Sunday was my 12th wedding anniversary and (I know Red hates it when I get sappy), I have to say that we are happier together than we have ever been. Here is what I’ve learned:
1) Say “Thank You” often. He goes to work and I stay home, but even in other arrangements, it is easy to take the other person’s contribution for granted, or at least to let them think you do. I really appreciate that my husband gets up and goes to work every day, rain or shine, and I know that it is not always easy. On the flip side, he knows that it is sometimes hard for me that in my life “all plans are subject to change.” When I scrapped a whole day to take a hurt child to three doctors appointments it meant a lot when my husband said “thanks so much for handling all of this.” Of course, it is my responsibility to handle it, but it was still really nice to be thanked.
2) Be generous. For us, openness to life and trust in the Lord is the center of our marriage, but I don’t mean just generous about children. You have to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, and in general try to give more – more patience, more love, more support, more kindness, and forget yourself. In God’s incomprehensible economy, the less we think of ourselves, the happier we are. Forgive and give, 7 times 700, and without counting. This can also mean embracing cultural traditions outside of your own, and being generous with extended family relationships. My mother often asks how I can stand the hideous chair in my bedroom, which belonged to my husband’s grandfather. I’m over it, because I love him and it is important to him.
3) Be honest. I am working on not being “passive aggressive.” Just the other day, I said to my husband “Do you want to exchange Christmas gifts?” I knew that I was ready to accept his answer, either way, so it was a fair question. If I had a preferred answer in mind, it would have been unfair to ask him.
4) Take a deep breath. When you live with someone, they are routinely going to piss you off, that is just the way it is. Also, sometimes when I am tired I might be prone to looking for reasons to be pissed off even if the other person hasn’t done anything at all. Either way, I am finding it helpful to take a pause before I react to something in anger. Sometimes I can just admit that I am tired, and other times I know that there is something that we need to have “words” about, but it is usually better to spare both of us the first thing that comes to mind.
5) Share a hobby. My husband learned to ski when we were engaged. My parents jokingly made it a condition of our engagement, but it was really wise of them. Now, my serious hobby is something that brings us together rather than dividing our family. We talk about it, plan vacations around it, look forward to it, and bring up our children to share it. Being married to a non-skier would be a serious drag. My parents both play bridge, and whether they play together or with other friends, it gives them something to enjoy in common now that the nest is empty. It is also fun to have 1 or 2 shows that you watch together. For us, it is Downton Abbey and Parenthood, and we usually DVR them so that we can have a date night to watch when we are together.
6) Give (and take) some space. On the other hand, I am also just fine with not being joined at the hip for everything that we do. When we were training for a half marathon, I enjoyed talking about my long runs with my husband, but I preferred to take them alone. If we have two Phillies tickets, I’m just as happy for him to take his sister and leave me home to watch Pride and Prejudice.7) Talk about sex. I think that it is really important for a couple who is using NFP to have a very honest and ongoing conversation about the physical component of their marriage. Physical touch is an important “love language” and we need to use it when it is available. When it is not available, even if it is not your primary love language, I think it is important to make an extra effort with other ways to connect, sending regular emails, having a date night or giving gifts.
8)Cook together. Preparing meals can be a chore, but when you do it together it is super fun, and the whole family can get involved. I really love that my husband jumps in to help whenever he is home and I am cooking. He is more fun with food and takes time for details, while I am usually just trying to get it done. Tonight he saw the chili I was making and decided to make nachos to go with it, and put on the Giants game, which turned our easy dinner into a fun family event. If you put on music and all help with the dishes, dinner is a party from start to finish.
9) Bury the Hatchet. Recently I was hurt about something, and I seemed inclined to hold on to the wound. I was miserable, and even though my husband had apologized I was still sulking. My friend Kate reminded me that it was up to me to choose to climb up out of that unhappy pit. This doesn’t mean that I can’t stand up for myself or express myself when I am hurt, but it does mean that once something is resolved I don’t help myself by dragging the fight on for days.
10) Stay in touch. My husband is gone for 12+ hours everyday, but we speak several times a day and often send texts. He really misses our baby, so I try to send him some pictures from time to time. It is good to be thinking of one another throughout the day. That said, when my husband first got a blackberry, it was really hard for me because the last thing he did before going to bed was look at it. Now that I have an iPhone, I have the same temptation. I could surf the net for entire car rides and fill other times when we used to be present to one another. Life is moving so fast and people are disconnecting, even within the home! Our devices help us because we text each other a lot during the day, but it is also really important to look each other in the eye and kiss goodnight!
11)Share your calendars. This is a logistical matter, but it is a huge help that my husband can access my calendar on google. That means that he doesn’t invite house guests for a weekend when we have 47 things scheduled, and that he can generally track me down if he ever needs me. He also adds personal things to that calendar from time to time.
12) Don’t fight about the kids. The most important thing that we have in common is how deeply we care about our children, and when there is a problem with a child, in school work, friendships, discipline or health, we are both worried and on edge, which can make us prone to argue. It can be even worse if we disagree about how to handle the situation. This is a time for really calm, careful and prayerful words. Remember that when it comes to parenting, your spouse brings all the emotion and baggage of his own childhood to the table, as do you. You have to be really gentle and respectful, and ultimately you have to agree, because it is so important to each of you.
PS I have to also mention that we have a family patroness in Our Lady of Guadalupe. We were married on the feast of St Juan Diego, and I often invoke Our Lady of Guadalupe to help me with marital stresses. I figure, she was trying to get entire races to get along in Mexico, so I’m sure she can help my household!