes, go fancy.
The caveat to keeping things simple is that there are times when a fancy night out or adventurous date is exactly what you both need. New experiences together are fun and bonding, so put on your heels, compliment his tie, and make a reservation at your favorite restaurant or go see a show together in the city! Or, if you’re more of the adventurous type, go to your local climbing wall and spend an hour with an instructor, learning how to climb. Take a salsa dancing class or a country-line dancing class. The options are endless!

Either way, make it happen.
Regardless of what you do, actually having a date together is the key. If Michael and I only had a date night on the weeks it was convenient, we would never get one. But we are committed to investing in our marriage in this way, and so we make it work, even if it’s a shared dessert at home after Ella goes to sleep or a walk at the park with her in a stroller while we talk.

How about you? Do you and your spouse have regular dates? What do they look like?

Related post: The Power of Mini Marriage Retreats

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

Why Dating Your HusbandMatters