Six-and-a-half years ago I was a blushing bride dreaming of her happily ever after. After enduring a rigorous marital boot camp at my church’s Pre-Cana program, I thought I knew a lot about love and marriage.
I knew squat.
I admit I still know fairly little, but I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two. So in honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing my tips for a healthy and happy marriage. No oversized stuffed animals bearing red hearts required.
1. Keep a sense of humor. For our sixth anniversary, my husband Dave and I took what we thought was going to be a relaxing trip to the beach to celebrate our marriage. First mistake: We brought our little ones with us. Turns out the kids’ idea of relaxing is a bit different than our own. The baby boycotted sleep, and three-year-old Madeline decided to revert back to her pre-potty training ways, resulting in a stomachache and a clingy and needy preschooler.
On the way home, the baby started sobbing, even though we’d just stopped so I could nurse her, and Madeline was saying she was hungry — again. I smiled in spite of it and said to Dave, “Happy anniversary! Don’t you feel so refreshed and eager to start your work week?” We both burst out laughing. Then we started singing silly songs as a family and both kids and parents stopped fussing and were happy.
Dave and I have learned to laugh at silly stuff, things we can’t control (antsy babies, constipated preschoolers) as well as more serious things. Sometimes laughing — even through the tears — is all you can do when life deals you a rotten hand. It’s all in how you play the cards, so we always try to keep smiling poker faces.
2. Be forgiving of each others’ wrongs and failures. I’m not perfect, and neither is Dave. We’re two imperfect human beings trying to perfect our love for one another, which means we fail — sometimes a lot. I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff and to even overlook it most of the time. Does it really matter that Dave still doesn’t know where the colander goes and that I have to hunt for it a little longer? If I can’t find it, then doesn’t that mean he unloaded the dishwasher for me?
At the end of the day, we’ve had to learn to love and to accept one another as we are and to leave any big changing that needs to be done in God’s hands.
3. Recognize that marriage has its ups and downs. I’m a hopeless romantic. Always have been. I like to be spontaneous when it comes to love and to read Shakespearean love sonnets, to listen to the likes of Air Supply, and to be surprised with notes or flowers for no other reason than “just because I love you.”
This is all well and good, and sometimes it happens. But in the context of a marriage with kids and more kids, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes spontaneous love fests just ain’t gonna happen. So we schedule at-home date nights and hope the kids will stay in bed long enough for us to gaze into one another’s eyes for a few seconds — or to watch our latest Netflix selection.
Marriage isn’t always rosy and romantic. It’s downright hard sometimes. Some days I feel like a crazy, lovesick teenager — and others I feel completely stressed or exhausted or both. Romantic love is wonderful, but it’s not enough to sustain a marriage. As Mother Teresa said, it’s not real love until it hurts. “True love” is really about making the decision to put someone else’s needs above your own.
Love is ultimately a decision. (Never thought a romantic, touchy-feely person like myself would ever say that.) I have made the decision to love Dave for better or worse. Thankfully, there’s been a lot more of the “better” for us.
4. Always put your marriage first. Marriage needs to take priority over work and your kids. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to let your dearly beloved take the backseat when you’re worn out from caring for kids all day. Similarly, some men (and women, too) can get so wrapped up in their work and future ambitions that they have little time for their spouses. But the best gift you can give to your marriage — and to your children — is to love your spouse and to put him or her first. A strong marriage not only helps you succeed in other areas of life, but when their parents love each other and frequently show that love, it helps kids to feel more loved and secure.
5. Be cheerful when your spouse comes home from work. This is a tough one for me. I’m often more than ready for reinforcements when Dave comes home after a long day, and I’m tempted to hand off the kids and beat a hasty retreat. Other days I’ll immediately start venting about how tough my own day was. But what I strive to do is to greet Dave like Christ when he comes home each evening. I try (although I frequently fail — and he loves me in spite of it; see tip No. 2) to rein in the impulse to emotionally dump on him, and instead to give him a hug and to ask, “How was your day?” This helps to set the tone for the entire evening.
6. Never underestimate the power of prayer and the sacraments. The best thing I can do when my marriage feels like it’s hurting — or even when we’re basking in bliss — is to have confidence in the graces I receive through prayer and the sacraments. No marriage can fail if we invite Jesus to be at its center.