Starry-eyed and lovestruck. Yep, we were that couple. One of the millions who got married in 2005 pledging to love for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Yet just like every single one of the couples who married in 2005, 15 years later we've learned a lot about surviving marriage.
The poor and sick times did come—as promised. But so did the rich and healthy days. In the spirit of marriage, and celebration of our anniversary, we wanted to share some secrets to surviving marriage that we've uncovered along the way.
1.Communicate about everything.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but communicate about everything—and we mean everything. Feeling upset about work? Share. Experiencing indigestion or seeing strange things when you go poo? Mention it. Frustrated about the lawn not getting mowed, or think they look awesome in their new dress or button-up shirt? Say it. Write it. Find a way to share it not for the sake of communicating, but for the sake of connecting as a couple.
And when they share it, listen. (See #9).
2. Don't send secret texts if you want your marriage to survive
Promise to not keep secrets. Know the difference between a secret and a surprise. If you've got messages you don't want them to read or habits you hope they don't uncover, that's a secret. Keeping quiet about a plan to overwhelm them with joy on their big birthday? That's a surprise. No secrets—that's a key to surviving marriage.
3. Be really great friends—support one another.
We were friends long before we started dating, and while not every couple shares that experience, we believe every couple can be friends. Friends share common interests. Friends care about the other person and don't expect anything in return. Friends are there to listen, support, lighten the load and live life together. Yes, you're married and technically spouses, but don't forget to be friends.
4. Make and keep traditions in your marriage.
On our first anniversary, we sat down and made a list of goals for the upcoming year. We did that on the second, third, fourth anniversaries and so on. We've now done this for 15 years. This marriage tradition has become a highlight of our year, and it's something we do every anniversary. Even when life gets busy, we make time for this. Traditions as a married couple matter.
5. Share how much "me time" you need.
Some couples could probably spend every day, week, and year together and be OK. Others need a lot of "me time" to survive. We've learned that every couple is different, and what you need will depend on your personalities, lifestyle, upbringing and so much more.
There's not a right or wrong here, but make sure you share, respect and agree. Everyone deserves the space to be an individual, even if they are in a relationship. Make sure you know and respect what your spouse needs.
6. Forget the Joneses (or Kardashians)... seriously.
Keeping up with the Joneses (or I guess you could say the Kardashians in our day) is a serious trap for couples. Our Insta-loving addictions probably don't help this. As a couple, you're uniquely you, and don't try to be another couple down the street or on the internet.
Now, if you're getting encouraged and challenged by another couple and it makes your relationship stronger—that's not what we're talking about. Inspiration is awesome and great!
But, if you're watching what others do or have, and then deciding you need it to be happy too, that's not good. Your marriage won't survive if this becomes how you make decisions and run your life.
7. Don't pressure intimacy.
I always find the marriage advice telling couples how often they should "do it" interesting. It's also funny because that number seems to dramatically decrease the longer you're married, as do the number of conversations about it with friends.
We aren't here to offer a "magical number," but here's what we will say: don't pressure intimacy because that squashes it. Don't give guilt trips. Don't cast shame. Don't be selfish. Don't be a jerk. Openly communicate what you need (remember #1) and go from there. Tenderness, gentleness and honesty is what breeds intimacy. Your "magical number" might look very different from another couple's, and that's OK—as long as you're both in agreement and talking about it.
Not sure how to start this conversation? Here's a good article on Talking About Sex When You're Married.
8. Allow for seasons of shift.
This is Mikey's term, "seasons of shift," and it's so great. Heads up if you're a newlywed... you will both grow and change a lot over the next 15 years. Your hobbies, jobs, beauty, relationships and friendships will all shift around. That's called life.
Marriages that cannot work with situations ebbing and flowing will really struggle to stay afloat. Seasons of shift aren't easy, they're actually pretty painful and hard. But the sooner you can recognize them, the easier it will be for your marriage to not collapse. This is key to surviving marriage.
9. Force yourselves to practice active listening
When Danielle was in college, she took a class called "Listening." Yes, seriously, this is involved in a speech communications minor. We laughed about it at the time, but the skills from that class have become some of the most widely used tools that have kept our marriage surviving. (And, we're now using them to parent.)
Listening is not the same as hearing, listening takes work and attention. Active listening means you are able and willing to respond, and you can repeat back much of what the other person shared. Truly listening to your spouse is like giving them a free gift every day.
10. For surviving marriage: make a plan
Making plans has strengthened our relationship. We've got a loose finance plan, like a budget and savings goals. We like making vacation plans, like our trip to Mexico or Mae's birthday surprise. We keep a calendar on the fridge, and shared Google calendars, that track our commitments. We also plan our meals each week, which helps with both our health and financial goals, and it allows for one of us to start dinner while the other may have to work late. Planning helps us communicate, sometimes no words needed. If we write it down and share the plan, it's easier to stay on the same page.
11. Remember they're not the enemy.
So we keep a plan, but we've also learned to expect the unexpected and try to stay flexible with the plan. We don't do this perfectly, but we're getting better. However, when plans change, one hangup we've faced is getting frustrated with one another. We've gotten into some great fights that were sparked simply because plans changed and it threw us off.
So, if you make a plan together and it then gets adjusted, remember: your spouse is not the enemy. You're on the same team. Pivot together. Share how you're doing. This will help you survive.
12. Love them with all five languages.
The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a very popular book that's taken off and encouraged couples to know how to best express care for the other—words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, service and touch. And while we've found this to be helpful in identifying what the other might need the "most," we've also found that our marriage is strongest when we love the other person in all five ways!
Mike's a words guy, but he loves a thoughtful gift and caring touch. Danielle needs quality time, but offer to vacuum and she'll light up a room. Loving with all of the languages is the key to a marriage being super strong and surviving.
13. Give yourselves permission to break cultural norms.
So Danielle pays the bills and typically does the taxes. Mike does the laundry. We both work and our salaries help cover our household expenses. Danielle traveled a lot when Mae was younger which put Mike on full-time parenting duty a lot. Danielle's often asked to lead out in things, with and without Mike.
Culture and family upbringings may have said your marriage "should" work a certain way, but we've found that carving our own path when it comes to household responsibilities and roles works a lot better. Sometimes, it does mean he takes on a role traditionally reserved for her. She sometimes does what others might see as his job. And yet sometimes, we look pretty traditional.
It's hard to break cultural norms, but we've done it and we're still doing it. Our marriage is stronger for it.
14. Know your enneagram (& your spouse's enneagram).
Finding the enneagram changed us a few years ago. It was like a bucket of insight got dumped on our heads, drenching us with self-awareness. We both experienced this, learning about ourselves and also the other person, and it transformed our marriage. We talk more about finding the enneagram here.
Knowing yourself, and loving yourself, is one of the most loving things you can do for your spouse.
15. Respect the other person's experience with God and pray for them.
Your spouse was made in the image of God, just like you. Yes, you're married, but you're also dealing with a spiritual brother or sister. Just as you're on a path toward knowing God deeper, they are too. Wherever they find themselves on that path, encourage them and respect it. Love with compassion.
Your paths may look similar. Your paths may look different. In marriages that survive, we've noticed that each person respects the other person's journey and offers encouragement. Choosing to honor one another fuels a fire not only for each other, but for God. As you walk in faithfulness toward Him, you'll also be faithful to each other.
-DRB & MB
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