When my husband of 7 years, Matt, and I were preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church, we had to take a marriage prep class. I'm beyond thankful that we did. I credit our marriage prep class with growing us spiritually and motivating me to learn more about my Catholic faith at a time when I was just coming back to The Church. In fact, we loved it so much we've spent the last several years (up until our move) helping as a lead couple for the same marriage preparation course!
We've learned so many great pieces of advice on Christian marriage, that I wanted to share them. I certainly don't take credit for any of these ideas. They are all wise words that we've heard along our journey and are tried-and-true methods from happily married couples :).
So here are...
A vocation is God's calling for how to live out one's life to serve Him. When I heard this in our class, it was an "aha" moment for me. It meant that marriage wasn't to be taken lightly. It meant that I was put on this earth to be a wife to my husband. In our culture, people often think of their career or parenting as the most important thing in life. But if marriage is one's vocation, it is THE most important thing and the path to serve the Lord. All the other things come after that, which leads to the next thing...
1. Marriage is a vocation. Treat it like one.
2. Put your spouse first (after God, of course :).This one makes people uncomfortable because in our culture we are inundated with messages that tell us to put ourselves first. We mothers in particular find it natural to want to put our children's needs above our own and often above our spouse's. They depend on us for survival!
But my marriage is the foundation of our family. If our marriage suffers, than our children suffer. Therefore, our marriage, and my husband, come first. Of course, this is not always easy. It takes a conscious effort and a lot of practice to do it.
Putting our spouse first also means that we should try to take on our spouses' desires and goals as our own. For the first 7 years of our marriage (literally up until 1 month ago), Matt and I lived in another area. From the beginning, we knew it wasn't our forever home, but as life happened (as it always does) we got used to being there. For the last few years, I was adamant about moving. I wanted a safer neighborhood, a little more space, to be closer to family, etc. Matt didn't really care too much about moving, and doing so would actually make some things in our life harder. But because it was so important to me, he took this huge goal on as his own. And he made it happen.
I've found through experience that when I put Matt's needs above my own and think of how I can serve him (and he does the same for me), everything seems to fall into place. Which means that...
3. Marriage is not 50-50.As a society we seem obsessed with the idea of fairness, and we usually deem fairness to be that we get exactly what we put into something. A tit-for-tat, if you will. I clean the bathroom, you mow the lawn. I put the kids to bed last night, so you put the kids to bed tonight. Hey, if it works for your marriage, that's great. BUT, the problem is when it doesn't, because it won't always.
Marriage isn't 50-50. Sometimes it might be 60-40 or 20-80 or even 100-0 (you get the point). You won't always be on the same page with how much effort you or your spouse is putting in. Rather, marriage is 100-100; each person putting in all that they have. The way to do this is to...
4. Be attentive to your spouse.The word attentive within marriage simply means to attend to the needs of your spouse and your marriage. This can be how to make him/her happy, how to lighten his/her load, putting his/her desires above your own, how to show him/her love, etc.
When Matt and I were first married, we found that we were showing each other love in ways that didn't necessarily mesh. I would clean the house and expect Matt to be in awe of my selfless love for him, and Matt would give physical affection to show how much he cares for me, as I would sometimes scoot away to get some personal space :). We discovered (after several years) that the way Matt could really show his love for me was through acts of service, like washing the dishes, folding laundry, or vacuuming because it made my life easier. The reason Matt was always showing physical affection to me was because that was how he wanted to be loved. (Click here for information about the 5 love languages) This realization led us to better attend to each other. I think about what Matt would want and try to do that for him, and he does the same for me.
When we're attentive, our marriage is FANTASTIC! So romantic! I highly recommend it! The way to begin being attentive, though is to...
5. Communicate respectfully.This is always everyone's advice about marriage, and it really covers SO much. As a lead couple in a marriage prep program, we've been through about six communication seminars, and every time we relearn what we should be doing.
A few key things we've learned:
Communicate your expectations.Your spouse is not a psychic, and he might not magically know that you would appreciate help with cleaning the house or that you prefer taking some silent time to yourself when an argument arises rather than hashing it out right there. Talk about these things when they come up or in advance if you can.
Remember the 5-1 ratio: give 5 positives for every 1 negative.This is pretty straightforward. Focus on communicating positives to your spouse, so that when they do hear a negative, it's not the end of the world. For example, I try to tell Matt when I think he looks nice, thank him for things he does (even really little things that are expected), give him lots of affection (yes body language counts!), etc. That way, when I have a concern or criticism, he is more open to it.
NEVER mention the d-wordMentioning divorce in the heat of the moment opens a wound in a relationship. For Matt and I, divorce is not an option. Ever. So we have not and will not EVER mention this word.
6. Protect your marriage.
There are a lot of outside influences on a marriage: family, friends, work, hobbies, TV, society. It is important to protect your marriage. If something is not a positive influence on your marriage, then it is a problem. This means setting clear boundaries with respect to friends of the opposite sex. It means changing relationships with friends or family that are destructive to your marriage. It means not putting yourselves in situations that could hurt your marriage. It means not dogging your spouse at lunch with the coworkers. It means protecting the intimacy of marriage by not sharing everything with your mom or best friends or whoever.
Most people can think of a married person they know who does things that put their marriage at risk. I had coworkers, who were both married, who would spend a lot of time, in private, with each other. Even if nothing was happening, it didn't look good, and people started talking. I know I wouldn't want my husband spending hours alone with another woman. And I make a point to think to myself, "what would Matt think if he were here right now?".
Marriage is one of the greatest blessings and is of critical importance. Hopefully you will find these principles to be as helpful as I have in keeping a strong marriage.
Thanks for visiting and God bless!