How to Make a Marriage Thrive
by Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Here I sit, halfway through our 5 ½ hour plane ride back to Portland, OR. My husband and I just spent a glorious week in Maui, without kids! We adore our little girls, but man is it nice to have a break now and then to just focus on us.
The trip was everything we wanted it to be (minus the chest cold we both caught…but nothing a little Maui sun can’t cure!) A time to relax, recharge, and reconnect. It has been a busy and stressful 2011 in the Dockter household so far, and this trip could not have come at a better time. We did what we love to do: runs on the beach, massages, golf, dinners out, and soaking up the rays. I even read three whole books; actual adult books with no illustrations or sound effect buttons to push.
The best part by far was the quality time that Bryan and I got. We had eyes only for each other, with no other distractions, demands, or stressors. We felt like we were on our honeymoon again. After nearly 10 years of marriage, I am even more in love with my husband than the day we said our vows.
Although this trip to Maui was a blessing and helped us “spark” our marriage, it is the daily things that Bryan and I do to keep our marriage healthy and solid that makes the most difference. No marriage is infallible, as no individual is infallible. A healthy marriage takes work and attention. Those of you who are my clients have heard me say that over and over, probably ad nauseam. But there is a reason for this advice. When we don’t put daily work and loving attention into our marriages, holes form. From these holes distance is built and our armor slips, exposing the vulnerable parts we all have. When our guard is down, destructive and foolish things can happen.
We all want thriving marriages and families. So how do we get them? Here are just a few ideas to start out with.
1. Okay, I am fully aware that not everyone can take a week get-away with their beloved. If you can….DO IT! Of course you will miss your kids, but don’t forget that one of the best gifts you can give your kids is that of a strong marriage. If you can even get away for a night or two, count that a blessing and embrace it. So set the mommy guilt aside and enjoy that man you decided to spend the rest of your days with before the kids were even a glimmer in your eye.
2. Date nights. No reason not to! Shoot for twice a month. These do not have to cost a lot of money. Grab a coffee or hot chocolate and go for a long walk around the bridges downtown (about 3.2 miles around). My girlfriend has 4 kids and another on the way. She and her hubby decided to make date nights a priority after watching Bryan and I do it and seeing what we got from it. She told me recently that even through a difficult financial time last year that she was so grateful they continued to make their date nights a priority, even when it was just “Taco Bell and making out in the parking lot”. Enough said.
3. You remember those things that drew you to the one you love? Those special things that he would say or do that melted you every time? Does he still do those things? An even better question is do YOU still do those things that caused him to fall in love with you? If the answer is no, then you know what you need to do. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. It may sound corny, but I make my husband’s lunch every night for work the next day. He is fully capable of making his own lunch (actually, more than capable, as he is the cook of the family) but I know it speaks love to him, so I will continue to do it, even when I am tired and don’t feel like it.
4. Establish rules to a fair fight. Even a healthy marriage will consist of times of disagreement, frustrations, and even anger. How you express these emotions to one another is crucial. Words can either build up or tear down. I believe I have already done an article on this, but if I haven’t there will be one to come!
5. Communicate effectively. Take time daily to look into each other’s eyes (rather than at the TV or your I-phone), and converse meaningfully. Even if it is only 10 minutes at the end of the day. Sometimes even those quick conversations can carry us a long way. Maybe it is pillow talk, maybe it is sitting together in a bubble bath after the kids go down (our favorite!). Whatever it is, make it happen.
6. Last but definitely not least, pray together. The Bible is clear that the greatest of the commandments is love; love for God and love for one another. Prayer is good for the soul and good protection in this world gone mad. Two hearts connecting with each other and seeking the kind of love that God intended will only bring further blessing to a marriage.
My prayer as we begin our descent into chilly, rainy Portland (sigh…) is that I will take all the reconnection and reflection with me back home; to be a blessing to my husband and our little girls in a recharged way. It will start immediately, as I am sure our little ones will be up past their bedtimes, anticipating the return of mommy and daddy.