D and I are still babies at this marriage thing, but we recently celebrated five years as Mr and Mrs.
We have our ups and downs, but mostly we get along well and enjoy each other’s company. Our mutual happiness must show, as I’ve been asked a few times what the secret of a good marriage is!
Here are a few things that have helped us build a strong marriage:
- We chose each other! Whenever I’m asked what our happy-marriage-secret is, I reply ‘Marrying D’. Before he came on the scene, I was drawn to brooding, moody types but I am sooooo glad that I have ended up with my sunny and silly husband. For my fellow Jane Austen fans, I liken it to marrying Mr Bingley instead of Mr Darcy. I’m joking, but kind of not. I suspect that I would have found life with a moody, brooding type quite difficult. D is a heart-on-sleeve, uncomplicated soul who is unfailingly kind. D and I are also fortunate that we don’t have a lot of stresses that many couples have – we’re from the same culture, have nice families, share the same faith, same political views and have no debt. I’m not saying any of these things mean a couple is doomed – far from it, as I know many ‘opposites’ who are perfectly happy – but our sameness means those stresses just don’t exist for us.
- We carry each other. D could get mad about the times my auto-immune disease renders me a tired slug. Or the fact that I cannot deal with sleep-deprivation AT.ALL. He has picked up my slack on countless occasions and even took on night-feed duty with our children (because sleep-deprived Angela was just too awful to live with!). Likewise, I’ve picked up his slack when he’s been busy with his studies or his new business, or has just got some new invention in his head that he needs to get out. As our ‘busyness’ ebbs and flows, so do our negotiations over who does what. D is probably going to resume his studies soon, and I’m already thinking of how I can support him during this time i.e. what chores can I take off him so he doesn’t become a stress-bunny.
- We prepared for marriage well. We had a short engagement (just over three months), and were blessed to have marriage preparation with a mature couple as our guides. As it wasn’t available when we were engaged, we ended up doing the Alpha Marriage Preparation Course after we were married, and that was fantastic too. I highly recommend doing a marriage preparation course to any couple, as the benefits are huge: it gets you in the habit of having intentional conversations, and you don’t get blind-sided by the big (or little) stuff. Marriage prep covers everything from what your idea of a husband or wife is, your previous relationship history, how you plan to share finances and household chores, to which side of the family you will spend holidays with. It covers things that you’ve probably never talked about before. Marriage prep is not for the faint-hearted. You go deep. You may cry. But it gets you to lay all your cards on the table; the good and the bad, so you both know what you are getting into. Because of marriage preparation, our transition to married life was seamless.
- We work on it. I think the litmus test for any couple is whether you are both prepared to get help if things start to go pear-shaped. You can’t work with someone who isn’t willing to see a counsellor, a minister or good friend when bad times come. As my background is in psychology, I ask D regularly to do stuff that I think will enhance our marriage. And he always says yes. Together, we’ve read books on marriage, watched a dvd on boundaries, developed a set of family values, gone on retreats together and alone, and had many, many intentional conversations (thanks marriage prep!) that have soothed the sting of our arguments.
- We connect regularly. We have a ‘date night’ once a week, and take turns being the one to organise it (see here for cheap or free date night ideas). Sometimes we get a bit slack or busy and date night doesn’t happen, but we find that we are more content with our relationship when we make date night a priority. We each get a kick out of planning something we know will make the other one happy, and have both surprised ourselves with our creativity. D has surprised me with several trips and meals out (one of the best was an anniversary dinner where he treated me to a meal he’d cooked over at his mother’s house, while she babysat our children at our house!), and my favourites have been surprising D with a picnic at a ‘secret’ lake, and a dance party where we each chose our three favourite ‘dancey’ songs, and our three favourite romantic songs. There’s nothing like dancing with your spouse to remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place. Unless they have two left feet.
As I said, we’re still babies at this marriage thing so take this with a grain of salt. I’m sure my list in ten or twenty years time will look different, but for now, happy fifth anniversary D!