I love this picture of me and my girl, Natalie, on the day we got married. This picture has a little “sepia tone lovin” to it. (Thanks for the lyrics Jack — that’s one of our favorite songs. Quick side story: back in Hawaii, our kids were in swimming lessons with Jack Johnson’s son. It was a “mommy/daddy-and-me” type class, so every day, we were in the pool with Jack and his son. We had NO idea who he was until someone mentioned it to us a few weeks into lessons. It was cool getting to know him outside of his “celebrity status.” He’s just as laid back and down to earth as you’d imagine.)
Sorry the quality of the picture isn’t better. It’s a picture of a picture from my cell phone. Hopefully Nat has a better copy somewhere. But, either way, it doesn’t really matter, because while pictures may fade, our love is stronger than ever. Ha! (So sappy, I know, but I’m completely serious. I love her now more than ever before.)
Well, well, well. . . these posts about lessons learned from our marriage have become my most shared/popular posts. What does that mean??? This is, after all, not a blog about love and marriage, but who cares. Right? I’ve loved adding to this series over the years, so I’m really glad you have loved reading it as well.
New here? Get caught up on past installments in the “How To Be Happily Married” series below:
HOW TO BE HAPPILY MARRIED: 10 YEARS, 10 LESSONS
HOW TO BE HAPPILY MARRIED: 11 YEARS, 11 LESSONS
Note: This is more of a post for me and Nat. I’m not being “preachy.” I’m not a marriage counselor. I don’t have a degree in family therapy. I’m just a married dude, and this post is a reflection of my experience. . . well, as a married dude. Of course, we have our own set of problems. EVERY couple does, and I would certainly never try to hide that fact. Life is freakin’ insane. But this isn’t a post about what hasn’t worked for Nat and I, it’s a post about what has. And I sincerely hope that what I share here can help you reflect on your own life and work toward creating a strong, happy marriage as well!
A LITTLE ANNIVERSARY GIFT FROM ME TO YOU
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on a happy marriage below. As a little 12th anniversary gift, I’ll send a copy of The Power of Starting Something Stupid to three people (chosen at random) who comment below. If you already have a book, you can give it away and make someone happy. In any case, we’re all in this life-business together, and we need to lean on one another for support. So please, share your thoughts, struggles and successes in the comments below. Everyone in this online community I host here will benefit from your thoughts. Your insights may just be the thing that helps save or strengthen someone else’s marriage. We never really know how far our influence goes.
12 TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE
#12. Shut up and listen (guys).
Listening IS the answer. Let me repeat that in case you weren’t listening. Listening IS the answer. Don’t jump in and try to save the day in the middle of a crucial conversation. Nine times out of an even ten, she just needs to share the story. Don’t worry about why that is. It’s just the way it is. When you try to “solve her problem,” you may just make things worse. You may just make her feel as though her problem is simple and if she would only _______ everything would be fine. She doesn’t need that. She is coming to you for comfort and validation. She is coming to you to be reminded that she’s not in “it” alone.
Again—first, listen. Then, make sure she understands that you understand. Then, if necessary, offer some new ideas— but only if she wants them. Remember, when you listen intently, and make her feel understood, you’ve usually already given her exactly what she needs.
#11. Praise each other (everyday).
Just today, Nat told me how much she appreciated a couple little things I did around the house. When I did those little things, I didn’t even think anything of it. However, because she pointed it out, not only did it validate what I was doing, it encouraged me to want to do more. Praise doesn’t have to come in the form of big gifts. And praise shouldn’t be withheld until a “special time.” Every time is a special time. Give praise openly and often–even with the little things–and watch the magic happen. Praise-giving creates a virtuous, upward spiral of good feelings towards one another and encourages additional kindness and additional acts of love.
#10. Respect each other (always).
Could respect be more important than love? Could respect be the ultimate form of love? “Love” is so arbitrary. People fall into love and they fall out of love. But respect? Respect is different. Respect is ongoing. Don’t worry about respect being “earned.” If you chose to marry him or her, that respect has ALREADY been earned. Respect THAT. All the bickering, back-biting and snarky attitudes would disappear if we remembered to respect one another. If you’re having some issues, ask yourself if you’re doing your part to respect your spouse. Of course, it goes both ways. However, a good rule of thumb is to respect first and you’ll naturally be respected in return.
#9. Get together and away from it all (often).
Remember what it was like dating? You could get away from everything else and just be together. I understand that with work, a mortgage, kids, school, debt, etc, that things are different now. But don’t let all those “responsibilities” get in the way of your most important responsibility—your spouse. Break away from the grind (together) at least once a week.
#8. Have some freaking fun (fo realz).
What in the world? Why do couples get so BOOOOORING? Way to suck the life out of life, people! What does fun look like for Nat and me? Blasting the radio to a fun song in the car. Impromptu dance parties in the grocery store. Jumping on the trampoline with the kids. Playing the guitar and screaming loud enough to wake up the babies next door. Messing with the karaoke app on our phones. Weekend get aways. Having lunch together. “Candy Friday” —we have a family tradition to buy a bunch of candy and popcorn and have movie night with the family on Fridays (then we limit or eliminate sugar and junk food intake the rest of the week). It’s the little things, guys. Big things are cool too. But if there’s not a little spark in your day-to-day, a little spring in your step, you’re missing out on some good times.
#7. Fill your phone with pictures of your spouse.
Soooooo, this one sounds a little weird. But it’s awesome. Nat and I have a collection of selfies we’ve taken together all over the world. Imagine how fun it would be to see selfies of your parents or grandparents together at different times of their lives? It’s cool. We also always take a picture together at the airport before one of us travels. We’ll post them to instagram or we’ll just text them to each other. Your phone should be filled with pictures of your spouse. It’s good to have a constant reminder that you carry around with you of what (or who) comes first in your life. There’s a cool app called ChatBooks (disclosure: my sister works there and this is NOT an affiliate link) where you can put pictures together and turn them into a book. You can print 60 pictures in a book for on only $6 (you can also print your instagram feed). How cool would it be to have a little book of your own with pictures of each other together? Very cool.
#6. When the going gets tough, remember Tuckman’s stages of group development.
Never heard of it? Here you go. This is a model for understanding the development stages of a team (especially through times of change). This model has pulled us through many challenging times. Marriage is a team sport. Teams go through transitions. Here’s the stages of a team’s development that I want you to consider when you’re going through a “storm.” Here’s my own summary with quotes from Wikipedia. I’m going to put in the word “marriage” every time it says “team” to make it more relevant:
First you FORM. “In the first stage of [marriage] building, the forming of the [marriage] takes place. The individual’s behavior is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict.”
Then you STORM. “The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the [marriage]. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the [marriage] who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each [marriage] member and their differences should be emphasized. Without tolerance and patience the [marriage] will fail.”
Then you NORM. “The [marriage] manages to have one goal and come to a mutual plan for the [marriage] at this stage. Some may have to give up their own ideas and agree with others to make the [marriage] function. In this stage, all [marriage] members take the responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the [marriage's] goals.”
Then you PERFORM. “It is possible for some [marriages] to reach the performing stage. These high-performing [marriages] can function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision.”
What does all this mean to a marriage? To me, in our family, if we are going through a “storm,” I first recognize that it is a storm and just a storm. That the storm is a natural part of the process to eventually “norming” and then “performing.” With that optimistic perspective in place, I don’t let myself dive into a sink hole of despair when a storm begins to rage. I don’t immediately assume it’s the end of the world. I remember that it’s normal, and it’s just part of the process of marriage and family life. A storm will happen whenever change (aka: something new) comes into our lives.
I know this is long and somewhat involved, but if you’re going to remember anything from this tip, remember this: the storm will pass! Search for a common goal, work together towards that goal, and you and your spouse will come out better and stronger because of it.
#5. Read together.
Movies are an obvious choice when you want to spend time together. It’s easy. But have you ever tried reading together? It’s different. I generally read too fast. Nat can’t understand anything I’m saying. So, Natalie will read (non-fiction, fiction, or scripture) aloud, and I’ll listen. It’s like going back in time. Though, when I say that to Natalie, she rolls her eyes at me. But really, it’s like time traveling to one of those strange British movies where everyone sits around reading poetry to each other all day. Why would anyone want to do that? Especially in today’s day and age when we have TV, Internet and iPhones (for crying out loud)? I don’t know, honestly. But the bottom line is that it brings us closer together. Period. We stop and chat about what we’re reading. We get insights about life. We apply what we learn to our own lives. It’s interesting. I’m not gonna lie to you and say it’s the most fun thing in the world (I’m working on getting more excited about it, because Natalie LOVES it so much), but there is no doubt that it does bring us closer together as a couple. Give it a try.
#4. Take three deep breaths.
It’s so simple, yet so effective. In good times and bad, through thick and thin, remember to breathe. Seriously. Take at least three DEEP breaths whenever you start to feel anxious about something (anything). I don’t know what it is about breathing, but getting fresh oxygen to the brain is like magic. It clears emotions away and allows you to think more clearly, and it also gives you time to step back and reflect on the situation to ensure you make conscious, proactive, wise decisions moving forward (the alternative to which would be rash, regrettable, reactive decisions—so breathing deep is well advised, wouldn’t you say?). Take three deep, conscious breaths right now, and you’ll see what I mean.
#3. Serve each other.
Not like slave labor. Not with a chip on your shoulder. Not with animosity or a desire to prove one thing or another. Rather, look for ways to meaningfully serve one another. Find out your spouse’s love language (gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, or physical touch) and serve your spouse according to the love language that means most to him/her.
#2. Admire each other.
Don’t just love each other. Don’t just like each other. Don’t just respect each other. ADMIRE each other. Admiration is like loving and liking and respecting all wrapped together in one. Take a moment to think about (or actually list) the qualities you see in your spouse that make you admire him/her. What is it about your spouse that makes you look up to him/her? If you can both look up to each other, you’re gonna be okay, even when the going gets rougher than rough.
#1. Slow down.
Life’s short. Too short. And even though that saying is cliché, it doesn’t make it any less true. Ask anyone whose spouse has left this earth too soon. Life is precious. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the busyness of life at the expense of the sweetness of spending down time together. So, slow down. I don’t mean you have to be less ambitious or dial down your goals. Quite the opposite. Set ambitious, aggressive, attainable goals to spend quality time with your spouse! Schedule it. And if that seems impossible, start by being PRESENT when you are together. Put down the phone. Turn off the TV. Put the computer away. Then sit and look each other in the eyes. Ask each other questions. Get to know each other all over again (and again, and again, and again). It’s worth it (every single time).
– I’ve created a 37-page action guide to help you get a personal project going. Consider applying the steps I outline to a “marriage project.” You can work on something fun that brings you and your spouse closer together!
– Get your free action guide here.
– Leave your comments below for your chance to win a copy of my book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid.