Most modern couples get married expecting an amazing ride. Some think their life will be peaceful and harmonious; whereas, others expect chaos and craziness. On occasion, couples emerge who want to move with the wind and others who want to stay grounded in one place for a lifetime. However, all these couples – all those who are marrying for love – have one specific trait in common. Wherever they go in life, they expect to go (or stay) together – till death.
From the most conservative to the most progressive, couples want to believe they can count on the person with whom they share their life. We want someone we can faithfully trust in our corner.
Still, every day, once loving and devoted couples sit across the table from each other in sterile law offices deciding who gets the house, who gets the car, when each person gets the children, and how to divide their assets. How does it come to this?
No two stories are identical, but divorce typically comes as a result of pride, selfishness, laziness, foolishness, or some combination of the four. Couples stop noticing each other or stop putting in the work to stay connected. It is easy to heap blessings on each other in the beginning of the marriage before experiential baggage forms while those lovin’ feelings are still propelling us forward; but, it is in the five to six decades following that we have to fight for our marriages. Cultivating a lifetime of love requires work, sacrifice, creativity, prayer, and determination.
If you want to keep your friendship alive for a lifetime, carry the following list of dos and don’ts into your married life:
Here you go, straight from the mind of a married woman with experience…
- Be silly together. Have crazy nicknames for each other. Do ridiculous voices. Have tickle fights. Giggle. (Note: this one is very important and first on the list for a reason!)
- Become an expert at how to prepare your sweetie’s favorite dishes. Pull out all the stops when he or she has a rough day – or an especially good day – by fixing comfort foods, lighting candles, and creating an ambiance he or she would appreciate (e.g., I would appreciate take out and the glow of my favorite show playing in the background. ~smile~).
- Answer the phone. This suggestion may sound obvious, but after a few years, talking to your lady or gentleman on the phone will not be the amazing treat it is today. Decide to answer your sweetheart’s calls when they call no matter the stage of your relationship. If you act like your partner is a priority, even if you do not feel especially loving at the time, he or she will become a priority in your heart.
- Sit in lawn chairs and gaze up at the stars. Some of the best conversations happen in the peaceful glow of the night sky.
- Try to understand your partner’s “irrational” demands. Eric thinks breaking off in the middle of a texting conversation is rude. Sometimes I get distracted and forget to keep the conversation going. Even though I mean no harm, this is a huge frustration for him and an area I need to work on so he knows he is a priority to me.
- Write your story as soon as possible. When Eric and I moved from friendship to love, it felt magical; but, that cloud-floating euphoria does not last terribly long. Sometimes, I miss the season of our relationship when everything was new and untarnished. I wish I had written down the details of our love story as they were happening so I could revisit them in later, more difficult moments. It is helpful to remind yourselves why you grew to love each other in the first place.
- Pray together. The family that prays together does indeed stay together. Make prayer a part of your daily marriage routine and specifically ask God to protect your relationship and to grow your friendship.
- Once you are married, do something nice for your loved one every morning (e.g., bring coffee in bed, pack a treat in the lunch bag, give shoulder rubs, etc.). If you are still dating, do something kind on every date (e.g., bring a favorite candy, vacuum out your car, drive through a car lot to look at new vehicles [if that is something he or she enjoys], etc.).
- Kill the criticism. This is essential. As I look back over our marriage, I realize that nothing has deflated either of us more than criticism. “Why did you…?” “How many times have I asked you to…?” “Really, we have to deal with this again?” Negative questioning and commentary not only affects the recipient, but it also influences the instigator. When I criticize Eric, I start to feel resentful of him; but, when I choose to highlight his successes, I feel grateful for him.
- Handle snakes, spiders, or hairless cats – anything that freaks you out – and support each other as you overcome fears together. When we conquer fears we feel lighter and more confident. Sharing these victories together is a bonding experience.
- Randomly tell your VIP what you like about being in a relationship with him or her. The longer a couple is together, the more time they have to discover negative traits in each other. So, after years of dating or marriage, it is reassuring and heart-warming to hear your sweetheart say, “You are still the one I want and here is why…”
- Do a yearly clean-out. In our entire marriage, Eric and I have struggled with clutter. It is amazing how quickly junk takes over your living space if you let it! To keep your home comfortable and hospitable, go through your belongings on a yearly or semi-yearly basis and let go of unnecessary stuff. You will feel lighter and more comfortable; and, though it seems strange, removing debris from your life benefits your well-being and your relationships.
- Go for strolls. Couples can be together in the same room without saying a word. Television, phones, iPads, books, children, and a host of other distractions can keep us from communicating. But, it is unusual for couples to walk together without talking about something – serious or otherwise. Walking is a great way to get fresh air, rejuvenate after a long day, and stay emotionally connected.
- Laugh every chance you get. Inside jokes are the best. Go to comedy shows. Discover your honey’s sense of humor and tap into it often. Try not to take the pressures of life so seriously that they break your funny bone.
- Hand over the remote. Eric loves the Food Network and, on more than one occasion, I have sighed upon seeing Guy Fieri on our TV screen – yet again (only because he is always on the channel – no disrespect intended though!). My annoyed body language accomplishes nothing of value. Eric has watched numerous episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Frasier, and Full House with me. Being a good sport when he needs to enjoy a good cooking show is the least I can do for him.
- Stay hydrated and keep snacks handy. It is a shame when dehydration and hunger lead to unnecessary fights. Be aware of your body and listen to it when it requests nourishment. Taking good care of our bodies helps us take good care of our relationships.
- Pay attention to the small details which make your sweetie feel seen and appreciated. For years, Eric consistently left the shower curtain open after his shower. Even though I am not a neat freak by any means, I always want the curtain closed so it can dry properly. Even though this is such a small detail, whenever Eric remembers to close the curtain, I feel seen and appreciated (and he does much better these days! ~smile~).
- Create a love fund. Regularly budget for fun, but on top of your entertainment fund, set aside a piggy bank or envelope for extra money. When you resolve a conflict successfully, put a $5 bill in your fund. When you complete a goal together, put a $10 bill in your fund. Save for a specific excursion. Celebrate your successes with lots of fun.
- Drive to your dream home/neighborhood. Take a look around and discuss where you would like to see your life in 10, 20, 30, and 40 years. Then, have your sweetie take a turn at the wheel. See how your plans match up and discuss concrete ways to make your dreams come true.
- Get good at saying yes to each other. Being the cautious person I was when we first married, I was quick to say no to many new ideas and new adventures; and, even though I still get incredibly nervous listening to Eric’s aspirations for our marriage, I try not to be so quick to dismiss them. I know my horizons have grown tremendously from having this man in my life and saying yes to living leads to a more fulfilling existence.
- Wear something your sweetie likes. Eric rarely comments on the clothes I pick out unless I ask for his opinion, but occasionally he says, “I would love to see you in a skirt once in a while.” Anyone who knows me can tell you I avoid dresses like the plague, but knowing he wants to see me in a flowing skirt from time to time motivates me to rethink my pants-only policy. It is one small way to show him that he matters to me and his desires matter to me.
- Ditch the comparisons. Nobody wants to hear how someone else is better at X, Y, or Z. Comparing your significant other to someone else, either mentally or verbally, does not help you or the relationship. Instead, focus on what you appreciate about his or her strengths. When Eric genuinely compliments or thanks me, I feel an inner motivation to please him.
- Do something new together at least once a month. For some couples, this is no challenge. You live for the fresh and exciting. Others of you like your routines and this idea may be a bit daunting; but, it will be good for you and your relationship! Most nights, you can stick to what is normal and comfortable, but expand your world twelve times a year and see what it does for your friendship!
- Pay attention to those details you noticed when you were first dating. We have a habit of letting ourselves go after we achieve married status. If you wore cologne while you were dating, do not stop after the wedding. If you put a few extra minutes into your makeup when your relationship was new, keep it up.
- Read together. Whether you read different books or the same book out loud to each other, spend some time expanding your minds together. When we were dating, Eric read to me over the phone, and it was so comforting.
What else would you add to this list?
Putting plans in place now while loving each other is easy. Create habits that will drive you towards success. What will you do to keep love alive when your partner’s kiss no longer makes you weak in the knees? How will you redirect your love story when your conversations revolve around bills, children, and work stress? Sadly, love will not effortlessly keep your relationship alive – you have to keep the love alive. It is easier said than done, but if you get married with a plan, you are more likely to keep the fire burning.
How will you keep your love alive after you get married?