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Relationships

Seeing what’s supposed to be the best relationship of your life go up in smoke gives you a lot of room for reflection on what could  (and should!) have been different. Obviously there is no prescription for a perfect, healthy, or even functional relationship, but I firmly believe that there are proactive steps you can take to work towards success in your marriage.

Some of the realizations of what we’d done wrong came to me immediately when he left, and I put that advice into the email I sent to friends and family, informing them of what was going on: “tell your spouse or significant other that you love them. Tell them why you love them. Build them up to those around you. Encourage them when they are struggling. Pray for them every single day. Kiss them good-bye in the mornings and good night before bed. Communicate with them. Confront them in love when necessary, and don’t put off what might be hard to say. Be honest and be honorable.”

So what unsolicited advice can I give to the world?

1. Communicate

It sounds cliché, and it probably is, but it’s said so often because it’s true. Without communication, there is no relationship. This was daunting for us as a couple, because we spent so much of our early relationship in different countries, with so few opportunities to communicate. When we were suddenly thrust into living together, in the same city, same home, same life, it felt a little overwhelming at times. When you’re far away, it’s easy to monitor what you tell someone to make your life or self seem different from reality, which is the opposite of how you should be in marriage. I suppose you could also say that transparency is vital in communication.

Talk about everything. Talk about what is going on in your lives, talk about what makes you think, about your pasts, your futures, your hopes and dreams. Talk about what you’re struggling with, ask questions of one another. Set aside regular time to spend together, talking. Honor and cherish that time. One couple I know goes for a walk in their neighborhood almost every evening. This is a wonderful idea, because if you are ever struggling with how to say something specific, walking with someone is one of the most natural ways to bring up almost any difficult or awkward topic.

2. Pray for your spouse

(Please don’t think these are in order of importance, or this would probably be number one.) One of the pastors at the church I attended while living in California wrote a book on biblical marriage that I absolutely love. It’s chock-full of great advice, but the piece that stood out the most to me, from the whole book, was something she and her husband do.

Every night, before going to sleep, they pray for one another. They started doing it after a marriage counselor recommended it during a period of conflict in their marriage – to take turns placing a hand on the other’s heart and pray silently for them until their own heart was softened. It took them time to adjust to this, as it’s not a natural position but it has transformed their marriage. (You can search inside the book on Amazon, page 106, if you want to read their account.)

Whether your prayer is as tangible as theirs – a model I love because what is more amazing that knowing the person who you love is praying for you at this moment, as they represent it with a physical touch – or not, it’s important that you are praying for your spouse every day. It’s hard not to love someone when you pray for them regularly, no matter how they are behaving, how angry or annoyed they make you, etc. (Perhaps this is why I was never consumed with anger for my ex-husband – I prayed for him every day for a long time.)

3. Retain enthusiasm for one another

Recently I heard someone say that the best marriage advice she had ever received was from her grandmother – to always greet your husband at the door when he comes home. Once you get past how completely 1950s housewife this sounds, there is a lot of wisdom in it, if not practical application. The point the grandmother was making was that when your spouse comes home, you ought to put down what you are doing and greet them, because you should be genuinely glad to see them, every time. I think I took this advice to heart because it was so counter-intuitive to how our last few months looked. We became the couple who wouldn’t get up off the couch when the other came in, just saying, “Hey!” instead, hardly even looking up from whatever we were working on. It was the way you greet a roommate, not the way you greet a spouse.

99% of the time, whatever you’re working on or playing with can be set down for five minutes while you stand up, greet your spouse, give them a hug, and welcome them home. 100% of the time, your spouse is more important than whatever you’ve got going on. The 1% difference is for moments like when the vegetables are boiling over on the stove, your dog is actively vomiting on your new shoes. (I suppose the 1% grows once you have children, especially while they’re young enough to demand all of your attention.) In those cases, I firmly believe that a quality greeting is in order as soon as the crisis of the moment is taken care of. This isn’t to say that you need to always be perfect and cheerful when you greet them, but it’s an important point of connection that seems really insignificant, but that I believe can make a big difference. Remember when you started dating and you had a certain enthusiasm for seeing each other every time? That level of emotion should still exist when you’re married. Enjoying spending time with this person is, after all, why you married them.

Similarly, dates should not go out the window. One couple I know goes out for a nice dinner every time she gets a haircut (every 4-6 weeks); other couples go out every other weekend or even every weekend. It doesn’t have to be dinner and a movie, but it’s important to make time to spend together, simply for the sake of enjoying each others’ company.

4. Be passionate

Relationships need passion to survive. Without passion, you are not lovers, and if you’re not lovers, than why are you married? Don’t be in a relationship with someone with whom you don’t have passion. Be friends, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that a relationship can be healthy or sustained without passion.While physical intimacy shouldn’t be the cause of your emotional intimacy, it is a natural growth out of it – and a good indicator of it. You should be comfortable with your partner, able to communicate your wants and needs to them, and enthusiastic about meeting theirs.

5. Love well, and demand good love in return

What do I mean by that? I mean to demand the love you deserve, and to give the same in return. There are some basic elements to love that all people deserve in a romantic relationship. If you are not receiving these things, recognize the fact that you deserve better than the person you are with – and if you’re unable to give them, then you need to either change how you are loving the one you’re with, or move on and let them find someone who will love them the way they deserve.

So what do we all deserve in a relationship?

a. Respect as an individual. Your significant other should respect you for who you are, not trying to change you or belittle you. They should support you in the choices that define you. This respect should allow you to be comfortable being exactly who you are with them; if you feel the need to pretend to be someone or something that you know you’re not, it’s likely because they don’t respect you for who you truly are.

b. Passionate love. Each of us deserves to be loved by someone who genuinely wants to be with us – this means not settling because a relationship is comfortable, easy, convenient, but choosing to be with and love the person who you’re with every day, simply because you love them.

c. Honesty. Maybe this one hits a cord for me, because it was so obviously missing from my marriage, in retrospect, but your significant other should be honest with you, even when it’s hard. And you should give them the same respect in return.

d. Safety. Both partners in a relationship should be and feel safe with one another, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Anything less is a sign of abuse.

e. Forgiveness and Understanding. There will be times that are hard. Every relationship has them – and you need to be able to work through them, get past them, and let them go. Love cannot hold grudges.

f. Support. Support one another’s goals, dreams, values, interests. Support one another both privately and to others around you. It’s okay to disagree, but when it comes down to it, it is you two (as a team) against the world, and should never be you against him, at the end of the day.

…More to come at a later date.

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