Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tips for a Healthy Marriage

Six years ago I was all bubbly with anticipation, a newlywed dreaming of years of happiness and lots of babies.

In some ways, I’m still a lot like that blushing bride. In other ways, I’m more like an old, married and wise fart. Although I readily admit, there are a lot of couples out there who have many, many more years of marriage behind them and experience and wisdom to boot (like my parents who will celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary this August).

Six years ago I also thought I knew a lot about love.

I knew squat.

I still know fairly little, but I like to think I've learned a thing or two. So in honor of recently celebrating my sixth wedding anniversary, I’m sharing below some tips I’ve found to be helpful in having a healthy and happy marriage. What about you? If you're an old, married fart, too, what's your advice for keeping the fire alive and/or for sticking together through good times and bad? (NOTE: The term "old, married fart" is meant to be interpreted loosely. Newlyweds are welcome to comment!)

1. Keep a sense of humor. This past weekend we took what we thought was going to be a relaxing trip to the beach to visit some friends and to celebrate our anniversary. Turns out the kids’ idea of relaxing is bit different than our own. The baby boycotted sleep and Madeline decided to revert back to her hold habits of refusing to go poopy on the potty (I can empathize; I don’t like to go in strange places either), which meant she had a stomach ache and was very clingy and needy.

On the way home, the baby started sobbing even though we'd just stopped so I could nurse her and Madeline was saying she was hungry...again. I smiled in spite of it and said to Dave, “Happy anniversary! Don’t you feel so refreshed and eager to start your work week?” We both burst out laughing. Then we started singing silly songs as a family and both kids and parents stopped fussing and were happy.

Laughter is strong medicine. Dave and I have learned to laugh at silly stuff, things we can't control (antsy babies, constipated preschoolers) as well as more serious things. Sometimes laughing (even through the tears) is all you can do when life hands you lemons and you find you’re all out of sugar and maybe even water, so there's no chance in you-no-where in making any lemonade.

2. Be forgiving of each others’ human wrongs and failures. I’m not perfect and neither is Dave. We’re two imperfect human beings trying to perfect our love for one another, which means we fail…and sometimes a lot. I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff and to even overlook it most of the time. Does it really matter that Dave still doesn't know where the colander goes and I have to hunt for it a little longer? If it's MIA, then doesn't that mean he unloaded the dishwasher for you?

At the end of the day, we've had to learn to love and to accept one another as we are and to leave any big changing (not the small stuff but my persistent worrying or the fact that Daveisn’t Catholic) that needs to be done in God’s hands.

3. Recognize that marriage has its ups and downs and different stages. I’m a hopeless romantic. I always have been. I like to be spontaneous when it comes to love and to read Shakespearean love sonnets, to listen to the likes of Air Supply, and to be surprised with notes or flowers for no other reason than “just because I love you.” This is all fine and dandy and sometimes it happens. But in the context of a marriage with kids and more kids, thisisn’t always possible. Sometimes spontaneous love fests just ain ’t gonna happen. So we schedule at-home date nights and hope the kids will stay in bed long enough for us to gaze into one another’s eyes for a few seconds or to watch our latest Netflix selection while sitting next to one another.

Marriage isn’t always rosy and romantic. It’s downright hard sometimes. There have been times when I’ve felt like a crazy, lovesick teenager. There have been other times when I’ve felt stressed or exhausted or both, and I’ve really had to work on nurturing my marriage. Romantic love is wonderful, but it’s not enough to sustain a marriage. As Mother Teresa said, it’s not real love until it hurts. What “true love” is really about is making the decision to put someone else’s needs above your own. Yes, love is ultimately a decision. (Never thought a romantic,feely person like myself would ever say that.) I have made the decision to love Dave for better or worse. Thankfully, there's been a lot more of the "better" for us.

4. Always put your marriage first. Marriage needs to take priority over work and your kids. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's so easy to let your dearly beloved take the backseat when you're worn out from caring for kids all day. Similarly, some men (and women, too) can get so wrapped up in their work and future ambitions that they have little time for their wives. But the best gift you can give to your marriage and to your children is to love your spouse and to put him or her first. A strong marriage not only helps you succeed in other areas of life, but when their parents love each other and frequently show that love, it helps kids to feel more loved and secure.

5. Be cheerful when your husband comes home from work. This is a toughy for me. I’m often more than ready for reinforcements when Dave comes home after a long day and I’m tempted to hand off the kiddos and to retreat. Or, I immediately start venting about how tough my day was. But what I strive to do is to greet Dave like Christ when he comes home each evening. I try (although I frequently fail and he loves me in spite of it; see tip #2) to hold back on emotionally dumping on him, to give him a hug and to ask, “How was your day?” This helps to set the tone for the entire evening.

6. Never underestimate the power of prayer or the sacraments. The best thing I can do when my marriage feels like it’s hurting or even when we’re basking in bliss, which is more often than naught thanks to my great husband, is to have confidence in the graces I receive through prayer and the sacraments. Not one marriage can fail if we invite Jesus to be at its center by regularly praying and participating in the sacraments.

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