Marriage is Work. Here’s How to MAKE it Work.  

By Jed Rasmussen

Jed and Tawnya have a FANTASTIC marriage.  Seriously, just watching them at random moments together, you can feel how sweet they are with each other.  We’ve been camping with them, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been camping before, but in case you haven’t, I’ll tell you that tent walls are very thin.  If there is any marital discord to be heard, the tent walls do not disguise it.  But we heard nothing of the sort.  Just niceness.  I knew we needed their wisdom, so I asked them to guest post.  Also, I am told that this is written by Jed, but the ideas are Jed and Tawnya’s together.  Naturally. 🙂     –  Celeste


“First comes love, then comes marriage, then come baby in a baby carriage!”  That old playground song is just a few words, but it definitely makes it seem like marriage is a harmonious song, when in reality a marriage is not always in tune.  The harmony comes and goes; sharps and flats occur unexpectedly.  My mom gave me plenty of advanced notice about the notes in marriage.  Almost weekly during my time growing up, I heard my mom say “Marriage is a lot of work!”  I didn’t know if that was advice or a warning!  Kidding aside, I knew my parents’ marriage was strong and that they were deeply in love.  I never doubted their love.  I saw A LOT of kissing, hugging, flirting, and bottom pinching as a child, young adult and adult.  Now as a married man, I realize what an incredible example my parents have given me!

Disclaimer:  I found out that my wife, Tawnya, does not think a pinch is very affectionate!  If you try this at home, I cannot guarantee a different result.  This was not a dramatization, but an  actual event.  I am not responsible for any counterattacks.

My parents’ dedication to one another taught me that the work required for marriage was, in fact, worth it.  I understood, or thought that I understood, that a marriage took work but if you loved each other to the point of grossing out your kids, you can get through anything.  When I was preparing to marry Tawnya, I thought to myself “There is no way that I am going into this marriage disillusioned that it will be walk through the park!  I know how to work.  It will be alright!” 

While I assumed the rose colored glasses were completely off, they were merely a little further down my nose.  Soon after being married, I realized “Oh!  This is what my mom meant by work!”  To this day, I keep surprising myself as that thought still goes through my mind and I realize yet again, “Oh! This is what my mom meant by work!” Unfortunately, “happily ever after” is not a free pass handed out at the beginning of each marriage. Life happens and when times get stressful, it is easy to let your marriage take a backseat.  It takes thought, effort, time, and well, work to make your marriage successful.
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1. Get out of the house together! 
After having our first child, our doctor gave us the sage advice, “Don’t let your kids put your life on hold.  Still do the things you want to do.”  Tawnya and I both found ourselves nodding our heads in agreement, with determination to follow the doctors’ advice.  Yes, that is easier said than done, but we can testify that it is important to get up and get out of the house together.  It really doesn’t matter how this happens, just do it.  A date night a week would be ideal.  However, being students and far away from family, it is rare for us to hire a babysitter let alone have family  look after the kids.  In theory babysitting swapping groups are great, but in our experience after about a month it has all but fallen apart.  So we continue to do what we normally do, get out of the house together, as a family. We have dragged our kids to festivals, museums, community events, long road trips, camping, and once in a blue moon, on a vacation, all because they were things that Tawnya and I wanted to do.  One of our favorite activities is to go to the library or Barnes and Noble; not exactly a conducive places for small rambunctious kids.  We still go to Barnes and Noble even though child #1 has peed on the floor… in the same spot… three different times!  (Parental confession: we only cleaned up one of the puddles!)

It has been difficult at times and almost always stressful to bring the kids on our outings, but we are (eventually) always glad we got out.  In trying to follow the advice from our wise doctor, we have found that getting out together is more than just not being at home.  It is the chance to have experiences and create memories together.  As Tawnya and I look back over our years of marriage, it is not the time at home we fondly remember but the puddle experiences that are uniquely ours.   Whether or not you have children, get out together and create your own fond memories.

2. Take care of yourself! 
We have discovered that we cannot give our best self to our spouse if we are burnt out.  It really is amazing what an evening out with your friends, time spent alone, exercise and eating healthy does for ones’ energy level, self-esteem and confidence!  When we feel rested, well and rejuvenated, we are able to spend quality and more time together.  Plus, when either of us sincerely compliments the other for their efforts we feel a little more spark in our marriage.

Now, this idea of taking care of yourself is not new and for some it is easy to follow through.  For us, this has not been easy.  We have had to carve time out of the week that has minimal effect on the children to make this happen.  We have talked many a time and have identified activities that rejuvenate us.  For me, a quiet night with a book in my hands is generally all I need.  However, on occasion an evening playing sports is welcomed and revitalizing.  For Tawnya, she as a number of activities that help her feel rejuvenated like running, crafting, jamming out to music or having a girl’s night.

For each of our activities to happen we have to take turns getting the kids ready for school or for bed depending on the time of day.  It takes effort to make this happen, but we have found that as we have made time to serve each other, the other is more willing to reciprocate the gesture.  This has led to stronger unity as well as increased individual happiness which is a boon to our marriage.  No one likes a sad Sally or a grumpy Gus.  Now a caution.  Do not become selfish with this time.  It can take over your desire to help out at home and will bring with it resentment that you are not getting more time.  Realize that your spouse is giving you a time out, not a check out ticket.

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3. Show love every day! 
The words “I love you” are only words with little meaning unless they are backed up by actions.  When unconditional love is genuine, the words “I love you” become much more profound such that those words do little justice to the feeling that is felt inside.  Knowing what I know now and experiencing what I have gone through with Tawnya, I love her immeasurably more than when we were first married.   It has taken work, tears, laughter, communicating, and experimenting to find ways to serve Tawnya so she feels loved.  Likewise, the same type of effort was put forth by Tawnya to figure out ways that I feel loved.

When we were first married Tawnya spent an inordinate amount of effort to clean the house so when I came home, I would feel loved, supported and appreciated.  Tawnya became visibly more frustrated and upset with me.  I didn’t know what I had done wrong!  After some time, she told me that she was trying to show me love through cleaning the house and having dinner ready.  Ah, time for honesty.  I told her I appreciated her work but I did not feel loved.  Through her tears she asked “What do you want, so that you know you are loved?”  I responded, “When I come home, if you were to give me a hug and a kiss with attentiveness, I would feel loved.”  She replied “That’s it!?”  To say the least she was amused and mildly dumbfounded, that for a number of years she had been trying to show me love in a way that I did not feel it.

Most likely, as we figured out, the way your spouse feels loved requires less of your time but more thoughtfulness and attention to details.  Do you know how your spouse feels loved?  The sooner you can figure it out, the sooner you can stop wasting your time and start feeling validated for your efforts.  A book that may be of help is Gary Chapman’s “The 5 Love Languages.”  We found it a useful starting point.  To help each other now, we have each written a list of things that help us to feel loved and every so often we modify the list as time goes on.  Since we have begun trying to show love to each other in ways that we each feel loved, our marriage has become even more grounded.  Figure out how you each feel loved and follow through.

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4.  Spend time together every day! 
This exclamation point is related to the first, but requires evaluation to find where you spend your time on a daily basis. It seems like it should be a given that a married couple spends time together every day, however, life happens. Bills have to be paid.  Work has to be finished.  Meals have to be made.  The house needs to be cleaned.  Kids need to be put to bed.  And . . .  Life doesn’t stop.  The world keeps turning.  Of course there are periods of time when spending time together has felt like a luxury, but we try make this a rare occurrence.  If you are not spending time with your spouse, ask yourself why not?  If you feel as though you do spend time with your spouse, is it quality time?  Find things you both like to do. 

A suggestion that we read in a “His Needs, Her Needs” by Wilard E. Harely Jr., was to rank a list of activities separately and then compare.  We have found that reading books, playing games, talking about our children, discussing the news, and watching an occasional show have been good ways for us to spend time together because these are things we both like doing.  Another suggestion from that same book is that you should try to spend 15 hours a week talking with your spouse!  Where do you find the time for that?  Pillow talk is where we find most of that time, but I have to warn Tawnya when I am about slip into the oblivion.

Recently, Tawnya and I found ourselves in a new situation.  We had child #3 who has been colicky.  Each of us independently decided that we would serve each other.  Usually there is nothing wrong with this idea, but not in the way we executed it.  Every day became the same thing over and over again.  I would come home from work, make/eat dinner, clean up, get children #1 and #2 ready for bed, read them stories, stay in their room until about 9 pm, go upstairs and maybe sleep a little, and then take screaming child #3 at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning until I had to go to work, repeat.  Tawnya took the first shift with the baby at night so I could sleep then I would take the second shift so she could.  This algorithm was terrible.

Tawnya and I thought we were showing each love by serving each other, but we felt like roommates!  This went on for 12 weeks.  Finally, both of us were burnt out and felt like we were going to crack.  Then it dawned on us at midnight one sleepless night, that while we were trying to show each other love, we forgot spending time together was of more importance.  This ah-ha moment changed our demeanor and our outlook on life almost immediately!  We still try to serve each other, but now we let child #3 cry while we read an article together or just talk about our day.

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Through our years together we have worked hard at our marriage, and we are continually learning how best to use our time most effectively.  We have learned that the memories created by getting out together are worth the stress of having to bring the kids along.  We have learned that giving each other time to work on hobbies helps us to feel invigorated to give each other our best selves.  We have learned how to say I love you so each other really feel it.  We have learned that the dishes will wait and playing a game together is much more important. We have learned that marriage does really take work, but it is the most rewarding work we get to do.

2 thoughts on “Marriage is Work. Here’s How to MAKE it Work.  

  1. Great advice. Looking back, I wish we’d let the baby cry more and focus on our marriage in that first year of our son’s life.

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