As I have hinted here in a few posts, Matt and I went through a very rough time during the second half of last year. Our marriage disintegrated before my eyes, completely out of the blue, he left, and eventually we were divorced. A couple months later we decided to work things out and got remarried. At some point I will write what I can about those few months, but today I want to talk about part of the reason that we traveled that road.
Make Loving You Easier
For nearly seven years we lived comfortably in the cocoon of this thought: "He/she will love me no matter what." This is not an uncommon thought to have in marriage. Certainly, we should feel that way about our spouses. The danger comes in being COMFORTABLE in that thought. Feeling comfortable led us to believe we could treat each other however we wanted and know they would always be there. It led us to take each other for granted.
Marriage takes work. Working on showing each other love and appreciation does not stop the day you say "I Do". This is not to say that we never showed appreciation for each other, but we certainly didn't make a daily effort of it.
Since being remarried, we have been working together on our bodies and appearance for ourselves and for each other. We send "I love you, gorgeous!" texts, leave little notes of love and appreciation, provide acts of service, and lots of other little acts of appreciation.
Most importantly, we discuss our issues and work them out together. Does your spouse know how much you love them, what you appreciate about them, and how beautiful they are to you? If you didn't tell them that today, stop what you're doing right now and find a way to let them know. We'll wait....
Ready? Ok, let's move on.
Don't Avoid Conflict
Matt and I don't like to fight. Rarely will you find us in a screaming match. I always thought this was because we had a good marriage and got along so well. It turns out that we were just keeping our thoughts/frustrations from each other to avoid conflict. Sounds great, right? No fighting?
Unfortunately, those thoughts and frustrations have to come out somewhere. For us they came out to friends or family, they became silent resentments, or they festered until we did have a big fight and exploded that way. I always thought this was normal and healthy. It is not.
Your spouse should be the person you go to with your frustrations. Not a friend, parent, sibling, or anyone else. If you can't resolve it together, try counseling. A middle party may be able to help you see things more clearly.
Since reuniting we have worked hard on how to handle conflict in our marriage. For us, as in many other marriages, one of us pursues the issues and the other withdraws from them.
Pursuers tend to want to discuss the issue as soon as it comes up, they can be very pushy, they want to have one conversation, resolve it, and get over it. Their fear is having the withdrawer want to talk about it later and then it never comes up again or gets resolved.
Withdrawers need breaks, they need time to think, prepare and cool down. They feel conversations are one-sided because the pursuer is so pushy and they are so hesitant. They fear conflict escalating, they don't want discussions to become fights so they try not to discuss anything.
We have to learn how to balance those personalities. The pursuer has to respect that the withdrawer might not want to discuss it "right now", that they might need to take a break and come back to the subject later.
The withdrawer has to respect that the pursuer needs to have the conflict resolved and, if they need a break, they have to say when the subject can be discussed again and are responsible for bringing it up.
The pursuer has to learn to trust the withdrawer to follow through and the withdrawer has to trust that the pursuer won't bring it up again before that time.
This is NOT an easy thing to do. We also have to do our best to be our best selves, remain calm, try not to get defensive and really work at listening to and understanding each others points of view BEFORE we attempt to resolve the conflict or issue.
When we are successful at all of these things, conflict actually brings us closer. We can trust each other to respect our differing opinions/personalities and are willing to bring up our deepest thoughts, fears, dreams, worries, etc.
You Are Not Perfect
It is easy to get trapped in the thought that your way is the right way. We all grew up in different households, cultures, family dynamics and day to day lives. Anyone who thinks they can enter a marriage and not have to change at least the little things is delusional. Marriage is about give and take. This is something I struggle with.
I am a perfectionist. Until recently, I thought this meant that I would always be a perfectionist. I have learned that, while my mind may always think this way, I can choose to be different. For example, I can let Matt clean the bathroom and not get frustrated that the faucet isn't perfectly polished.
It is not easy to choose to be different than you think you should be. There are some things that you should never compromise about yourself, but there are a lot of small things that you can change to make things run more smoothly in your marriage.
What small changes can you make to improve the harmony in your home?
If You Don't Grow Together, You Will Grow Apart
When Zoe was born and I went back to work we found it difficult to get out alone together. We had family watching her for work and didn't want to ask them to keep her so we could go on dates. We had never paid a babysitter, the thought never really crossed our minds. So, we would go out to eat a lot and bring Zoe along.
Our first Valentine's Day as parents we went out to eat and Zoe came with us. While the family time was great, we weren't investing time in continuing to get to know each other and have fun with each other as people instead of as parents. I can count on one hand, maybe two, the number of times we went out alone from the time Zoe was born until our marriage ended. In general, we weren't prioritizing each other.
While we were busy NOT spending quality time together, we would spend time with friends doing what we like to do. Or we would do them alone. When you are spending quality time together, this is a healthy thing to do. When you are not spending quality time together, it can rip you apart. When you have more fun with your friends or by yourself than you do with your spouse something is wrong.
Make it a point to spend quality time together at least 2-3 times a month, if not weekly. You don't have to go out, spend money, or even do a lot of planning to spend quality time. A date can be as simple as some snacks and a board game, popcorn and a rented movie, or sitting and talking on the porch.
We trade off planning the date and getting babysitters. We also make it a point to either try things that are completely new to both of us, or try things that the other person likes to do. Matt and I are complete opposites in a lot of ways, but we feel that gives us a lot of opportunity to grow. For instance, I am learning to play golf and he will go to music performances with me.
It is important to work on the things you love, to grow as a person, but try to spend some of that time growing with your partner and you will be amazed at how close you can become. The best way to learn about your spouse, to have good conversations, and to grow as a couple is to spend time together doing things you love.
Be willing to make sacrifices and try something you may not love to show your spouse that you care about them and what they love. Who knows? You may find that you actually do enjoy things they like.
I could go on about all that I have learned from my experiences this past year. Really, it all boils down to this: Love and appreciate your spouse unconditionally and show it, care about each other enough to resolve conflict together, compromise, and make time for each other.
If you find you have any of these problems in your marriage, it is never too late to work on them. Matt and I did it after all the hurt and pain of a divorce. Make these changes now. Don't wait. You chose this person once, choose them every day. Love the one you're with.
Please, if you have a few minutes, share this with everyone you know. I never want to see anyone suffer what I went through if they don't have to. Don't get me wrong, I understand that sometimes divorce is necessary. In many cases, though, it's simply a case of losing the spark because of a lot of these pitfalls. I am no expert. I still have a lot to work on myself, but I wanted to share what I have learned in hopes that I can help others to have happier marriages. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post so please leave a comment. Thanks everyone!