My sweet husband and I have been married for almost 17 years, which means that I have now been married for over half of my life! Seriously. SRSLY!
Since we didn’t come into this marriage thing as experts, we have had to learn the hard way that there are some things that you just cannot do in marriage. There are some actions and attitudes that are to be avoided at all costs if you want to continue in wedded bliss. We didn’t enjoy learning these things, so I thought it might be good for me to give some kindly advice to those who might not have quite as much experience with the rotten stuff as we have. Here are 10 things that we’ve figured out will screw up your marriage super fast.
1. YELL AT EACH OTHER. We desperately avoid yelling in this household. It makes us feel junky – both in the giving and the receiving. I used to be a pretty good yeller. Whenever I would get mad, my voice just got louder. I would say (usually in a raised voice) that I couldn’t help it. It was just how I was. One evening my husband (my boyfriend at the time, actually) witnessed me yelling at my parents over something and was appalled. He told me later that he didn’t believe anyone ever deserved to be yelled at. He was right. I’ve worked hard to avoid yelling at anyone ever since. Turns out it is something I can change after all – who knew?! I still screw up from time to time and yell over something, but knowing it’s not okay is the first step in reducing those times that I do yell.
2. ASSUME WORST INTENTIONS. One of the best ways to misunderstand your spouse is to assume the worst intentions. You’ll start hearing things that they didn’t actually say. This will make you crazy. This will make THEM crazy too. Assume that they want the best for you, your marriage, your kids, your life. Assume that they care about your feelings. Don’t assume that their biggest desire in life is to make you mad or hurt your feelings. That’s dumb. And probably not true.
3. BRING UP PAST JUNK. If you’re bringing up past junk every single time you’re arguing, you’re asking for disaster. That nasty little cycle will never end. Oh my goodness I struggle with this one. I cannot tell you how many times I almost fail at this. Sometimes I feel like I’m catching words right before they tumble out. It feels so good to win arguments, but there has to be a statute of limitations on past junk. You don’t want everything you’ve ever done brought up every single time you argue, right? Neither do they. Let the current argument be about current stuff. Let everything else stay in the past where it belongs.
4. CRITICIZE EACH OTHER (ESPECIALLY IN PUBLIC). Every time I hear someone criticize their spouse in front of me, I cringe. Every time. Can you imagine what it would feel like to find out that your spouse has been talking poorly of you in front of his friends, family or even, heaven forbid, complete strangers?!! Ephesians 4:29 is a very important scripture for husbands and wives to memorize: “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This includes talking in front of your kids. Don’t ever let your kids hear you talk badly of their mom or dad. This includes social media. Although you can’t see the faces of the people who read your posts on Facebook, twitter, instagram and such – they are very, very real. Be careful what you say about your spouse – and who may hear (or read) it. So many things tear our spouses down in everyday life – so many things. We cannot let our words be one of them.
5. NAG EACH OTHER. I have to admit that I’m still working on this one. Man it’s hard when your spouse won’t just obey everything you say all the time without questions. Kidding. Mostly. Because my husband and I have different family responsibilities and priorities, it is often a source of conflict where those responsibilities overlap a bit. He is not much of a multi-tasker and I try to multi-task WAY too much. Something that I think to be super time-sensitive might not even be in his top ten and vice versa. So then we kindly remind the other person to not forget to do something. Then we remind again – less kindly. Then again – with a bit of sarcasm and snarkiness. Then we just end up in a big, dumb, ugly fight over me forgetting to put the new insurance cards in the car or him forgetting to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. These things are NOT worth fighting over. Grace goes a long way here. Talk about ways to share the responsibilities and encourage each other to succeed in those responsibilities WITHOUT nagging. And if you absolutely have to remind each other of something, choose loving words and speak kindly.
6. PUT YOUR CHILDREN FIRST. Your children are important and their needs are important, and of course they make sure to let you know just how important they think that their needs are. You absolutely have a responsibility to take care of everything your kids need. But you also need to remember that you and your spouse are in this parenting thing together and you need to make sure that you both make it to the end of it together. Never leave a partner behind, right?. Your spouse’s needs are important too. Your kids have both of you and you can share those responsibilities. Your spouse has you alone and they need your support, encouragement, love and respect to be the best person they can be. You cannot ignore your spouse’s needs and then be surprised when they begin to ignore yours. Marriages crumble when kids become priority over your marriage relationship.
7. REFUSE TO FIGHT. Ignoring feelings or problems will not make them go away. You have to passionately pursue reconciliation at all times with your spouse. Don’t let things fester or grow. Even though my husband and I don’t fight the same way, we still are committed to working out every single issue or disagreement. Ricky needs time to process. I don’t. He would prefer to leave the room for a while. I would prefer to sit right next to each other with major eye contact as we work out all the issues of the world. So we compromise. I give him some time (not as much as he would want, but more than I would want) to gather his thoughts and feelings before we talk it through. But we DO talk it through. Every single time. Because reconciliation and understanding is the goal, we each give a little. We value the relationship over our need to be right or make a point. Sometimes it takes a simple apology from both of us (we always BOTH apologize even if we don’t necessarily think it was our fault – and ooh boy sometimes it’s really hard to do). Sometimes it takes all day and night to figure out how to get back to the safe, middle ground. It is always worth it to talk it all the way through. Always.
8. DON’T LEARN TO COMMUNICATE. Everyone communicates differently. You need to figure out your spouse’s language and teach them yours. Make up some rules for engagement in communication that will help you both feel safe to share your real feelings. Make sure that both of you feel safe sharing every bit of your feelings – even the hard ones. Listen for understanding, ask clarifying questions and assume the best intentions. Communication is hard for everyone, all the time, with everyone – it just is. In marriage the stakes are even higher. The sooner you learn how to talk to and listen to your spouse, the stronger your marriage will be. I wrote a whole post on this topic here.
9. DON’T SET ASIDE TIME FOR EACH OTHER. This one’s hard. We have insanely busy schedules and we’re both workaholics. We also have five children with fourteen years between the youngest and oldest child. We’ve got a lot going on always. However, every time we forget to set aside time for each other for a while we notice the effect of it. Every time. We have friends who set aside a regular monthly date night with each other but with five kids we’ve never been able to manage that. So we try to have time every evening after the kids go to bed to just be together. We watch an hour of TV or talk about our kids or our jobs or just whatever. It doesn’t matter what we do. I look forward to our time together all day long. It’s that time together that we intentionally carve out of the end of our days that helps me continue to feel connected to him. It’s when I feel the most treasured by him. It really is that important.
10. FORGET TO GIVE ENCOURAGEMENT. Several years ago after at least ten years of marriage I discovered something about my husband that I didn’t know. We took a love languages quiz based on Gary Chapman’s Book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts and I discovered that his primary love language is “words of affirmation”. I had no idea. I also had not ever been intentional about giving him those encouraging words. Whoops. He, however, is the king of sweet texts or notes to tell me how much he loves me or how proud he is of me or how he hopes I have a good day. I just always thought, gosh he’s sweet – aren’t I a lucky girl. Words of affirmation is not my love language so it’s just not a natural thing for me. So when I realized that he needed those encouraging words to feel loved and I began to give them more regularly it made such an enormous difference in the way he felt about our relationship. I never realized how much those encouraging words made a difference until one week when my sweet husband forgot to give them. Encouraging words from my husband are what help me to feel safe, secure and loved within the relationship. Same goes for him. These words may not seem like much when they’re given but they fill up our relationship bank accounts. Without encouragement, we can begin to feel undervalued or ignored. Never underestimate the power of encouraging words in your marriage.