Friday, November 28, 2014

The Wedding is Over...Now What? Marriage Advice for Newlyweds

My little sister got married last week.  She is blissfully in love with an amazing guy and our entire family is thrilled that they found each other.  Attending their wedding and helping at the reception over the weekend left me with a flood of memories of our own wedding festivities more than 13 years ago (yikes!).  It left me wanting to dispense advice to the happy couple.  Then I remembered how much advice Jason and I received when we were engaged/newly married and I held my tongue.

I am not a marriage expert.  Not by a long shot.  But I have been happily married for a number of years.  I believe this entitles me to share my opinion on how to have a happy marriage.  Because how else do we become experts, other than daily work in the trenches?  

**Since I started writing this post, another of my sisters has announced her engagement!  She'll be the last of the five girls in my family to be married; three of them within a year and a half (with our baby brother several years down the line).

Here is my advice to you, my dear sisters, and to other couples just starting their lives together:

Pray together

Jason and I have prayed aloud together nearly every night since we got engaged.  The only times we've missed have been when one or the other of us have been away from home.  This daily connection time has been one of the best habits we have made.  Hearing each other pray about goals, struggles, and concerns helps us better understand each other and how we can better serve each other. We pray for our children, our extended family, our projects and our heartaches.  Including our Heavenly Father in our relationship has helped us overcome the difficulties we've faced and has strengthened our marriage more than we thought possible when we were newlyweds.

Praying together is a powerful way to keep your marriage close and happy.

Learn how to disagree.

It may be hard to imagine right now, but at some point you will disagree with your new spouse.  It's normal.  And ideal, really.  You fell in love with him/her because he/she is different than you are. You have differing strengths and opinions. Not being perfectly aligned on every subject is to be expected. It's important to learn how to disagree and explain your point of view in a calm, loving manner.  The only way to truly resolve conflict is through love and sacrifice for one another.  You won't find those emotions when you're angry.

Disagreements are fine and learning how to express yourself in the midst of high emotions is an important relationship skill to develop.


Build each other up

When we were engaged Jason and I made the vow that we'd never complain about or belittle each other to anyone else.  We were shocked by the things we heard friends and acquaintances say about their spouses and didn't want our relationship to fall into that trap.  While I'm certain I have faults that drive Jason crazy, I appreciate that he's never ragged on me to his buddies, or anyone else. And he feels the same way.  Be careful with your words, they can build up or tear down your marriage.

Sometimes it's okay to go to sleep mad.

You know that darling saying, "Never go to sleep angry"?  It's a sweet thought.  And it's one that Jason and I tried to live by for the first couple of years after we were married. But sometimes going to sleep is the best way to resolve an issue.  Sometimes you're just mad because you're tired.  Staying up until the wee hours of the morning will not make your situation better. A little shut-eye will go a long way toward helping you see eye-to-eye with your spouse.  It's okay to say, "Can we talk about this tomorrow, after we've had more time to think about it?"  You'll both come back to the conversation with a level head and you'll be more willing to compromise.

You shouldn't be going to bed mad for several days in a row, though.  If that's the case, staying up all night to hash out your conflict might be in order.

Jason cooking dinner in our 300 square foot apartment.
 I was standing in the completely opposite corner of the apartment.
It was tiny.

Have no expectations.

Just because your dad always took out the trash doesn't mean your husband's family worked the same way.  Sit down together and discuss how you'll handle the household chores.  Make a plan of attack that works for your relationship and realize that this will change over time.  When we were first married, Jason and I were both in school and working.  Our week days were completely packed, and we were away from home most of the time. Saturdays were our big days for chores and household management.  We'd clean our tiny apartment, do all the laundry (all 2 loads!) and most of our errands all on Saturdays.  There's no way we could do that now, so we have divided up the chores in different ways that work for our current season.

Communication is key

You can't expect your loved one to know what you need.  You have to talk about it.  Here's an example:  

After our first baby was born, Jason began doing a lot of our grocery shopping on his own.  I would make a meal plan and grocery list and his job was to pick up the stuff on my list.  We were almost out of one of our cleaning supplies and so I added it to the list one week.  In my family we called this cleaning supply "Cleanser" but most people would probably call it Ajax or Comet.  I added Cleanser to the list and Jason bought a surface spray cleaner.  I thought that was weird, since I didn't put it on the list, but knew we'd use it eventually so I just stuck it with the other cleaners.  

I added "Cleanser" to the list again the next week, since we were really out of it by that point.  Jason didn't buy any cleaning supplies because he remembered buying the product the week before.  He just assumed I hadn't seen what he'd purchase. When he came home I gave him a hard time about not getting everything on the list.  We finally discovered that the problem was in our communication.  He had no idea what I meant when I listed "Cleanser" and I just assumed that everyone knew what that was.  I was surprised to learn I was wrong.  When I think of this experience I picture him standing in the aisle looking at all of the various cleaners and shaking his head, not having any clue what I wanted.

Your spouse might feel similar confusion sometime down the road.  Explain kindly to him what you want and need.  He wants to give it to you, he just needs to know the specifics.

Set Big Goals

Jason and I have grown closer as we've worked together to achieve big hairy goals together.  Having a united purpose is an important part of successful relationships.  Our goals have changed over the years, but some of them included:
  • Both of us earning bachelor's degrees without taking out any student loans.  (We were pretty poor for a while, but wouldn't change that experience for anything).
  • One year without eating any treats (this came about during one holiday season when we were fed up with all the junk food we'd been eating.  We nearly quit in February, but neither of us wanted to be the first to give up, so we ended up making it all the way to the end of the year.)
  • Growing our family through adoption. This goal took about four years and much heartbreak, but we were so strengthened by this mutual quest.
  • Buying a Fixer-Upper.  In progress. 
Working together on these (and many other goals) has been huge for us.  I highly recommend sitting down together, deciding what your goals are and making a plan for how you are going to achieve them. Check in frequently on your progress and any changes you want to make.  We like to do this on long car trips.  I usually take a notebook so I can write down what we're dreaming about, and the accompanying lists of to-dos, as we drive.

Make time to do what you love to do together.

Jason and I fell in love while we were working out together.  We were best friends and began exercising together early in the mornings.  After a couple months of those early mornings, we realized our feelings were stronger than friendship.  We have loved exercising together ever since.

During our childless years, we woke at 4:45 almost every morning to head to the gym before work/school. It hasn't always been possible for us to workout together since little ones have joined the household.  But lately Jason is starting to join me in my morning workouts again (using Fitness Blender videos at home).  

Additional activities we make time for: 
  • We love to binge watch shows together, usually watching one episode a few evenings a week.  It's a little thing that we look forward to doing together.
  • Time outdoors together.  We aim to take a hike or snowshoe (depending on the weather) as often as possible.
  • We enjoy reading together. Whether Jason reads aloud to me or we listen to an audiobook, we almost always have a book going together.

Find those things that you love to do and make time for them, despite how busy life can become.

Make a budget.

Financial difficulties are the most common cause of divorce.  Learn to make a budget each month and stick to it.  Make room in the budget for fun and saving for awesome things together.

Do what works for you.

Take or leave any of the advice on this list.  Every relationship is different.  These are things that have worked well for us, but we've also discarded a lot of well-meant advice that didn't work for us.

What would you add to the list? How do you strengthen your most important relationship?

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