Husband and I celebrated our 5th anniversary this past weekend. I know that doesn't seem like a very long time, and considering we plan to be married for the rest of our lives, it isn't a very long time. But, before you discredit any marriage wisdom I'm about to offer, allow me to defend writing this by telling you that we have always done (and continue to do) things to ensure the strength and longevity of our marriage. So, I think I have a thing or two that I can say here, and, who knows, maybe you'll learn something, too.
*Note: Husband and I are blessed with a happy, healthy, loving marriage. I do realize that there are abusive relationships out there; the following 5 points do not necessarily pertain to an abusive marriage. Please don't assume that I'm trying to advise an abused spouse to stay with their abuser and show them grace.
1. DATE NIGHT
I cannot stress this one enough. It's so important that I could put it for all 5 of these bullet points, and it still wouldn't be over-stated (I won't do that, though; I promised 5 unique ways, and 5 unique ways is what you'll get). Sometimes date night is a big to-do with dressing up and dinner reservations and multi-course meals. Other times it's homemade pizza on the couch after the babies are in bed. This doesn't have to be a difficult to plan, 6-hour, expensive event. The point is that you spend quality, focused, one-on-one time together. Put your phones down. Talk. Dream. Plan. Laugh. Kiss. Have a date. Often.
2. Look in the Mirror
Neither Husband nor I are the type to get mad and have a yell and scream fight. We've had our fair share of disagreements and misunderstandings, of course, but we can always talk through them calmly and kindly. Nevertheless, when we're in the middle of a misunderstanding, and I'm frustrated with him I often turn to prayer before confronting him (haha, that's a joke...I'm non-confrontational to a fault...this is not a good thing). In these prayers, I often pray something along the lines of, "God, Kyle did/said ___________________, and it really hurt my feelings/made me mad. He always does stuff like this. I need you to change ____________________ about him." In other words, I ask God to fix him. There are very few things I can honestly say happen 100% of the time, but this is one of them: 100% of the time I pray something like that, God comes back and says, "Hmmm, but what about how you did/said ___________? What about ____________ in your heart?" In other words, He listens to me putting all of the blame on Husband and reminds me that I'm not faultless myself. How easy it is to overlook the part we play in these things and place all the blame on the other person! But, it takes two to make or break a marriage. So, next time you're tempted to point out what needs to be fixed about the other person, look a little more closely at yourself and see what needs to be fixed about yourself.
3. Show Each Other Grace
The vast majority of the disagreements Husband and I have had over the last 5 years were nothing more than misunderstandings that could've been avoided had we shown each other a little more grace. Example: Hubs says something completely innocent to me, but something in his tone rubs me the wrong way. I immediately look past the words and [mis]interpret the tone until I'm convinced he's said something mean to me, and, just like that, I'm upset with him. There are hundreds of possible scenarios just like this one where if we had corralled our thoughts at the beginning, the whole thing could've been avoided. Instead of going straight into upset mode, if we had stopped and thought, "Ya know what, (s)he's had a rough day. I know (s)he didn't mean those words in a mean way because (s)he's not a mean person, and (s)he loves me so much." and continued in that line of thinking, we could've avoided an entire misunderstanding.
4. Know Each Other's Love Languages
If you haven't done this before, you and your spouse need to take this quiz. It will help you determine your love languages, and knowing this tiny tidbit will help tremendously in all of these other points.
5. Watch Who You Vent To
Ugh, this is another one I can't stress enough. Let me tell you a little something about human nature with a simple illustration. Say Suzie and Brad are married, and Brad does something to offend Suzie. So, Suzie gets in a huff and goes and vents to her best friend Carrie. Carrie doesn't know Brad all that well, so she fully believes Suzie and doesn't challenge her by pointing out the likely truth that Suzie probably played her own part in the situation. Carrie now thinks Brad is a terrible person and a lousy husband, never even considering that maybe Suzie was just mad. Suzie, meanwhile, feels much better after venting, so she goes home and makes up with Brad. Things in their marriage are looking great, and Suzie moves on with her life. But, UH-OH! Suzie forgets to update Carrie, so Carrie still thinks that Brad is a jerk. Even if Suzie does eventually tell Carrie, Carrie's opinion of Brad has been tainted, perhaps forever. Watch who you vent to, and, if you absolutely have to vent, keep it honest. Don't embellish anything. Recognize that you're not blameless and perfect, and make sure you vent to someone who's going to call you out when it's needed, too. A good rule of thumb here is to vent to his momma, sibling, or best friend or an unbiased counselor; in-law's opinion of your hubs won't be damaged, and the counselor will keep you honest.
Again, let me stress that these 5 points are intended for healthy, loving marriages. If you're being abused you need to let some know, seek professional counseling, and LEAVE.