This post is part one of the series: How To Keep Your Marriage Strong When You Never See Your Spouse.
First up in our series, we’ve got Jessica. The first thing you need to know about Jessica is that she is superwoman. I’m not sure how any one woman can do so much in a day- homeschooling five kids, volunteering, cooking, cleaning, befriending strangers. Super powers is the only explanation I can come up with. Oh and she’s done all this while her husband Ben has been working crazy hours finishing up his medical residency/med school/MBA. Superwoman. I don’t often pry into people’s marriages, but I was so sure she was able to manage her marriage to that I wanted to ask her how it is done. 🙂 -Celeste
Throughout our marriage my husband’s schedule has fluctuated between 40-100 hours a week at school or residency training. Sometimes his schedule has seemed completely manageable, and at other times I’ve been glad to have a couple pictures of him up in the house so we don’t start to wonder what he looks like ;-).
My hope is that regardless the situation, some of the things that my husband and I have tried to do to strengthen our marriage can be useful ideas for others. Ben and I both come from families in which our parents and multiple grandparents are divorced. Not surprisingly neither of our families was very excited when Ben and I decided to get married. Although they were correct in their assessment that we had no comprehension of the sacrifices and stresses that accompany marriage, I can also say that there is more happiness and joy in marriage than I could have ever imagined. Learning to live and grow with my spouse has been a great adventure.
I even appreciate the little joys more as I experience hard things. Besides, what’s the alternative? Give up when things get tough? And specifically in the case of marriage, get divorced? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say from my own limited experience that divorce didn’t fix anything. The problems my family experienced as a result of my parents’ divorce, and continue to experience 25 years later, are real and difficult.
Ben and I are far from perfect in any of these areas, but here are some of the things that we have tried to do which have worked for us in strengthening our marriage relationship:
1. Include the Lord in Your Relationship
One of the first things we committed to do in our marriage was to always have the Lord be a part of our relationship. Maybe you’ve seen the picture before of a triangle with each spouse at the bottom two vertices and the Lord at the top:
2. Laugh Together
Humor is an important component of our marriage. Ben and I love to laugh together. I married my husband because he was, and continues to be, my best friend. Along with our endless conversations (which I’ll talk about more in a moment) he always keeps me laughing. Let’s face it, life is just tough! So why not brighten things up with laughter? We’ve experienced some pretty difficult things in marriage – family issues, health problems, unexpected deaths, etc., and sometimes it has just helped us to lighten things up with a little laughter.
3. Learn to Communicate
Communication is really important in our marriage. Especially because my husband will have periods of time when he is rarely home, it has been important to make sure we keep each other up-to-date on each other’s lives. We have always enjoyed discussing everything together: frustrations, hopes, fears, goals, aspirations, etc. The ability to regularly stay connected with each other helps us get through the difficult periods when we don’t have the opportunity to talk as much.
Once we put the kids down at night, it’s “us” time to catch up. If he’s at work or away, then we try to spend at least a little time talking on the phone. During one period of time Ben was working 18-20 hours every day for a three month period. He often wouldn’t be able to call or text during the day. Several times a week before he left home at 3 AM, he would write a note to the kids and I. We knew he loved us and was thinking of us even if we didn’t get to see him often. It worked — we’re still here! Making sure we make time to talk and communicate has kept us feeling connected and feeling like we’re a team.
4. Serve Each Other
Finding ways to serve each other has also strengthened our marriage. My husband is really busy, so I like to try to do as much as I can, especially around the house, to lighten his load. That seems to help him feel less stressed. I know different people have different ways to unwind, and specific ways of nurturing your spouse will vary based on particular circumstances and family dynamics, but find what works for you!
Whatever the service may be, finding ways to show that we are thinking of each other and loving each other has improved our relationship. There has been a small act of service that has yielded large benefits in our marriage. With five little munchkins in our family there are a lot of dishes to do by the end of the day. If Ben is home he drops whatever he is doing to give me a back rub while I’m washing the dishes – I LOVE it! The rate of dish washing slows down dramatically, but my back feels great once I’m done! Our joke is that if things don’t work out in the medical field for him, he could find a job as a masseuse ;-).
That last point serves as a nice segue into something else that has helped strengthen our relationship — physical touch. A hand hold, a hug, a kiss, or just a gentle touch can be so powerful in strengthening a marriage on a day-to-day basis. We are human beings with physical bodies and positive, affirming touch can help us stay connected on both a physical and emotional level. It’s a simple thing, but a hug and a kiss when Ben leaves in the morning and then again to greet him when he comes home has been important to us.
Lastly, being able to say “sorry” has definitely strengthened our marriage. I came from a family where no one really said “I’m sorry.” If there was a disagreement it was all about who was right and who was wrong. But after Ben and I got married he taught me a better way. When we disagreed there was never a “right” or “wrong,” instead he’d say “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.” That completely baffled me at first — so what about who was right and who was wrong? I learned from my husband that love can transcend seeking to win battles or arguments, and instead lead us to focus more on our spouse. He first sought to console me and then to work out whatever differences caused the disagreement.
We have definitely had our share of differences in opinion over the past thirteen years. Sometimes they are resolved very quickly, and sometimes we need a little more time to ponder our own feelings and possible solutions. But as we’ve tried to be willing to apologize and be sensitive to each other’s feelings we’ve been able to work through our differences as a team rather than adversaries on different sides of an issue.
While we have had struggles and difficult times in our marriage, there has been more happiness and joy than I previously thought possible. The opportunity to face the struggles and adventures of life with my best friend by my side has been one of my greatest blessings. My hope is that no matter where we are — on a relationship high, struggling to hold on at a low, or somewhere in between — that we give both our spouse and our marriage the chance to grow and reach their greatest potential. Maybe that means simply tying a knot and holding on at the end of the rope, looking to the future for brighter times, or setting some new goals as a couple. Whatever it is, happiness in married life is possible, within our reach, and oh so worth it!