Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

5 Lessons I've Learned After 20 Years of Marriage

5 Lessons I've Learned After 20 Years of Marriage

As is true of any other relationship that matters, marriage takes work. Maintaining a good marriage requires commitment and attention to detail. Maintaining a good marriage that withstands the test of time (and income fluctuations, rearing children, and ill-mannered in-laws) takes a willingness to put the marriage first and learn from past missteps.

Couples committed to their union don’t just want their marriage to survive; they want it to thrive. The fact is that what makes for a strong union for one couple may not be practical for another. Yet, there are key elements that exist in most happy marriages.

Throughout my own 20-year marriage, there have been lessons my husband and I have learned that have kept our marriage a happy one despite the bumps we’ve had to navigate along the way. Below are 5 of those lessons learned.

1. Have each other’s back.

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned in my marriage to date, so it deserves to be mentioned first. No one can be happy in a marriage where their spouse makes them feel unsupported or stands beside them in the good times but leaves them standing alone in the bad. If you’re uncomfortable facing a situation alongside your spouse, imagine how they feel having to face that situation alone.

Scripture tells us that love is patient and kind, that it doesn’t dishonor others, and isn’t self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). When you emotionally abandon your spouse at a time when it’s reasonably your duty to stand by him or her, you’re certainly not living up to the biblical standard of love.

Sticking up for your husband or wife isn’t about them “needing” to be rescued or not being “independent” enough. It’s about you showing up for the person you love, spoke vows to, and formed a new family with. You may struggle with sticking up for your spouse if you’re nonconfrontational by nature. If so, remember that the integrity of your marriage is worth going outside your comfort zone for.

2. Speak and show love to one another.

Once your marriage is out of the honeymoon stage and the reality of running a household and raising children sets in, you and your better half can slowly become like two ships passing in the night, barely exchanging a few words before parting again. After a time, even the most enamored of couples can start to yearn for the reassurance of love that words and acts give.

The Bible teaches that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). With that sage advice as a jumping-off point, it isn’t enough to say that you feel love in your heart for your sweetheart if your mouth isn’t speaking words reflecting that love and, likewise, if your actions aren’t loving in nature.

If you’re rusty on ways to speak love to your husband or wife, here are some examples. You can: call your spouse at work or home just to say, “I love you;” compliment your sweetheart regularly; thank your spouse for something specific they recently did; encourage your spouse with supportive words when they’re doubting themselves. Ways to demonstrate love include filling your spouse’s car up with gas without having to be asked; doing the grocery shopping yourself; picking up the kids from school or sports practice; or doing any thoughtful deed that will make your beloved’s life a little easier.

3. Make time to laugh together.

It is a blessing to laugh at yourself and be able to kid around with your spouse. More importantly, it is a blessing to be able to laugh despite times of hardship and sadness. The Bible isn’t kidding when it tells us that “a cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Sharing a good-hearted laugh can smooth over the tension in a room and help couples see the silver lining in any storm cloud.

The longer my husband and I have been married, the more we laugh at things that would’ve weighed us down with huffy feelings just a few years ago. Perhaps it’s because we’ve overcome so much together already or because we’re older and more secure in our relationship and parenting skills. Whatever the reason, being able to laugh together has brought us closer and made us enjoy each other’s company even more.

Whatever stage of marriage you and your beloved are in, keeping your sense of humor can lift your spirit and help you tackle a problem together with a positive outlook. And it’s amazing how much easier solutions are to find once your sight isn’t clouded by negativity and your focus hijacked by easily-hurt feelings!

4. Assert boundaries to protect your marital union.

One of the most quoted Bible passages about marriage can be found only two chapters into the Good Book: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). However, just because the command for man and wife to become one flesh is God-breathed doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in your life will respect your marital unity. Sadly, many new couples are surprised to find that the people who most often meddle in their marriage are their friends and family.

Sometimes, a friend or family member casually gives their opinion on a marital subject and doesn’t mean to cause harm. The issue arises when you allow a friend or relative to routinely intrude in matters that only you and your spouse should decide. In those cases, it’s tough to see how the friend or relative doesn’t know they’re overstepping. It’s more likely that they have a false sense of entitlement when telling you how to run your marriage or your household. That’s when it’s up to you and your spouse to address the matter decisively.

When you assert respectful yet firm boundaries with anyone who’s interfering with your privacy as a married couple, it’s crucial that you stick to those boundaries. Maintaining firm boundaries around your marriage lets others know that there is a line they cannot cross when it comes to your marital life. It also bolsters the harmony at the core of thriving marriages.

5. Prioritize time for each other.

Married life can get busy, and if you aren’t mindful, you and your spouse can fall into the role of being mom and dad at the exclusion of also being husband and wife. Neglecting your romantic love for one another undermines your marital union, which is the bedrock of the family. You’d, therefore, be wise to prioritize spending time together as a couple and “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Time management gurus say that the key to time management “is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” One way to schedule time for your spouse is to go back to “dating” each other. Couples in happy marriages know that little moments can be just as meaningful as big ones. For example, stealing twenty minutes a day to sit at the kitchen table just the two of you and enjoy conversation can be as enjoyable a way to reconnect as arranging for babysitting, making sure the house is in order, and heading out to a fancy restaurant for the night.

Whether you schedule time with your beau in short stints throughout your day or plan a longer get-away together, fanning the flames of your union requires conscious planning. Your marriage can only benefit from the recentered priorities and the revitalized romance.

Every couple who walks down the aisle hopes that their marriage will make it for the long haul. Every couple can increase their chances of meeting that worthy goal by putting their union first and prioritizing showing each other love and commitment. 

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Bernardbodo

Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.

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