On Monday Derek and I celebrated seven years of marriage. There was lots of laughter which met with important conversation when we sat down to reflect on it. Marriage has taught us a messy bundle of things. It has taught us so much about ourselves as well as each other.
I want to give you the good stuff. The stuff we didn’t know before we committed our lives to each other.
So often you will hear, “Laugh with your spouse!” We know laughter is good in relationships, and though it’s very present in our marriage, you won’t find it on this list.
This is the good stuff. The non-hallmark stuff, the lessons we’ve learned as result of a struggle.
Though these are my words, Derek and I had many conversations about these seven practices. These thoughts are his as much as they are mine.
1. Prepare for the week ahead.
We once had a mentor who talked about the importance of a weekly coffee date with her husband. Every Sunday they’d sit down at a Starbucks, go through their past week and look ahead at the coming week. I remember thinking, “I have to get a babysitter every Sunday to have a coffee date with my husband? That’s just not going to work.”
We do it, differently than them, but we still make it work.
Most of the time the kids are playing, sometimes they are in bed. The key is that they are not part of the conversation. It is time we set aside to plan and focus, together.
Along with our marriage we have our own small business, we started a non-profit, and we have three children. We want to see all these things and people thrive, and give back to the community.
It’s a lot. It can be overwhelming and become very disorganized quickly. To guard against chaos a calendar/coffee date happens every Sunday in our kitchen.
I don’t keep an electronic calendar. I hate them. I like my old ways of pen on paper. So when we “sync our calendar” I get to sit down with my husband, face to face, and look at our week ahead together.
We put everyone’s week on one calendar and it hangs on the fridge. (We use one similar to this one for all 5 of us.)
That time allows us to get on the same page. It opens communication for expectations that week. It helps us carve out our time together, not just independently and with the children. That time also gives a chance to listen to what each other has going on in their life. What do we want to celebrate? What we need to vent about? Where will each of us need help?
I love this practice because my head gets to look at the whole picture. It helps me to not forget a child or event. It makes for a smoother week.
Though our house may not always look organized, we try to keep our weeks organized and synced.
2. Ask the 5 questions
The five questions came from a dear friend who uses them with her husband. She found them through another blog.
These five questions are right after “Prepare for the week ahead” because they go hand-in-hand with them. We go through them in that same sitting, as we are planning our week out.
They have been door opening, life-giving questions. We often write them out at weddings on one of those cards that says, “Advice for the Bride and Groom”. Forget the “Never go to bed angry,” and “Laugh together” advice. These questions will help you laugh together AND help you to not get angry with one another in the first place.
They allow for healthy communication, healthy expectations and for God to be in your marriage. They set you up for success.
Here they are:
- How did you feel loved this past week?
- What does your upcoming week look like?
- How would you feel most loved & encouraged in the days ahead?
- How would you best feel pursued in sex/intimacy this week?
- How can I pray for you this week?
3. Pray for and with your spouse.
When you share prayer requests, it does something really important. It invites grace to grow. It gives God more control in your marriage.
When Derek asks for prayer around something, I know he’s struggling or wanting more of something. No matter what it is, it creates empathy in me and helps me show him God’s grace.
And while it makes it easier for me to help him, more importantly, it allows me to give his worries, his struggles to God. It allows me to give God control. I can rest in God’s work, in His control.
Praying for Derek has always been easy for me. Praying together is something we struggle with.
Knowing this, I purchased these books: 31 Prayers for my Husband, and 31 Prayers for my Wife. They have served as a bridge. I have to say, I love the way the book has a prayer to guide you, and a page for your to write your own prayer out.
I’m not sure why we struggle with praying together. Is it because we never saw our parents pray together? I don’t know. It is something we are striving to be better at.
4. Communicate clearly
Derek and I don’t often argue, but when we opened our own office there were many stressful days and nights. For the first time we were “bosses” and had a team to manage.
After a particularly hard week Derek and I had a fight. A big one.
One that ended in me requesting he call our Pastor. We needed help, we needed to learn how to communicate better.
We learned a very important communication tool in that meeting. Our Pastor encouraged us to separate our roles in conversation. Even if we aren’t at the office, we are still, always business owners in addition to spouses. We needed to create clarity around those roles, or “Hats” as he called them.
I wear a minimum of three “Hats” at any time. Meaning, everyday I have three roles I play; three different perspectives I need to consider. I am a Wife, Mom, and Business owner.
Under those main “Hats” there are mini-hats. For the sake of simplicity, we are going to stick with the main ones.
This is an example of how many conversations will play out in our house. It allows us to see many sides of a situation.
Derek: I didn’t get to finish working on those files, I’m going to need to go into the office early on Friday.
Me: As your business partner, I totally get it, those files need to get done. As your wife, I was hoping you would help me get the kids to school. Is there anyway you can go in after school drop off?
Do I sound crazy yet?
The thing is, we both use this communication tool, and as silly as it sounds, it works. We’ve gotten pretty good at it.
Yes, we have multiple things we are juggling, but every marriage does. So anyone can use this, not only business owners.
How many “Hats” do you wear?
5. Know your spouse’s Love Languages
We learned this pretty early on in our marriage, and at this point it feels like common knowledge in our circles. Nonetheless, it has been a game changer, so I am excited to share it.
If you don’t know about Love Languages, buy the book. I’ll link it here.
The gist of it is that there are 5 different ways in which everyone gives and receives love.
Derek’s strongest Love Language is Acts of Service.
This means when he stays up till 3am building me a new Website, he is showing me love. Knowing his Love Language, I can see and appreciate him better.
It also means that when he gets home and all the dishes are done and dinner is made, he feels loved. Why? It’s not because he wants a domestic housewife. It’s because I did those things for him. He doesn’t have to do them. He feels loved, less stressed and taken care of.
If I didn’t know his love language, I would buy him gifts because Gift Giving is one of my strongest Love Languages. He would feel frustrated, and unloved even though I am trying to showing him love.
He knows my Love Languages too and has become very good at making sure I am receiving love from him as well.
6. Own your 1% and give up the need to be right.
I first heard this in church during a relationship series. This was a totally new concept to me. For years I thought that in an argument there is right, and there is wrong. Only one person could “win”. Somewhere along the line, I learned that you have to “win” an argument
Looking back this is such a weird way of thinking for me, I am not a “black or white” type person. That toxic thought process was something I had to unlearn.
Owning my 1% means taking responsibility for my part.
I want to explain this. If Derek and I are in a disagreement, it might be because he has done something that has really offended or hurt me. He may be 99% in the wrong. Owning my 1% means, the 1% which encouraged or triggered his action or reaction, I have to own it.
Everyone taking responsibility for their part makes space for understanding and forgiveness. It creates a space for healthy conversation, room for growth. It has often made room for laughter in the midst of the tense space.
I feel like I shouldn’t need to say this, but I will, all of this goes both ways. I’ve created these examples from my perspective.
7. Put protective hedges around your marriage.
The reason we started to put these practices in our marriage was, and still is, to protect it.
In a real garden hedges help to keep out animals or people. We put “hedges” around our marriage to cultivate love inside of it and to protect it from toxic things. Sometimes it can be something as simple as what people consider “normal” habits in relationships.
I remember riding in a car with a few women I was getting to know, and I was shocked by how negatively they were speaking of their husbands. And they wanted me to participate! They immediately discounted my relationship with Derek because I wouldn’t.
I remember hearing push back with questions like, “How long have you been together?” Or comments like, “Oh, you’re still ‘in-love’.” Hell yes, I am! That’s the goal, isn’t it? To always be in love with and love your husband well!
I felt so uncomfortable in that car. Needless to say, those friendships did not blossom.
I do have girlfriends that I confide in. They are friends I can talk with about our struggles and ask for prayer from. I don’t belittle or bad-mouth Derek. I seek wisdom and prayer from women I trust.
There are more ways we put up hedges around our marriage. This is a very simple example of being intentional in conversation.
Where can you place hedges to protect your marriage?
It’s great to be able to look back as a couple and see how we’ve grown. When we committed our lives to one another we were not Christians. We were not business owners or parents of THREE. Part of marriage is growth, and part of a healthy marriage is growing together. I’m grateful to have him by my side on this adventure. I’m grateful for a community of people who support and encourage our marriage.