Falling in love is the easy part. But staying in love takes work and intentionality. Here are four tips that will help your marriage stay healthy and last a lifetime:
Look at the Big Picture
Part of the fun of a long term relationship (of any kind) is the growing together through shared experiences, suffering together through difficulties and heartbreaks, and experiencing the joy of mountain top encounters together. But getting through the challenges of life together as a couple require us to have a long range view of love and marriage. If we don’t keep our eye on the bigger picture, we will get distracted by all the small inconsequential and inconvenient problems that crop up in life. These distract us from the larger vision of what’s really important.
I continually have to remind the young couples my wife and I mentor to keep their eye on the bigger picture. When you do that many of the small problems and irksome habits of your spouse seem inconsequential (or at least bearable). For instance, sometimes the amount of attention young children require can cause a young mother to focus entirely on the children as the center of her world. In that role she is invaluable. But a long term vision remembers that she and her husband will be together long after their children have grown and moved on. That vision will help her to balance her attention to both her children and her husband. Likewise, men need to remember that work is merely a means to support their family. Later in life, your work will be one of the least important things you care about.
Think of your marriage as a team unit, not two individuals. Then remember that you are on the same team. Sometimes during the heated battles of life we start looking at our spouse as the enemy. It’s important to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt in most situations. Likely your spouse always has your best interests at heart. They care about you (probably more than anyone else in the world does) and only want the best for you. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but I promise you if you communicate that to your spouse, they will reciprocate.
Seasons of Marriage
Another thing to remember is that a marriage is a living, breathing vessel. It has a dynamic life of its own independent of you or your spouse. It ebbs and flows. It has seasons—good seasons, bad seasons, and even indifferent seasons. There will be times when things are rough in your relationship. It seems like those times last forever. The truth is they are just a season—they last at most a year or so, probably much less. It just seems like they last longer. Seasons of trials are often followed by seasons of joy and blessings. These seem to last for shorter periods but when you weigh everything out over a long period, they tend to last just as long as the difficult times.
It’s similar to the long professional baseball season that consists of over 162 games a year and lasts from April to October. There will be times during the season when a batter goes through a slump. It feels like he can’t buy a hit. Then there are times during the same season when he can close his eyes and swing and get a hit every time he steps to the plate. I’m guessing the slumps feel like they last longer but when averaged over an entire season they even out.
When I became a full time writer and speaker it took over six long years of financial struggle before we eventually gained some stability. Those were very lean and difficult years that we endeavored through together. I can tell you though that the struggles have been followed by several years now of great joy and blessing. It is so much richer a blessing by having persevered through the trials. The same is true of your marriage. There will be lean times that you will have to persevere through together. Once those pass a season of blessing and joy will follow. The problem is we tend not to remember the blessings. Struggles seem to stay in our memories longer.
Count Your Blessings
Try this experiment. Sit down with your spouse and try to remember all the really difficult times of your marriage. Chances are you’ll be able to recall pretty clearly all the tough times you’ve had in your relationship (at least your wife will). Now write down what the root cause of those struggles was. It’s important to reflect back on our challenges and understand what caused them, especially if you do not want to repeat them. Was if financial struggles? Was a child sick or rebelling? Perhaps old wounds arose and needed to be dealt with. Once you agree about what the cause of the struggles were, now discuss what solved them. This is important too. Understanding how we weathered through specific issues can help us in the future during similar situations.
Now try and remember the period that followed, after the problem was resolved. Chances are your marriage went through a good time of happiness and maybe even prosperity. Like many problems in life, once we endure and persevere through them, we end up getting blessed for our efforts. Remember the good times and not just the bad times. Love is shaped and grown by going through life’s challenges together. Those that cut and run at the first sign of difficulty, never get to experience the true joy of standing together on the mountain top arm in arm knowing that you can truly depend on the person beside you.
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