Have you ever wondered what makes a good marriage great? My marriage’s most meaningful lessons have taught me skills and given me insights I might not have learned any other way.
I can still see him now. He is walking towards me. His eyes are smiling straight through to my heart, sending my stomach in a kind of butterfly somersault medley. Standing outside my apartment door, I return a smile full of excitement and anticipation. It was at that moment, and a million others since, I knew I loved him.
I don’t mean to make our marriage sound like a Hallmark movie; in fact, any scene from Last Man Standing would be more accurate. My husband has taught me to laugh, believe in myself, and love freely. Together we have learned so much.
It’s been 32 years since he won my heart and 31 since we promised to love each other forever. Each year I have fallen in love with him all over again. Not because it was so easy, but because I have learned how important it is to keep trying.
I remember reading an article years ago about a couple that believed true soul mates didn’t have to work on their marriage. It disturbed me because I felt like working on our marriage was a constant effort. Looking back, I think what the author was trying to say is if you love your spouse, working on your relationship shouldn’t feel like work. When you love someone, you should want to show them how you love them – and that should not be work.
Quick to Forgive
Early in our marriage, I learned how harboring feelings of frustration and contention would send our relationship spiraling faster than anything else. When I allow the poison of contempt to enter my heart, it is hard to move on. I try to put aside differences, forget any power struggle, and try not to get stuck on who is right.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
A safe relationship is about healing and loving and finding a safe place to allow you both to grow. When all else fails, go in for the hug and don’t let go until those feelings of love overpower your urge to hold a grudge. The quicker, the better.
Listen to Bids for Attention
In John Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he shares observations he made in several newlywed couples. Kindness was the key. The couples who stayed together were ones who listened and responded to each other’s bids for attention.
A bid for attention is when someone invites you into their life. Bids have an underlying message that says: “You are important to me,” “I need your help,” or “Will you join me?” It was only a few years ago that we understood what a bid for attention was, but it has become something we’ve found to be important to listen for and respond to.
When we ignore bids from our spouse either because we are distracted or busy, we are sending an impactful message about how we view the relationship. Listening and responding to bids for attention builds trust, connection, and meaning in a marriage.
While Gottman considers this the key to ensure a successful marriage, I see it as a foundation for lasting love. Here are three things listening to bids for attention can do for your relationship.
- Turns you towards your spouse, increasing your connection.
- Trains you to look for the good in each other. When we focus on the positive, it becomes a strength.
- Teaches you to share the joys of life.
I once saw this equation in an article I read, and a light bulb turned on! We had always known how unmet expectations led down a slippery slope, but this breaks it down into simple terms.
EXPECTATION – OBSERVATION = FRUSTRATION
Let your OBSERVATION take precedence over your EXPECTATION.—Derek Harvey
I have this unrealistic expectation of the house magically cleaning itself when I leave for any period of time, and my husband hates it when I bark out orders as I walk out the door. For years this was a power struggle to see whose expectations would be met.
Time after time I’d come home from a long meeting to find the dishes still in the sink or a mess in the family room. My unmet expectations caused a few heated discussions. Rather than get in a huff because what I thought would happen didn’t, I am better off to look at the situation and see what did happen in my absence. The dishes may not have gotten done, but the kids spent quality time with dad. It’s sometimes better to readjust and go with the flow.
Expectation is the mother of all frustration.-Antonio Banderas
Setting expectations means communicating about what the other is expecting, discussing how reasonable those assumptions are, and then making adjustments where you both agree. When we learn to communicate our assumptions, we protect our relationship from frustration – one of the leading causes of contention in marriages today.
Remember Why We Fell in Love
One of the first gifts my husband gave me was a prayer plant, a plant that moves its leaves into a prayer-like position at night. He had attached a note saying: “Please be the answer to my prayers and go to Homecoming with me.”
I answered by placing hearts in the shape of YES on his windshield – each heart saying: “Your prayers have been answered.” (Yes, that is him standing all Tom Cruise like next to his Jeep.)
The prayer plant became a symbol of our love, surviving periods of neglect and inattention. Often we would recognize it’s debilitated state and quickly work to nurture it back to life. At one point I had to take the remaining living branch and grow new shoots to transplant.
Our marriage is like our precious prayer plant. It cannot go long without our tender care and attention. Life gets moving pretty fast in our house. If we don’t consciously make time for each other, our relationship gets left behind. We make date night a priority, we put our relationship before anything else (kids included), we’ve looked for hobbies we can do together, and we made sure to take a trip together every year.
It often seemed like a small miracle just to get out one night a week, but our annual overnight trips became the time of real rejuvenation. Take the inconvenient out of the equation and send a message of what you value most then put in the effort to prove it.
I Chose Him
Thirty-one years ago I chose him. And today I choose him all over again. The life we’ve built, the experiences we’ve shared, and the love that has grown make him my choice forever.
A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.—Mignon McLaughlin
I feel grateful to still love him, and feel even more grateful he still loves me. Marriage is about learning to love someone more than yourself. Putting their needs above your own, and changing because you want to be better for them.
What are some of your marriage’s most meaningful lessons?
- Of Tandems, Types, and Ties that Bind
- How to Improve Your Most Important Relationship
- Listening with a Compassionate Heart
- How to Deal with Unmet Expectations