Jun 222015 8 Responses

15 Tips for a Better Marriage

Today is the day. Fifteen years ago at Jenny’s house, she walked down the aisle in her front yard and we pledged our earthly lives solely to one another. On one hand I can’t believe it’s been fifteen years. On the other hand, I can hardly remember life before her. (See: Jenny’s List of What Makes Marriage Work)

I’ve told the story before, but one of my favorite married couples came into my office one time. They had been married for 70 years. When the wife left the room, we asked the husband, “What’s the key to being married 70 years?” He smiled and said, “Tell her every day that you love her.” When his wife returned we asked her the same question and she quickly responded, “Tell him every day that you love him.”

A few months later, the man was sick and dying. I went to see him and recounted the story. I asked, “Is that really the key to marriage?” He said, “Yep, that’s the key—memorize her answers.” (For the rest of the story, see: And After the Funeral She Hit Him in the Nuts)

I don’t know the key to marriage, but I have learned some things over the years. Here are fifteen lessons I’ve learned from the first fifteen years:

1. It matters who you marry—choose wisely. Obviously once you’re married, you should do everything in your power to make your marriage work. But, before you are married, you have a great chance to determine marital success by choosing a good person. You can’t pick someone perfect, but you can choose someone you respect, who is easy to get along with, and will be easier to be married to. The advice I give young men regarding whom to pick—choose a woman who is low-maintenance but highly motivated. (See: This Is Who You Want to Marry)

2. Dating well better prepares you for marriage. Dating doesn’t determine marriage, but it does greatly influence it. Date well and you will probably have a much better marriage. Skip the dating process and immediately act married and you will greatly set back your marriage. (See: Dating to Break Up–a Unique Perspective)

3. There is more to be gained than lost by saving sex for marriage. It sounds old-fashioned, but it is true. Saving sex for marriage is well worth it. Your friends will think you are crazy. You might feel as though it isn’t necessary; but the discipline not to cross physical lines before marriage will enrich your sex life when you are married and make it far more likely that you will not cross inappropriate physical boundaries with others once you are married.

4. Work on filling financial holes instead of digging them (especially in the early years). The earlier you can get out of debt, the easier marriage will be. If you marry young, you will likely have to make your first big financial decisions—school debt, buy or rent a house, etc. While it is acceptable to take on smart debt, be careful of how much debt you incur and work diligently toward financial freedom. Don’t dig financial holes through credit card debt, expensive cars, or spending money you do not have.

5. Don’t rush any season of marriage. Having kids is probably better when you are younger, but having a few years of being married without kids can be a great time for any couple. A long relationship will be full of many seasons, so don’t rush them. Enjoy them.

6. Love one another’s families, but form your own identity. When you marry another person, you are marrying their family. It can’t be avoided. Do everything in your power to have a healthy relationship with both families. However, remember that healthy does not mean to be overly enmeshed with either side. Form your own family, traditions, and methods of operation even as you love, respect, and spend time with everyone you are related to. (See: What Every Mother-in-law Should Know)

7. Having kids will not make your marriage better unless your marriage is already good. Many couples make the mistake of assuming they should have kids because their marriage is struggling. They think it will make their marriage better. Every parent knows this isn’t true. Having children can make a marriage better, but only if it is already good. It can give you a deeper appreciation and love for your spouse as you see them operate in a new role as mom or dad. However, if the marriage is rocky, having kids will likely make it harder. The marriage doesn’t have to be perfect before having kids, but you better be headed in the right direction.

8. When you need help, get it (and you will need help). We have been blessed by many wise couples in our lives who have assisted us with a variety of issues. From the minor encouragement (“we went through the same thing”) to the complex advice (“here is exactly what you need to do”) we have navigated many things with the assistance of other people. Never hesitate to get advice from someone who knows what they are talking about. (See: Every Couple Needs a Couple)

9. Your greatest chance for growth is through hard times. Times of grief and difficulty bring tremendous opportunities for growth. I have felt closest to Jenny in the tough times—the diagnosis of a child, a miscarriage, the sickness and death of her father, etc. These are times in which you can prove to one another that you are 100% committed no matter the circumstance. These are the moments in which you can prove your love.

10. Make time for one another no matter what it takes. Life is busy, and it only gets busier with kids and careers. Yet we are in this for the long-haul. If I want her and me to forever be, we better be making small investments in each other on a regular basis. We rarely have enough time for what we need to accomplish, but it is a non-negotiable that we must spend time together on a weekly basis.

11. Figure it out. Whatever the issue or frustration, find a middle-ground. Don’t see something as “his problem” or “her problem.” Every issue is something we need to work on together to find a workable solution. It takes time and effort. It may not come easy, but we will work together when something is hindering our relationship.

12. Embrace teamwork. When you say “I do,” “me” is replaced with “we.” I didn’t disappear on my wedding day, but I did become part of something bigger than just me. And the “we” is far more important. We parent. We have a home. We make money. We are creating a life that we want. The better “we” become, the better “I” will be.

13. Honor your spouse and the institution of marriage. It’s a privilege to be married, not an entitlement. Jenny has given herself to me and that is a gift. She deserves my honor and respect. So does the institution of marriage. It is important to us, others, and society. Marriage deserves my respect and best effort.

14. Yes, you can love one another more. Some said on our wedding day, “One day, you will love her even more.” I thought they were crazy. How would that be possible? But it is possible. I love her more because I know her better, we have had many experiences with one another, and we are more mature people than when we got married. We love one another more because there is more to love—we have more knowledge, experience, and depth. If that is true of the past, it is likely true of the present. We can love one another even more than we do today if we will continue to live out our vows over the trajectory of our lives.

15. After ten years, begin to help others with their marriages. A couple can probably help others before being married ten years, but they should be careful. You need a little time and experience before doing too much to assist others. Yet after a decade, you’ve probably learned enough to start intentionally investing in others. We don’t have it all together and we clearly don’t know all the answers, but after 15 years we have made enough mistakes and learned a few things which we can share with others.

Those are fifteen lessons (excluding some of the ideas I’ve already written about in other posts).

Which do you believe is most important?

What is one lesson you would add?

8 Responses to 15 Tips for a Better Marriage
  1. Susan Reply

    When Skip and I married I promised myself I would never talk negatively about him to my friends or gripe about him to my Mom and Dad. It wasn’t fair to him and I didn’t want to focus on perceived negatives.

  2. Kathryn Reply

    I definitely “second” Susan. I used to have a friend who would rip into her husband quite a bit. It was depressing and unpleasant to listen to.

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  6. robertwm Reply

    In marriage, act as though you are courting.

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