It’s not easy maintaining relationships with people. It take a lot of hard work, intention, and a million other things that we human beings are prone to not be very good at. We all have higher expectations for others than we do for ourselves. Even the people who tend to be hard on themselves. Take me, for example. There are plenty of things that other people do that drive me crazy, and yet, I find myself doing those exact same things. Only, it’s not quite as big of a deal when I do it. It’s a double standard, and we all have them. All of us.
I’m going to venture out on a limb, though, and say that one of the hardest relationships to maintain and grow is marriage. The stakes are higher. We are around our spouse more than most other people. And you deal with issues within a marriage that you don’t typically have to deal with in, say, your typical friendship. Money, sex, kids, in-laws, and living habits all play a huge part in making your marital relationship your hardest relationship.
Mike and I will be married 11 years this July. We will have known each other for 12. It’s hard for me to tell you just how I feel about my husband. I’m crazy about him. He makes me a better person. I have no idea why he loves me the way he does, but I’ll be eternally grateful for his love. He is, above all else, my best friend.
He is my person.
To say that our marriage has not been easy is so beside the point. No one has a easy marriage. No one. Marriage, by definition, is not easy. Nothing that requires you to combine your life with the life of another person could be easy. We are all selfish and self serving by nature, so anything that requires us to factor in another person will be a struggle.
And that struggle, is real. For all of us.
You don’t need to know our struggles in order for this post to be relevant. And I don’t need to know your struggles in order to be relevant to you. Marriage is hard, but there are a few key things that make it work. For all of us. There are two keys that Mike and I are excellent at doing, and one key that I really, really suck at. For the record, Mike is good at all three of these keys to marital success. What is he not good at? At getting the dang butter knife into the dang sink and SO HELP ME GOD it makes me think all sorts of horrible thoughts when I come into the kitchen first thing in the morning and see this. But I digress. We know what we need to know about marriage most days; it’s the turning the knowledge into action that is a daily struggle.
For us, three keys to a successful marriage boil down to:
- Put your spouse first
- Assume the best
All of the following advice is meant for your normal, run-of-the-mill marriage. None of this applies to an abusive relationship. Don’t put your spouse first if he is hitting you. And healthy fighting doesn’t include verbal put downs or physical aggression. And you don’t have to assume the best about the a-hole who is beating you our your kids. If you are in that situation, please, don’t read this post. Instead, find someone to talk to who can help you take steps to remove yourself from your situation. Here is an online resource to offer you some help.
put your spouse first
The only successful relationship you can have and be totally self centered is with yourself. That’s it. A healthy marriage requires the three s’s: sacrifice, service, and sex. The great paradox and perhaps, the greatest understanding about marriage, is that you no longer have the ability to meet your own needs. I know, I know. Some of you are going to read that and really disagree with me, but I’ll maintain that position til my dying breath.
Sure, I could carve out some time for “self care” that would really refresh me. I could do yoga, grab coffee with friends, and spend some time reading. All of this would recharge my batteries and make me feel like me. But I do not have the power to meet my own marital relationship needs: I have the power to meet his. And vice versa.
When you view your marriage through the lens of how to meet their needs and not your own, you create a shift that is so dynamic that what first might appear as you forfeiting power, quickly becomes you possessing power.
Did you know you have the ability to make or break your marriage? I’ll take it one step farther. Did you know you have the ability to make or break your partner? Seriously. Think only about yourself, your needs, and your desires, make it your partner’s responsibility to make your life and your marriage successful, and BLAMO. You’ve got a miserable ex.
But when we serve our spouse, when we meet their needs, when we realize that we have the power to build both them and our marriage, we do something else – we free up our spouse to reciprocate. We free them up, to serve us back.
One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard and implemented in my own life was that how we treat others teaches them how we want to be treated. What does this mean? It means if you make life all about you, you are teaching others to make life..not all about you, but all about them. Conversely, when you treat your spouse with sacrificial love, when you think about their needs, when you find little ways to communicate love to them, you are teaching them how to love you and meet your needs.
Do you see the power in this perspective? Do you see that if you are selfish in your relationships, that all you’ll ever get is self love? Instead, if we serve our spouse, we not only set them up for success, but we set ourselves and our marriage up for success, too.
This key to marital success doesn’t work overnight, especially if you are undoing years of “I’m going to do my thing and you do yours.” Give it time.
Guys, this looks like spending time with your wife. You know what she loves, it’s not that hard to figure out. Just do it. Talk to her. Take her out. Date her. Going out golfing every weekend feels like exactly what it is – like you are spending time with other people over your family. And it hurts. Pick up after yourself because you are a grown man for goodness sake. Don’t make her feel like she is your mother. Most women I know aren’t nags. They’re frustrated. By your dirty socks. So just grow up and get them to the hamper already.
And girls, talk to your guys about things he loves. You don’t have to care about the Brown’s draft in order to pay attention to what he is saying. Don’t withhold physical affection until you get what you want. Why? Because that just makes us withholding and manipulative. Seek out ways to say, “I see you, I hear you, I love you.” Women are so incredibly observant, we know what will make our guys feel good. Do those things. It’s not rocket science here. But it might as well be rocket fuel, because this is the stuff that lights fires.
I’m a big believer in fighting. Big. Huge.
I’ve noticed that, in marriage, there is usually one person who is fairly observant, and one who is a put their nose to the grind and just make life happen no matter what, kind of person. In case you are wondering I notice everything and need to talk about everything. Mike notices almost nothing and, even when he does, chooses to just power through situations. This, creates a certain about of… how shall I say it…tension.
This tension has a way of building up until, one day, you just snap. The frustration. The pain. The confusion. The doubt. It all comes to a head. And you fight.
I have to say that one of the hardest things we’ve had to learn is how to fight fair. Ok. One of the hardest things for me to learn was how to fight fair. I know how to go for the low blow. I’m good with words, and I love to win an argument. This, is not productive.
So how can arguing be good?
Fighting is a form of passion, and in case you don’t know this already, you need passion in order to have a successful marriage. You need to be passionate about that person and your life together. And sometimes, you need to fight for that person. You need to fight for your life together. Because let me tell you, love is a battlefield. Yes, I know that’s an eighties song, but for real. It is. You are going to fight for your partner’s time, affection, and attention. You’re going to fight for who you believe your partner is, because sometimes we all get confused along the way. You are going to fight for the way you want your life to look. You’re going to fight for all the things you believe to be critical to your life and marriage.
Mike and I have learned that while it might seem like we are fighting with each other on the surface, in reality, we are fighting for each other. I distinctly remember nights where I would be so frustrated that Mike didn’t feel the same level of frustration over some issue in our marriage that I’d yell, “fight with me! fight for this!”
I know what some of you are thinking right about now. You’re thinking that, isn’t it good to have someone who can stay calm in a relationship? Someone who doesn’t lose their head? Sure, I can get on board with a little relationship yin and yang. But what I will never agree with, is hearing one partner say they won’t deal with the other because they are “crazy” or “so emotional” and that they need to “calm down.”
To that I call bull crap. You aren’t being “calm,” you’re being passive.
So be prepared to get messy. To say, I love you, and I’m going to fight for this. For us.
assume the best
Ok, so this final key to a successful marriage is one that I’m not great at, but I’m working to improve.
I think women might struggle with this one more than men, but I can’t be sure. For me, this means that I take all of the frustrating little things that Mike does and I attach this meaning to it.
Mike leaving his dirty knife on the counter means he doesn’t respect how hard I work to keep things picked up.
Mike asking me where I want to go to eat means he doesn’t love me enough to plan a date.
Mike talking to me about his professional goals and forgetting to ask me about mine means he doesn’t value my career goals.
etc, etc, etc.
Sure, there is a real balance here. I’ve told Mike that leaving his dirty knife on the counter next to the sink is enough to make me come completely unglued, and common relationship curtesy would be for Mike to JUST PUT THE DANG KNIFE IN THE DANG SINK or, here’s a thought, the dishwasher for goodness sake. But…but…him failing to put away his dishes or to plan a date night or to ask me how blogging is going DO NOT mean he doesn’t love me. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about me as a person, a wife, a mom, or a professional. It doesn’t mean he takes me for granted. Sometimes, it just means he was lazy. Or being a little selfish. And can’t we relate to that, if we are really being honest?
It’s far time we stopped attaching all this horrible meaning to our partner’s actions. Sometimes, a dirty knife is just a dirty knife. It’s annoying, but it’s not a slap in the face. So when you go to fight with your partner over how frustrated you are by your dirty house and how no one ever helps out, fight about that. Don’t fight about how your house is dirty and no one loves you.
Assume the best about your spouse. Assume they love you. Assume they think about you. Assume they care. That way of thinking will totally transform how you think, fight, and love.