One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me as a child was the example of a committed, cooperative, and engaged marriage. Until I was married and had children of my own, I didn’t realize how important that gift was from my own parents, or just how much energy it can take to remain partners in crime for decades. Research shows children who grow up in a home with parents who are committed to each other and their marriage are most likely to live healthy teen and adult lives. Marriage is the backbone of our home. When we’re not connecting well with our spouses – nothing is connecting well. Not the schooling, not the household chores, not our relationship as a family. And then there are those days, I think especially as a homeschooling mom, when my husband does something (takes over the reading with the kids, works on a shop project with them, does the dishes for me, – you know – those profoundly simple things that make the heart skip a beat), and I close my eyes and say a silent prayer that this marriage is still working – through the chaos, the scheduling, life.
Four children (gulp) later and working towards my 18th year of marriage (double gulp), and as a homeschooling couple (triple gulp), I’ve come to a place in my life where I’m reflecting on all of those years – and all of those things that help to keep a marriage working.
Commitment – This is one of my favorite definitions of commitment when it comes to marriage: “…a choice to give up choices.” There is no weighing of options when the going gets tough, no back door that is left open, and the what ifs aren’t distractions. There are obviously some situations where marriages end for the safety of a spouse or the children – those are my personal exceptions to the rule of commitment. Research does show, however, that marriages built on commitment can outlast even years of discontentment and unhappiness. In a national survey, three-fifths of formerly unhappily married couples reported that after five years they were either happy or quite happy. Commitment carried them through to the other side.
- Another thing I’ve learned from my parents is that commitment takes energy, and there is no stopping point when it comes to putting forth those efforts. The larger picture of marital commitment can be built in part by making smaller commitments that show your partner that you’re still present.
- Be committed to rituals that demonstrate you are thinking of your spouse. Every morning my husband tells me he loves me and gives me a kiss before he leaves for work. Every summer I make my husband’s favorite family recipe with fresh Swiss chard, and every Christmas he gets his favorite cashew cookies. These small rituals tell our partners that we still want to honor them.
- Renew a courting tradition. When my husband and I were dating we lived hours apart, so sending cards in the mail or leaving cards for him to find after I left a visit were small ways I let him know I was thinking of him when we were apart. My goal for this month is to revive this tradition and go back to my Hallmark days.
Humor – The research is also clear on this one: humor helps build stronger romantic relationships. And let’s face it, if we are going to spend the rest of our lives with someone, we are going to have a lot more fun if we can laugh together. Couples who are satisfied with their marriage tend to use humor in their interactions, making jokes about themselves and engaging in gentle teasing.
Bringing Funny Back
- Nothing feels quite like a good laugh-until-you-have-tears-streaming-down-your-face (or in my case – snorts and squeals leaking from my nose and throat) shared with your partner.
- Attend a comedy show together. Not only is that hour or two a fun way to spend date night, but it gives you something to share together later, reliving some of your favorite lines and laughing all over again.
- Share jokes and humorous stories together. It takes just minutes to read something like The Fart that (Almost) Altered My Destiny together – but it can lighten your day and help bring smiles to both of your faces.
- Laugh at yourself. You will do stupid things in your life – you are human – so get over the imperfections and learn to laugh at yourself. I talk and walk in my sleep and the first time I awakened in the middle of a sleepy conversation I was mortified that my husband saw me acting like a lunatic, but I’ve had to either learn to get over myself or not sleep in the same room with him. Now when I wake him up by turning on all of the lights and trying to move the bed (with him in it) in search of something I don’t remember, we laugh together.
Honesty – This one can be a real doozy. How does my hair look? Do these jeans make my butt look big? Husbands around the world often recommend that honesty is not the best policy when it comes to questions like these. But when it comes to things that matter, honesty can make or break a marriage.
- Be responsible for your own ideas, and use statements that show ownership such as “I need…” instead of “if only you would…”.
- Be honest every day. Small moments of deceit and deception so easily lead to large moments of hurtful and harmful lies. Financial matters, health, employment, child rearing, and personal goals all require daily doses of honesty.
- Be honest in front of and with your children. Don’t engage your kids in deceit by saying things such as, “We don’t need to tell Dad XYZ because he won’t really understand.”
Marriage is one of the biggest adventures a person can have. It takes you down rocky roads with steep cliffs, and winds down picturesque trails of beautiful scenery. Along the way we are creating trail guides for our kids, teaching them how to navigate and what to pack for the trip. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making sure that I knew to pack commitment, humor, and honesty in my suitcase. That’s the best kind of family baggage to carry.
(Much of this blog I originally posted at BetterParenting.com, but I wanted to share again :))