This post is brought to you by monthly contributor, Vina Barham.
Oh marriage. I came into this thinking I’ve got it all figured out, having read every book on relationships I could get my hands on. But the real teacher is our everyday experience, and even though my husband and I have only been married for four years (a newbie we are, really!), I wanted to share a few things I am learning that has proven helpful in growing our relationship. I hope some of these speak to you.
1. Remember the small stuff.
Marriage is really about the everyday stuff, the everyday hugs and conversations, the everyday ordinary moments that add up: the kind tone, the understanding nod, the thoughtful gesture, the supportive look, the fun kiss, the genuine smile, the endearment, the delight, the embrace. Build up your marriage through the small stuff.
2. Focus on the good.
Cultivate genuine appreciation for your spouse. Find the praiseworthy, the lovely, the good in what your spouse does. No matter how small. For being so gentle with your child. For being a fun dad. For working hard at his job or business. Leave him notes, or simply thank him right there and then. No flattery here, just sincere gratitude for specific things he does.
3. Avoid scorekeeping.
So you change more diapers than your spouse. And he often does it the “wrong” way. Realize that if you were in his position, you would not be as good as changing diapers as you are now because you just couldn’t do it more often. Figure out a way to divide up the child-rearing and household tasks that make sense for you both, and leave it at that. Keeping score is exhausting and utterly counter-productive.
4. Embrace your differences.
Assume the best in your spouse’s intention even when his methods differ from yours. Don’t be afraid of conflicts but learn ways to resolve them respectfully without undermining each other. See how your child benefits from the different ways you parent and nurture.
5. Don’t criticize.
Just as the small good acts can add up, the small negative thoughts and words do too. What you think of your spouse, he will become that to you. And worse, your child will pick up on it. If something is bothering you about your spouse, first take time to see what’s going on with you. Often, it’s about our own issues. If it’s something your spouse needs to hear, bring it up but be specific about which action got you frustrated. Resist the urge to attack and devour. It may feel good to do so at the moment, but never worth it in the end.
6. Make time and space for intimacy.
It’s easy to let this one go but especially if you have a little one who needs all your attention, sex becomes essential. Even more than date nights. I’ll have to write about this for another post, about all the reasons we really need to make this a priority. Get creative. We sleep with our daughter in our family bed, and let me just say it’s sparked our creativity in more ways than one.
7. Don’t rely on your emotions.
Listen to what they are telling you, but don’t make it your reality. Some days, I really don’t feel much “love” for my spouse but it doesn’t mean I don’t love him. Use it to gauge your inner temperature to figure how you are doing, but don’t dump it on your spouse if you are feeling the heat. Instead….
Write about all the changes you are experiencing to help you process it better. Writing often brings me clarity about an issue as well as an outlet to write our story as it unfolds. I love reading about my experiences a few months down the road. I learn from it and I grow. Or I just laugh.
9. Know your boundaries and leverage them.
I am a hopelessly strong introvert and honestly, at the end of the day, I don’t have much energy to give to my spouse. So I really try not to get spent right before he gets home. Lately, I’ve tried to make dinner right after my daughter wakes up from her nap so I can be free of the stress I usually have to deal with come dinner time. We try to go on a walk if we can right before hubby gets home so I can some “alone” time while still playing with my daughter. It really has helped me be in a more cheerful mood by the time my husband gets home from work.
10. Finally, assess your expectations and rewrite them when necessarily.
Or just let them go. I always imagined dinner a time for elaborate conversations and a lot of laughter. We still do laugh a lot, but mostly because my daughter gets in this silly mood at dinner time. But we don’t really get to talk the way I want to because it’s quite impossible with a toddler. Just bits and pieces of our day interrupted with a funny gesture or word from our little one that elicits giggles. And I just take it as it is. Either that or I fume about the conversation that isn’t happening and is sure to not happen after dinner because of my attitude.
Above all, if you mess up, there’s no better fix than a true apology. Marriage is after all, about growing in grace. Especially with children.
What about you? Any tips to add?