(Location: Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia (an island off Bali), after Nat and I spoke at the What If Conference. Photo Credit: Random Bystander.)
How could we already be into this marriage of ours THIRTEEN years?! Craziness. Time flies.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that every year, on our anniversary, I like to share some things my wife and I have learned about cultivating a happy marriage. That said, if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that we’re certainly not perfect and we’ve got to be patient with our imperfections.
New here? Get caught up:
HOW TO BE HAPPILY MARRIED: 10 YEARS, 10 LESSONS
HOW TO BE HAPPILY MARRIED: 11 YEARS, 11 LESSONS
HOW TO BE HAPPILY MARRIED: 12 YEARS, 12 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 happily married dude, and this post is a reflection of my experience, well. . . as a happily married dude. Of course, we have our own set of problems. EVERY couple does, and I would certainly never try to hide that fact. 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!
13 TIPS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE
#13. Hold on tight!
Marriage is a freakin’ roller coaster. My grandma and grandpa just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. When asked what their “secret” was, my grandpa immediately said, “Hold on!” That’s what it’s all about. Marriage, life in general, really, is a wild ride. Hang on tight!
#12. Loosen up (every day).
Yeah, yeah, yeah…I just told you to hold on tight and now I’m telling you to loosen up. Hold on tight to your spouse, but loosen your grip around his/her neck! Give em’ a break. You’re in this TOGETHER. Don’t suffocate the relationship with relentless nagging, unrealistic expectations or constantly playing the blame game. Shake it off. As necessary (daily!), go for a walk, get outside, clear your mind. You’re both better when you’re fresh and loose.
#11. Honor your spouse (always).
Honor is the “respect that is given to someone who is admired” the “good quality or character as judged by other people” and “high moral standards of behavior.” What would it mean to you to be honored? What if you communicated that to your spouse? What if your spouse did that for you regularly? What if your spouse told you what if felt like and meant to them to be honored? What if you honored that? What if you had this conversation and renewed this commitment with your spouse? What if you did this today? Things would change for the better, people. Honor and be honored in return.
Simplicity is beautifully complex. It’s never simple to keep things simple. Simple solutions require the most advanced thinking. Simplicity requires tremendous brainpower, will and foresight. If you want an incredibly passionate, happy, alive marriage…don’t overcomplicate things. Once all is said and done, the foundational elements of a happy marriage are very simple: respect, forgiveness, service, love. Comparatively, everything else is froth. If you can focus on those simply complex elements of your relationship, everything else will fall into greater order and ease.
#9. Bow low.
You make mistakes. I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. But the biggest mistake we can make is failing to acknowledge and repair what we’ve done wrong. You’ll gain respect—both self-respect and the respect of your spouse—when you take ownership or and do everything in your power to make right what you have wronged. “When you bow, bow low” (Chinese Proverb).
#8. Be tomorrow’s version today.
How would your life change if you made decisions today as if you were already the person you want to become tomorrow? We tend to live up to our own feelings of ourselves (for better or for worse). If we plan to become something else, what better way to do so than to step into that skin now?
#7. Get a daily equation.
There are certain things that you have to do each day in order to keep your “life current” moving in an intentional and positive direction. I’m not talking big picture goals (though those are important as well). Your daily equation isn’t meant to be anything fancy. It’s simply a handful of things that you know you have to do each day in order to keep your head above the water and a sense of purpose and momentum in your heart. Everyone’s equation will be different. Yours may include exercise, or having a healthy breakfast every morning. It may include reading inspiring works each day, or it may be ensuring that you drink enough water to stay well hydrated. Maybe enjoying 8 hours of sleep per night is non-negotiable for you. Your equation will be a combination of things you value and know bless your daily life. Whatever your equation includes, having these daily essentials in place in your life is one of the most important things you can do for a successful life (and as a wonderful bonus, a happy marriage).
This practice ensures that even when you go through your inevitable dips and woes, you’re not losing ground. You’re ensuring that you don’t fall into that dangerous place of inactivity (which leads quicker than we realize to regression). Your daily equation is the way that you make sure things stay steady. Like rails on a railroad track. Sticking to your daily equation keeps you from getting derailed. These essentials need to become habitual. So habitual that they are akin to breathing in and out. The train may slow down from time to time, it may even stop, but with your daily equation in place, you will never leave the track.
#6. Forget “work-life balance.”
Work-life balance is flawed thinking. Your calendar is filled with empty meetings, hopes and dreams. Why? Because when you’re at work, you’re thinking about home. When you’re home, you’re thinking about work. When you’re at play, you punish yourself for not being at work or home. And when you’re at work or home, you’re wishing for a break to go play. Am I right?
Changing your schedule in a million different ways, over and over again, won’t necessarily change your life. Is scheduling important? Sure. But it’s NOT a magic bullet. No matter how you’ve divided your time in an effort to strike healthy balance, if your mind isn’t in sync with your body, you’ll never achieve the level of success you’re capable of. Stop hyper-calendaring stuff in an effort to achieve work-life balance. It’s not really work-life balance you’re after anyway. You want what you think balance can give you: freedom and happiness. If you want freedom and happiness, simply start paying attention to what you’re doing while you’re doing it. If you can pay attention to the things you’re doing while you’re doing them, you’ll reduce the amount of time it takes you to do the stuff you don’t want to do and give you more time to do the things you do. All the relationships in your business and personal life will be blessed, your marriage most of all.
#5. Be humble and proud of it!
In a search for humility (a good thing), don’t lose touch of your self-worth and unique ability—humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive—they can coexist. “Poor is the man who does not know his own intrinsic worth and tends to measure everything by relative value. A man of financial wealth who values himself by his financial net worth is poorer than a poor man who values himself by his intrinsic self worth” (Sydney Madwed).
4. Put “party” on the schedule.
The Beastie Boys had it right: you gotta fight for your right to party. Marriage brings along responsibility: jobs, kids, bills (bills, bills, bills). You know. Grown up stuff. If you don’t have “party” on your list of things to do (weekly), your life is gonna start to suck. Sorry. It’s true. I’m not talking about going out and acting like an idiot to impress people you don’t care about. I’m talking about going out and acting awesome to impress the person you do care about…your spouse. Have fun. Kick back. Relax. It’s not going to happen unless you fight for it. Put “party” on the schedule.
3. Don’t be a roommate.
There’s a real thing called “roommate syndrome.” Basically, from what I gather, roommate syndrome is when a a married couple is living together, but living separate lives. That’s a slippery slope. Instead, have a shared vision for what you’d like your marriage to look like. What you like to achieve and how you can help each other get there. Natalie and I have different roles and responsibilities. We do different things. We have very different days. However, we’re working towards the same big picture goals. Don’t grow apart. Grow together.
2. Mix it up!
Go away for the weekend (or the month, or more!). See a weird movie. Eat a different kind of pizza. Do a dance. Learn a new skill. Travel somewhere random on one of those spontaneous cheap-flight deals. Sometimes is not the marriage that is boring, it’s your life. Don’t blame the marriage for your stagnation. Go do something different. Take initiative.
Forgiveness is hard. The hardest. Do it anyway. The greatest rewards come from doing the hardest of things.
– 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.