I’ve come to understand that most people, myself included, begin with very superficial definitions and expectations of what marriage is and then find themselves blindsided when the honeymoon ends.
We want what our friends have or what we see in movies, assuming good marriages just appear out of the blue or are a lottery where few win but many lose. I only knew my husband for a year before getting engaged, and I got pregnant soon after marriage. We jumped headfirst into family life, and while it has been the greatest blessing of my life, it has also been challenging.
Though my husband and I are very different people, we love each other very much, and that love has only grown deeper since having our first child. We have had many ups and downs in the short time we have been together, and I would like to share the things I’ve learned as a newly married, first-time mom that help me keep my marriage sacred and help me manage the trials of family life.
1. Find Harmony in Daily Routines
My husband and I have very different responsibilities, and thus our days look very different. It’s important for us to do our chores effectively so that the other can do theirs. For example, my husband works to make money so I can buy food and supplies for our home, and I meal prep food so that my husband can simply grab a meal out of the fridge whenever he wants at his leisure.
When one of us is fulfilling their duties it helps the other accomplish theirs. Our roles function in harmony with one another, rather than making already hard work harder. Having clearly defined roles and chores that support the family as a whole helps avoid petty fights over who is going to do what when, what’s fair and what isn’t, etc.
Furthermore, it’s important that we give each other space to focus on and do our work to the best of our ability. This space to carry on with our own work is regenerative for the marriage and makes us excited to be with one another when we get the chance at the end of the day.
Having clearly defined roles and chores that support the family as a whole helps avoid petty fights.
Some things we try our best to do together amidst the work every day are things like eat our meals together, pray together, and spend an hour or so of quality time together. At the end of the day, we usually go for a family walk or listen to music together. Sometimes we sit in peaceful silence close to one another after the baby has gone to sleep, working on things that are important to us. For me, this still counts as time together. Mere presence without the need to fill the dead air with speaking is very comforting too.
2. Fight Fair
Fighting fair is a skill. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone, mostly because few of us are truly in control of our emotions. In order to fight fair, we must be able to create some distance between ourselves and our emotions so that we can act, instead of react. When we react, we tend to blame, name call, yell, threaten divorce, use phrases like “you always” or “you never,” and find it very difficult to hear what the person we’re in conflict with is actually saying.
In order to fight fair, we must understand that navigating conflict in marriage is not about winning – it’s always about reconciliation. If winning is your goal when in conflict with your spouse, then I can assure you, you’ve already lost. When we choose to empathize with our spouse in a disagreement rather than arrogantly assume our perspective is the only valid option, we lay the groundwork for understanding where our spouse may differ from us and even learn to appreciate their opposing perspective. Maybe coming to understand a different viewpoint can teach you something you’ve overlooked, even if you still fundamentally disagree on a matter.
Navigating conflict in marriage is not about winning – it’s always about reconciliation.
It’s also important that we take ownership of our side of a conflict – it takes two to tango, as they say. This helps us to avoid the blame game.
Verbally validating by expressing that you get where your spouse is coming from and repeating back to your spouse the valid points they have made show that you’re listening with intentionality and that you’re not against them. It also helps show that you’re capable and willing to empathize with your spouse, not necessarily because you agree with them, but because you love them.
No disagreement can get too heated or hurtful when we conduct ourselves in such a way. This way we avoid planting resentment in the heart of our beloved by being careful and mindful with their hearts.
3. Pursue Your Spouse
Once children are added to the equation and daily routines are established, it can be easy to forget or lose the magic that you once had with your spouse in the beginning. It’s not so much that the magic is gone as it is that you have stopped pursuing one another the way you once did. It’s important that before intimacy is lost for good you re-commit to pursuing your spouse so that you can maintain that warm fuzzy feeling for one another for many years to come.
Many people believe that all we need is love for a relationship to work, but this is naïve and untrue. We need to consistently and constantly choose our spouse the way we did in the beginning in order to pursue them. This means you must consciously avoid falling into egotistical attachment which attempts to extract from the other person rather than engage in an exchange. We must make choices every day that work to establish and re-establish the vows we made to one another, only then will the lasting feelings of love follow.
We need to consistently and constantly choose our spouse the way we did in the beginning.
Healthy, long-lasting relationships often are comprised of people who are inquisitive and curious. They don’t assume they know everything about their spouse already. They confront the reality that their spouse is an evolving, complex person who they can “get to know” their entire lives. Instead of assuming how their spouse may think or feel about a certain thing, they ask. They’re always working to understand the inner workings and inner world of the person they love. The bonds that are formed between people who communicate with each other this way become unbreakable.
Furthermore, when you pursue your spouse, you offer praise, affection, affirmation, encouragement, respect, gratitude, and kindness without ever expecting anything in return. When you consistently lift your spouse up through your actions and words, you show them that you’re their shelter and refuge from the harshness of the world.
4. Fill Your Own Cup, Then Offer What Overflows
Negative emotions thrive in bodies that aren’t well cared for. When we neglect to take care of ourselves we make the aftermath of our own weakness our spouse’s problem. It’s extremely important that we don’t make our well-being the responsibility of our significant other. If they’re busy looking after us then they’re not able to look after themselves. In codependent relationships, both parties always suffer.
To avoid letting our own stresses become a burden on our marriage we must learn what our stress signals and triggers are. For me, stress is caused by a messy house, not getting enough exercise or time outdoors, too many loud noises all at once, not getting any alone time for several days, neglecting my hobbies and passions, not eating enough, and not getting enough sleep.
Negative emotions thrive in bodies that aren’t well cared for.
When any or a combination of these things is happening, I tend to spiral and become very overwhelmed and emotional. With children, sometimes these things are unavoidable like not getting enough sleep or the house being a little messy, but if you remain aware that these things bother you, you can remind yourself that your internal feelings are coming from external stimuli and then act to change your situation before you feel defeated or have an emotional outburst.
It’s important that you have a deep and penetrating knowledge of who you are, what you need to be in a state of calm, and make sure receiving those things is a priority. If you don’t own your personal well-being and blame your instability on your partner, then you create a situation where one person is always walking on eggshells because they will feel it’s their fault you’re unhappy. We must work hard to have a calm and easy-going disposition in the home in spite of great challenges and distractions.
Attend to your self-care and the things that give you peace and calm, and maybe most importantly, when you find that your cup is overflowing because you have taken care of yourself, share what you have to give. That may mean offering a foot rub, doing your spouse’s chore without being asked, or going out of your way to do something that you know relieves the stress of your partner while asking nothing in return. When both parties of a marriage act this way, both parties feel nourished and cared for without ever having to demand anything from each other.
5. Fight for Your Spouse Rather Than against Them
Let me say it again, fight FOR your spouse, rather than AGAINST them. We must stop expecting people to be different than they are. People are imperfect; we have weaknesses, flaws, limitations, and suffering. When we see our spouse is falling behind in their duties or not living up to their potential, it’s gravely important that we don’t address these matters by “calling them out,” but rather see that they’re struggling to carry their cross and with compassion shoulder some of that weight.
When we help our spouse when they’re truly enduring hard times, we can allow this experience to help us grow in humility and love for them. This requires that we look for and be willing to see the good in them, even when it’s hard to see. It can mean reminding our spouse of the good within them when they’re so low that they may have forgotten. We fight for our spouses by seeing the best in them and allowing them to see themselves through our eyes.
We fight for our spouses by seeing the best in them and allowing them to see themselves through our eyes.
Sometimes we’re busy carrying on with our own burdens though and it can innocently go unnoticed that one party of a marriage is struggling. This is why asking for help when we need it is imperative. It’s not often a matter that a person doesn’t care that you’re in turmoil – people aren’t mind-readers. If they’re not perceptive enough to pick up on your suffering themselves don’t hold that against them. Simply communicate your internal state and be open to receiving what they have to offer.
When we see our marriages as not merely something that gives us what we need but as a path to our own and our beloved’s redemption, we allow for the romantic love between husband and wife to transform us into something greater than the two people alone. It also allows for us to model for our children the beauty of love between man and woman in a way that will allow them to find that same kind of love someday in their own lives.
Love is a choice we make, and we must choose our spouse every day. We must pursue them with an open heart, and practice humility in the face of countless opportunities where we could choose pride. Good marriages aren’t found, they’re made. My marriage, like all others, is a work in progress. I fail to reach the standards I have described above often, and likely you will too, we are human after all.
What’s important is that we have a clear vision of what works and what doesn’t so we can catch ourselves when we fall short of what our spouse deserves. We must treat our marriage like it’s the most precious and valuable asset we have – because it is.
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