When I was younger, I made a list in my diary titled “Caroline’s Dream Guy.” My sweet mom has since had the decency to take that page of my diary out… and give it to my husband. I know this because it was tacked to our refrigerator for months. A glaring reminder of the shallow, naive heart that was 14-year-old Caroline. It still pains me to see it, but there is some truth hidden in that list. Yes, words like “hot” and “good body” are included… (cringe), but traits such as “loyal” and “selfless” also made the list. There, written in colored ink, surrounded by hearts, are the bare bones of a lasting marriage: Love, Faithfulness, Dedication, Honesty, Compromise, and Respect… the list goes on. Because when you really think about it, marriage is work. Rewarding, and so very worth every effort… but constant struggle.
If you ask me how my husband and I are doing, specifically asking about our marriage, I would say it’s a work in progress. I never doubt my commitment and fierce love for Connor… but every so often I feel the pull of our two separate hearts, the selfish parts, resisting change and longing for the independence we grew up chasing.
It’s true, Connor and I faced all the major marriage stressors at once: Head on, fast and furious. So yes, we expected disagreements. What we didn’t expect, or prepare for, was the continual effort to keep this marriage on course. You see, we are learning that you can’t be lazy: The stresses of life will fight for your attention, all demanding time and attention. And something has to give. Do not let that something be your marriage.
Here are three quick, daily practices that Connor and I have implemented in our own life, to invest in this Holy union:
- 10 minute dates
We stumbled upon this brilliant exercise in a marriage class at Church of the City. It was lead by our personal mentors and friends, Jeff and Lora Helton. During the weeks of this class, they had each couple spend 10 minutes “checking in” with each other. It sounds silly, a no brainer even, but Connor and I could not remember the last time we sat and spoke from the heart to one another. Communication is arguably one of the most important aspects of a healthy, growing marriage; So, we decided to put this into daily practice. Here are the rules: First, No discussing kids, money, or chores. This is a time for reconnecting, truly unloading your soul. Second, no TV, phones, computers, or distractions. Just the two of you, face to face, engaged and present. Questions we ask one another tend to be, “How are you feeling today? What went well about your day? What could have gone better?” Sometimes, on slow days, we simply dream together. Of our future, what we would do if we won the lottery, where we would go if a zombie apocalypse were to erupt. You know, normal things. I realize this is not rocket science, but the point is simply to get to the same page. In the same book. To celebrate victories together, to mourn losses together, and to feel heard and understood. Even just for 10 minutes.
2. Active Listening
This one piggybacks perfectly on the 10 minute date, because it is a vital part of a discussion of any kind. This may be more of a woman thing, but I get SO irked when Connor is “listening” to me while scouring the pantry, writing an email, and playing video games… at the same time. So, we added active listening to our daily practices. For me, I need Connor to be sitting down or still, to make eye contact, and to provide input when necessary. The big idea here is to refrain from thinking about what you are going to say next, and instead engaging in what your spouse is saying. Again, this is a simple act; But, when put into practice, adds depth and mutual respect to a relationship. Your spouse is the most important person in your life, right? Demonstrate that by giving them your undivided time and attention.
** Side note: Sometimes, one of us is so absorbed in what we’re doing, that we cannot truly listen or participate in conversation at the moment. And that’s okay. I have been known to say to Connor, “I really have no idea what you just said. Give me a minute to finish this and then can you tell me again?” (Ahem…I don’t always say it this delicately… but to err is human, right?)
3. The Percentages Game
Again, this one is not of my own design. Jeff and Lora Helton y’all… you need to know them. Anyways, Connor and I tend to argue just to argue. You know the days when you’re just cranky? Suddenly, putting the toilet paper roll upside down sends us straight to DEFCON 1. Now, we have the percentages game. When in a disagreement, one person calls the time out. Then asks, “How important is this to you?” And you each give the issue a percentage rating. A major hinderance to the effectiveness of this game is pride. You both have to really search your own motives, and be able to recognize if the issue at hand is important to you or not. A lot of times this tactic stops our altercations before they ever start. This “game” helps us to prioritize issues, and to bend a little when necessary.
Nothing I’ve said in this post should come as a shock to any of you. They aren’t novel ideas, and you probably practice some of them daily without even noticing. Then why did I take the time to write it out? Because if we are struggling with communication, respect, and compromise, then I feel confident there are other couples out there feeling the same struggles. Let this serve as a reminder that all marriages take work. I love Connor all of the time… but I want to punch him in the face often, too. Its a balance. Till death do us part, y’all.