I’m now in my third marriage. When people learn this fact about me, their reaction is usually pretty awkward. It’s almost as if they’re waiting for me to be embarrassed by my admission. While going through two divorces was some of the most painful times of my life, I’d only feel ashamed if I’d gone through it without being able to say I’ve learned a thing or two. My husband and I had both been through divorce before we married each other, and with that brings a unique perspective into many do’s and don’ts of how to treat your spouse.
Don’t get me wrong — our marriage isn’t perfect, but our failures in past relationships have shaped decisions we make about the way we treat each other, and to be honest, I’m glad I went through it. We’ve learned better, so now we do better.
And with that, I’d like to offer up my wise marriage tips — from a woman who has triumphed the murky waters of divorce.
1. Respect your husband. Notice how it doesn’t say “Respect your husband if he has earned it”. A man’s greatest need in this world is to be respected, and the person he desires that respect from the most is his wife. The trap that we’ve all been ensnared by is that they only deserve our respect when they earn it. Yes, we want our husbands to make decisions that will ultimately garner our respect, but the truth is that your husband is a human being. A human being who makes mistakes. This is the man that you have chosen to walk alongside you for the rest of your life, and to lead your family and he needs to be respected for that quality alone. Take it from me — when respect is given even when he doesn’t deserve it, it will motivate him to earn it. That doesn’t mean you pretend that his choices are good ones when they aren’t. Things like that still need to be communicated, but you can flesh out your differences with respect. It makes all the difference in the world to him.
2. Guard your heart. The grass is not greener on the other side. Do not believe the lie that with a slimmer figure, a higher salary, a faster car, or a bigger house, you will be a happier woman. The world is full of things and people that will serve as reminders that you don’t have the best of the best, but it’s simply not true. Live the life you’ve been blessed with, and be thankful. I get that we all have struggles, and there are even times when I would love 1,000 more square feet of house to live in, but square feet is not fulfilling — relationships are. Guard your heart from things and people that will try to convince you that your life or your husband is not good enough. There will always be bigger, faster, stronger, or shinier, but you’ll never be satisfied with more until you’re fulfilled with what you have now.
3. God, husband, kids…in that order. I know this isn’t a popular philosophy, especially among mothers, but hear me out. It’s no secret that my faith is of utmost importance, so God comes first in my life no matter what. But regardless of your belief system, your husband should come before your kids. Now unless you’re married to someone who is abusive (in which case, I urge you to seek help beyond what my blog can give you), no man in his right mind would ask you to put your kids aside to serve his every need while neglecting them. That’s not what this means.
When you board an airplane, the flight attendants are required to go over emergency preparedness prior to takeoff. When explaining the part about how to operate the oxygen mask, passengers are instructed to first put the mask on themselves before putting it on their small child. Is that because they think you are more important than your kids? Absolutely not. But you cannot effectively help your child if you can’t breathe yourself. The same holds true with marriage and parenting. You cannot effectively parent your children if your marriage is falling apart. Take it from me — I tried. There will also come a time when your kids will leave the house to pursue their dreams as adults. If you have not cultivated a lasting relationship with your spouse, you will have both empty nests and empty hearts.
4. Forgive. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. If you make forgiveness a habit — for everything from major mistakes to little annoyances (every day, I have to forgive my husband for leaving the wet towel on the bathroom counter) — you will keep resentment from growing.
5. Over-communicate. I used to have a bad habit of not speaking my feelings. I played the standard “You should know why I’m mad” game, and that’s just downright unfair. Men are not wired like women, and they don’t always know that they’ve been insensitive. I’m still growing in this area, and there are often times when my husband has to pry something out of me, but I’m trying to remember that I need to just communicate how I feel.
6. Schedule a regular date night. This one isn’t new, but it’s very important. Never stop dating your spouse. Even if you can’t afford dinner and a movie (which we seldom can), spending some regular one-on-one time with your spouse is essential. Don’t talk about bills, or schedules, or the kids. Frankie and I often daydream about our future, or plan our dream vacation. We connect emotionally and often learn something new about each other – even after four years.
7. Never say the “D Word”. If you’re gonna say it, you better mean it. Plain and simple, threatening divorce is not fighting fair. I did this a lot in my previous marriages. I’m not proud of it, but I learned better. I was hurting deeply, and I wanted to hurt back, but it never helped me feel better.
8. Learn his love language. Everyone has a love language. The way you perceive love is often different from the way your spouse perceives love. Does he like words of affirmation, or does he respond better when you give him gifts? Whatever his love language is – learn it and use it.
9. Never talk negatively about him. I learned this lesson the hard way too. If you’re going through a difficult time in your marriage and you need advice, see a counselor. Family counseling is a great tool, but try to remember that your family members and friends are not the most objective people to give advice. The argument they are hearing is one-sided and they often build up negative feelings toward your spouse, which usually doesn’t subside once you and your husband have gotten past it. Protect his image with those that you’re close with and seek help from those that can actually be objective. News flash, ladies – your mother cannot be objective!
10. Choose to love. There are times in a marriage that you may wake up and not feel in love anymore. Choose to love anyway. There are times when you may not be attracted to your husband anymore. Choose to love anyway. Marriage is a commitment. In sickness and health, in good times and in bad. Those vows are sacred. They don’t say “if you have bad times”. They say “in good times and in bad”, implying that there will be bad times. It’s inevitable. So choose to love anyway. He’s worth it.