Since getting married, I’ve kept an ongoing list of advice people gave us that sounded strange, but became the most meaningful pieces of wisdom. I also took time in my recent interviews with couples who have been married 30-50+ years to ask what advice they would offer a young newlywed or engaged couple in order to set them up for a long and happy marriage. I have combined my list and their comments to create…
10 pieces of Unconventional Advice for a Long and Happy Marriage:
Keep all things in perspective
In the moment, the way he loads the dishwasher is going to feel like an insurmountable relational pitfall. Sometimes the way she asks 946 questions after your long workday feels like a pathway to a long and annoying life together. In reality, these issues are temporary and small. One day you will miss his method of dishwashing. One day you will miss her questions. Embrace each day as it comes, and notice the struggles as opportunities to grow as individuals and enhance intimacy with one another. Do not give challenges more weight than they deserve.
Sweat the small stuff
Okay, okay, so maybe not all of the small stuff. But, often, small annoyances grow under the surface as we brush them away, only to show up in an award-winning emotional outburst months later. If it is an annoyance you face on a consistent basis, more than once in a 72 hour period, mention it. Acknowledging the trivial pet-peeves and problems as they occur and allowing your partner to do the same may save you some conflicts down the road.
Encourage your partner’s hobby
Long-term happiness will require mutual interests. Spend time cultivating mutual hobbies. Also, encourage your partner to have a separate hobby. Embrace his or her personal passions and encourage your partner to spend time doing them! This will be an outlet through which he or she can breathe and get space – which we all need from time to time.
Go to bed angry
Okay, I know, the Bible says to not go to bed angry. Well, technically it says to not let the sun go down on your anger – but we won’t get technical. God’s heart in giving us this instruction is to emphasize the importance of quickly and consistently offering forgiveness while showing mercy and humility. Sometimes, though, sleep deprivation and the technicalities of life prevent us from having these conversations before we slip off to slumber. It is difficult to hold a healthy, levelheaded conversation on 3 hours of sleep and after a hard day of work. These conversations are better had when you feel fed, rested, and focused. It is important to schedule a time to have these necessary conversations (within a 24-48 hour period). A good rule of thumb is to not discuss anything serious after 9PM.
Just roll with the toilet paper thing
This sounds like advice that directly contradicts “sweating the small stuff,” I know. The point, though, is that we must have eyes to see when our partner is trying. We cannot attack him for putting the toilet paper on incorrectly without taking the time to meditate on the fact that he replaced the toilet paper. Cultivating a grateful heart and assuming the best of your partner are keys to a long and happy relationship.
Lovin’ from the Oven
Be considerate and acknowledge the sort of day your partner has had. If it was a hard day, go above and beyond to try and make it better (side note: You will never be responsible for your partner’s happiness. Only your partner can be responsible for his or her feelings.) The goal in relationships should always be to out-serve the other person (Hebrews 10:24). Bake their favorite cookies or meal, go out of your way to get them a special gift, write them an encouraging note, or be more intentional about showing physical affection. Check out 5 Love Languages and take the Love Languages assessment to determine what you and your partners “Love Languages” are.
Surround Yourselves with Like-minded Friends
Having common friends is critical. Much of our lives are built up by socializing with community. It is important to both enjoy the people you are around, and to choose like-minded close friends. Recent studies show one’s choice to divorce directly corresponds with their friends’ perception of commitment. According to this study, you are 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced, and 33% more likely to divorce if a friend of a friend is divorced. Of course, there are always unique circumstances, but an increasing amount of research is showing l the way we view and treat our relationships directly corresponds with how our friends view and treat their relationships.
Have Friendship Boundaries
Of course, you will have friendships that do not bleed into your marriage, and these relationships are also worthy of investment and attention. But, it is vital that both partners agree on boundaries for how often you meet with those friends, and what your time is spent doing.
So much of our behavior and beliefs stem from our family of origin. Scriptures even tell us that the sin and struggles of forefathers can land on our shoulders and manifest in our own lives if not tended to properly. We see this through addiction, mental health diagnoses, and even relationship trends. As we walk with Jesus, He heals us and sets us free from these struggles. It is so important to recognize the spiritual roots of these issues, and seek appropriate healing and counsel. We also know, based on Scripture, that these generational places of hardship can be a window through which the enemy will try and infiltrate our lives during seasons of weakness. If engaged or married, have each partner complete a genogram indicating physical, mental health, spiritual, and relational histories. Spend time praying over trends that you notice, and discuss how these trends may have led to certain ways of thinking about roles, goals, and commitment in the context of marriage. Come to a place of agreement regarding the definition of commitment and roles in the relationship.
Under-commit to Others
“Don’t miss it,” one empty-nested interviewee said. Family must be your priority. Before you know it, the house will be empty and life will seem strangely still. God has something unique and growing for you in this season. Those days of sitting around with the family in PJs and doing nothing are incredibly significant and meaningful. Today there is a chronic trend of overcommitting and spreading yourself so thin that you miss the sacred season in which you sit. God calls us first and foremost to our family. It is important that we invest fully in few things rather than partially in many things. Every time we say “yes” to something, we are inevitably saying “no” to something else – that “no” may be watching a sitcom with your spouse, reading a book to your child, going to happy hour with a close friend, volunteering at a local food bank, attending a class, or connecting through FaceTime with a distant family member. We must be self-aware and determined enough to say “no” to many things for the sake for saying “yes” to the few things that matter most.