PART 1 – Top 10 Keys to a Successful Marriage
We are celebrating our 26th Anniversary! After lots of bumps through the years, here’s our top 10 keys to a successful marriage! I’m not saying we are experts by any stretch of the imagination, but over 2 1/2 decades of being together teaches you a LOT about love – what to do and what not to do. Through these two posts, I hope to share the knowledge we’ve gained over the years to help keep you out of some of the pitfalls and traps we found ourselves in! So read along! And I’d love to hear YOUR advice in the comments!
Top 10 keys to a successful marriage
Tip #1 – Fight Fair
Anyone who knows Ryan and I in the early years knows WE COULD FIGHT. We both have very strong personalities and often that brought about fireworks . Early on, we developed “rules of engagement”.
#1 No name calling
Pretty soon after we were married, we decided we would not call names. When I was growing up, my mom NEVER let us call each other names. It’s interesting what kids will do though. I remember one day in particular, my brother and I were arguing and I called him a dirty old sock. He retaliated with calling me a whacked up piece of paper that someone spit on. I ran sobbing to tell mom! It just goes to show that even being creative with name calling is still hurtful!
Once I got older and learned more about God’s Word, I saw that the power of life and death is in the tongue -Proverbs 18:21. This is where Christian marriage advice is VERY different than what you’ll hear in the world. You can speak life into your spouse or you can speak death into them. Once something is said, you can NEVER un-say it. When my kids were little, I squeezed a tube of toothpaste out, showing them that it could never be put back inside. Words are the same way, so no matter how mad we got at each other, name calling was off the table.
#2 Never threaten divorce – or joke about it
Maybe I was especially sensitive to this one because I’m from a divorced family. However, we decided that for us divorce wasn’t something to joke about. I feel like making light of the subject allows Satan to get a foot in the door and desensitizes us to the concept. Also, we made promise not just to each other, but to God. So it isn’t something to threaten when we’re mad. Because we committed to forever, it isn’t an option, so we saw no reason for this to be in our conversations, whether in anger or in jest.
#3 Don’t stay up half the night fighting if you want a successful marriage!
“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” does NOT mean stay up fighting until 3am when your sensibility went to bed at midnight. We wanted to follow the advice found in Ephesians 4:26-27 and make sure we didn’t go to bed angry, but sometimes that meant staying up long past when we were rational and sane. We learned over the years that it’s ok to say “I love you even though I don’t really like you right now. Let’s go to bed and pick this back up after we’re rested”. Reconvening when we weren’t so tired took the edge off and made us much more rational and loving…and it often completely diffused the anger.
Tip #2 – Going on dates regularly is key
The next in line for the top 10 keys to a successful marriage is dating your spouse! Going on dates on a regular basis is not about spending money. It’s about setting aside time when you can focus on each other with cell phones put away.
One of the biggest things I’ve found that makes it feel special is calling it a date. With my kids, I noticed that something felt special when it was named: Ice cream on the first day of summer! Family dinner! Movie night! Beach day! We may have done those things anyway, but calling them by name and hyping it up made it feel special and intentional.
Dates are the same way. Before you have kids, you’re together often, but not going out like you used to. Suddenly, being together feels normal and boring. But something happens when you can say – “I’m looking forward to our date tonight!” It’s fun to do a silly scavenger hunt in Target or a picnic dinner in the living room and then snuggle on the couch to watch your favorite show. Because it is called a date and phones are intentionally put away, it feels special and set apart.
Dating when you have small children
Dating was easier to do in the first 8 years of our marriage because we didn’t have children. But then we had our son and moved far away from family. As a stay at home mom, we found that it’s difficult to afford to pay someone to babysit and then also pay for a night out. We figured out that dates can be a homemade fancy dinner after the kids are in bed, or a glass of wine in your bedroom in the candlelight while you chat about the day.
Another way to cut down costs is to swap childcare with another family who is in the same dilemma. Then find inexpensive things to do like going for a tour of the Cleveland signs, or heading to the free art museum, or walking in the Metroparks, or filling a thermos with hot cocoa and sitting on a snowy bench together and chatting. Don’t let lack of money derail date night!
Dating when you have older kids
In our current phase of life, it’s easier to slip away now that our kids can be home alone, but it still takes effort and intentionality because our schedules are much crazier than when the kids were little. There will ALWAYS be excuses and barriers, so it needs to be intentional!
My grandma told me once that you want to continue to know your spouse more and more. She said, “you don’t want your kids to leave home and be stuck sitting across the table from a stranger.” That is a powerful image. I want to get through our child rearing years and KNOW this man God gave me to love. I don’t want money and kids to be an excuse for why I didn’t set time aside to be together without distractions and really continue to know each others’ hearts.
So go on dates. Fancy dates or dates like this one we did years ago in our office after a night of selling insurance. You’ll never regret it.
Tip #3 – Educate yourself
This was HUGE for us, so it’s pretty high up in our top 10 keys to a successful marriage
When you’re planning your wedding, spend more time preparing for your marriage than for your wedding day. Ryan proposed the month before my 19th birthday. I immediately went into education mode because I was a bit terrified. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to have a healthy, strong, God honoring marriage that could stand the test of time because that wasn’t what I saw growing up. So I studied. Ryan and I had a long distance relationship and we would read chapters of marriage books while we were apart and then talk about them on our phone calls or on our long drives together. I told Ryan that our wedding was one day and our marriage was forever. I wanted to make sure to put the bulk of our time into what lasted forever.
Seek out resources that can give you the truth about marriage once you’re married, too. I remember learning something like – ‘young love is like a flame, very hot and very pretty but also easily extinguished. Older love is like a burning coal. Not as pretty but almost impossible to extinguish.’ It gave me a foundation and an expectation of how love changes over the years. It gave me confidence that we were ok when the butterflies eventually gave way to security.
I went on to get my bachelors degree in Family Life Education with an emphasis in marital enrichment because I realized that when people stand before each other and God on their wedding day, 50% of them are not desiring divorce. But that is the sad reality. Education is a huge key to give couples the skills they need to navigate the rough waters ahead. You can’t learn in crisis. You can only learn beforehand and process and grow from it afterward. So learn and learn and learn because you may be on a mountaintop now, but a valley is coming. Do you have the skills to work through that when it comes?
So hang out with couples that are further than you in the journey and pick their brain. Go to marriage conferences. Read solid books like Covenant Marriage, Sacred Marriage, Love and Respect, The Five Love Languages, You and Me Forever, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, and so many more! Dig in together and see how beneficial it can be!
Tip #4 – For a Successful Marriage, have a space that’s just for you two
When our kids were little, we decided that our room was going to be just for us. The kiddos have the run of the rest of the house, but not our bedroom. In order to join us in our room, they knew that they needed to knock and be invited to enter. Don’t get me wrong. There’s been lots of snuggles and stories in our room over the years! But they don’t get to just come and go as they please. SO many times over the last 18 years, one of them has walked into our room without knocking. When this happens, I make them walk back out, knock, and wait for us to invite them in.
We decided that we would also not put pictures of our kids in our room. Every picture in our bedroom is just us. Ryan’s grandparents celebrated 72 years of marriage when Grandpa died. If we’re going to be married for 72 years, we realized only 25 or so of those will be child-rearing years. That means that over 45 years of our marriage could be kidless! We were an “US” before they came along. We are going to be an “US” for decades after they go out and build their own families. So, we want to make sure that relationship lasts! Having a place to call our own helps keep us connected so we can stand the test of time.
Tip #5 Maintain close relationships with other women who build you up and fill your heart with joy.
This one is for wives! I know that I’m generalizing here, so forgive me if this doesn’t apply to all women! In my experience, most women are highly relational. If you look to your husband to meet all of your emotional needs, you will suffocate him. It is not possible for him to do that. Ever. Women who can walk side by side through life are invaluable. They can laugh together and share joy and grief and sadness throughout the seasons. When they can speak hard truths to each other in love, they are even more precious! When I come home from a girls weekend, I feel so filled up that I spill over onto my family. I’m not parched and desperately looking for Ryan to quench my friendship thirst.
Look for women who you respect and admire and want to be like. The books you read and the people that you surround yourself with will dictate who you will be in five years. So be careful who you choose because you will become like them. But if you choose well, it will be a beautiful thing!