Little girls dream of growing up, meeting their handsome princes, climbing on their white horses behind them, and riding off into the sunset for their happily ever after. It is indeed a dream, a fabricated fairy tale, but it provides children with a hopeful picture of life as a grown-up. Many children's favorite game to play is house. This is usually a repetition of the things they observe around their homes and with their families. But is that really how it works out when these children marry and establish their own families and homes? Probably not.
In order to make sure your marriage is strong and on solid ground, you need to work at it. Here are five things that will help you increase your chances for a happy and successful marriage.
1. Continue to date.
What? You probably thought once you married, your dating days were over. Never think that! Once you are married, the work begins to draw closer, and you have to work hard to deepen your relationship. You want a good, strong relationship with your spouse for several reasons. First of all, your children will be watching how you interact with each other. They will see you during good times and bad. So remember, you are teaching your children in everything you do and say.
You may be wondering what adults are supposed to do on a date. You should pick something to do that you don't otherwise get to do. Sometimes you may need to just have a private conversation. Perhaps you need to discuss where you want to go on vacation or a discipline problem at home. If you don't have a babysitter you like and trust, trade evenings with a friend couple who have children of similar ages as yours. You could take turns going out to dinner and plan to come home by the children's bedtime. Or enlist Grandma and Grandpa to have a sleepover at their house. It will be a treat for the grandparents and a treat for the children. You could stop by your favorite take-out place and drive to a nearby lake for a picnic. Even just going to the grocery store together can be a treat. Go visit an elderly friend who doesn't get out much. Occasionally you might want to go out with friends on a double date!
2. Leave small gifts and notes for your spouse.
Finding surprise places to hide them is part of the fun. Maybe yesterday wasn't a very good day at work. A note that says, "Hope your day is better today," could make all the difference. Put a small note with a heart on it expressing how thankful you are for them in her purse or his wallet. On her pillow or his bathroom sink, leave a little surprise to add to their collection. Don't leave the children out of this.
One night after dinner, we were lingering at the table. Our middle child was always complaining about her position in the family. All of a sudden, her dad and I began to argue about who loved her the most. You could see the surprise and joy on her face as she listened to our argument. Finally, everyone began to leave the table. But for that middle child, the rest of the night and beyond, she had a bigger smile on her face, especially when she was with us.
Use candy as a special treat. A chocolate kiss can be attached to a note that reads, "Here's a kiss for you." A $100,000 bar could be attached to a note that reads, "You are worth more than $100,000 to me."
One of the most treasured things I found when cleaning out my parent's house was a drawer filled with notes my dad had written my mother at some time during their marriage. It showed me the importance of writing notes and sharing fun little "thinking-of-you" gifts. Any item that says "I am thinking of you" is like gold to the recipient.
Photo credit: ©shironosov
3. Praise your spouse without being prompted.
It is rare for one spouse to praise another in front of other people. But we long for that to happen; we want to know we are appreciated and treasured. Even friends like to be praised and appreciated. For you to thank and praise those who are helpful to you can stick with them for a long time and make them feel valued. I have a sign hanging in my kitchen that says, "Praise is a child's best vitamin." Part of praise is for children to know that they are loved. So don't use the words "I love you" sparingly.
4. Treat your spouse like royalty.
You and your spouse have formed a new family, and that family's leader is in charge of your own kingdom. When you and your husband married and committed to following the biblical plan for marriage, you committed to creating a mini kingdom for God within the world Kingdom of God. Yes, it works similarly to a monarchy but is slightly different. Dad is the king, Mom is the queen, and the children are the subjects. The main difference is that the family is interspersed with love and respect for one another, and each is submissive to the other.
I am one of the fortunate ones. Since the day we met, my husband has treated me like his queen. I have felt so loved and cherished. Many of my friends have asked if my husband could give husband lessons! He would be a good one to do it. Not only does he treat me like his queen, but his little subjects have also always felt his unconditional love and unlimited encouragement from the time they were born to now as adults.
5. Share family responsibilities.
From the time you are married, you have become a team. Not like a monarchy above but a team, two people working together to create a family that loves God and wants to do their part to show Jesus to the world. From the time children are old enough to help around the house, they can begin to learn chores. The responsibility for specific chores becomes theirs as soon as they are able. Start simply with something like feeding the dogs or keeping their room neat.
Great marriages are hard to come by and take work. But if that is your goal for your family, you should be willing to work on it. Before we married, someone told us the secret of their long marriage. Marriage is a partnership. To them, that means sometimes each person gives 50%, other times one gives 40% and the other 60%, occasionally one must give 90%, and the other gives 10%. No matter what part you are giving, it is given out of love. There may come a time when one or the other becomes ill and needs help from your spouse. That also is given out of love. I don't ever think I have felt more loved than when my husband had to take care of me physically after surgery. He was a great nurse and made sure everything was done at the right time so I would recover well.
Recently we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. It is hard to believe we have been married that long. But we had taken the advice of the couple we had asked earlier about the reason for their longevity in marriage. It's a give-and-take process – sometimes you do more giving, and sometimes you do more taking. But no matter the give and take, your commitment to love each other unconditionally for the rest of your lives is what makes the difference.
Originally published Wednesday, 26 April 2023.