Last week my husband and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary! It is crazy to me that an entire decade of life has happened since we said, “I do”.
If you’ve been married longer than a month or two, you have probably already figured out that having a good and strong marriage takes a whole lot more than love and affection. Marriage is hard work!
A good marriage requires a daily decision to choose love over self, over and over again, all throughout the day, every day for life. For a long time I think I assumed that we would get to a place where we could “coast”, things would be easier and we could really settle in. But I’ve started to realize that while there may be seasons of life where marriage feels “easier”, you can’t really ever coast if you want your marriage to thrive. It will always take work and effort.
Two completely different people and personalities will not always agree, especially when the stakes are high. And in the middle of raising kids, the stakes are really, really high.
But my husband and I have found that marriage does get better with each passing year. All that hard work does pay off with great rewards. Our love is deeper now than I ever thought possible. It is crazy to me that even after so many years together, there are still new things we learn about each other and new experiences that draw us into an even greater love for each other.
Today, I wanted to share 10 habits that can help you develop a strong and loving marriage. Whether you are planning your wedding day, a newlywed, or you’ve been married for decades, these are habits for a strong marriage are important for every stage of your relationship.
1. Show love more than you expect love.
Make it your aim to go first, always.
I’m a huge fan of the 5 Love Languages and the book His Needs, Her Needs. They both can help you identify how you and your spouse experience love. It is important to know your spouse well enough to know how you can meet their emotional needs and speak their love language. It will make your life a whole lot easier.
However, there is a danger in reading these books and focusing on “meeting needs”, “filling the love bank”, and “speaking the same love language”. The danger is that it can create a sense of expectation. And unmet expectations can lead to bitterness, resentment, anger, and the like.
The problem is that knowing about your love languages and emotional needs sets you up to have high expectations for your spouse. “They ‘know’ how to speak your love language and they are ‘choosing’ not to, so that must mean they don’t really love me.” But just because your husband is a human and doesn’t always make the best choices doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you deeply.
So remove the expectation. There will be times when your husband gets it right and times when he is oblivious to what you need. Either meet your own need or speak up and communicate (peacefully) what you need from him, but never go into your relationship expecting anything.
Your aim should always be to go first. Love first. No matter how depleted your love bank feels, choose to show up anyway. It will be hard and frustrating and some days excruciating. But give love, even when you don’t want to. Meet your husband’s needs, speak his love language, even when you’d rather spew anger and frustration. Walk in love instead.
Will you always have to go first? Maybe, but probably not. But don’t keep score or worry about that. Just make it your rule that you go first. You show love more than you expect to receive love. It will make things a whole lot easier for you.
2. Touch and kiss every day.
If you are a newlywed this might seem silly. Of course, you will always kiss your husband! Why would you ever go a day without touching and hugging each other?
But if you’ve been married for a while, and if you have a couple children crowding your space, you might sometimes wonder when you last touched or hugged or kissed your husband. Maybe it was a few days ago when you kissed him goodbye before he went to work. Certainly, it was at least the last time you were intimate in the bedroom, but when was that again?
If you want to keep the love strong in your marriage, you should remind your bodies of that love on a regular basis. Hug, kiss, or romantically touch your spouse on a regular basis. It will help to keep you connected, to remind you of your love, even in the midst of the chaos of your lives. Slow down, touch, hug, kiss, and sometimes make the kids a little uncomfortable. It’s good for them to see what real love looks like.
3. Respect Each Other.
Respect takes on many forms in marriage. It can mean not talking negatively about your spouse to your friends, children, or relatives. It can mean choosing not to keep a record of faults and mistakes. Respect might look like choosing only words that encourage and uplift instead of words of criticism.
It can mean putting your spouse first, going the extra mile, doing what you’d rather not do, and offering grace when it isn’t deserved. Respect might be acted out largely in your head, consider the thoughts you think about your spouse throughout the day, are they positive or negative? If you always think negatively about your spouse, you’ll have a hard time treating them in a positive and respectful manner.
4. Make time to talk and connect.
Just as touching, hugging, and kissing are important to do each day, you also need to make time to have a real conversation with each other on a regular basis. If the only words you ever speak to each other are logistical in nature, your marriage will quickly turn into more of a business arrangement than a rock solid intimate relationship.
You’ll need to talk about schedules and carpools, meal plans and parenting issues, but also be sure to talk about all of the other matters too. If you’re struggling in an area, be willing to open up to your spouse about it. If you have a new interest or hobby you are thinking of exploring, share your excitement with your spouse. This may sound like common sense, and it is, but so often we get so busy with life that we don’t even get the chance to share our life with the person we love the most. Make the time, open up, share, connect, and truly live your life together.
5. Forgive. Early. Often. And Repeatedly.
If you’ve been in a relationship for more than a couple days you’ve probably discovered that humans are, well, humans. We all make mistakes. Some are intentional, some we are oblivious to. Nevertheless, mistakes will happen. Somebody is going to say the wrong thing, make the wrong decision, or forget something they promised.
You can struggle and fight and try to get them to grovel and plead for your forgiveness or you can simply forgive or overlook offenses. Sure, there are some things that will need a discussion. And there are some offenses that cannot be overlooked.
But if your spouse happens to make a mistake or disappoint you or fail to meet your expectations, you don’t actually have to make a big issue over it. You can simply offer grace and forgiveness and start fresh. We all make mistakes, let your spouse be a human and always err on the side of forgiveness.
6. Never threaten.
Have you ever threatened the “D” word in the heat of an argument? You don’t really mean it, but you really want to get your point across about how unhappy you are. You threaten to leave, you threaten that you will file for a divorce if things don’t start changing. That can be a pretty motivating threat for most people.
Until it becomes overused and loses its power. Or until the frustration and tension mount high enough that divorce actually sounds more appealing than sticking around to work things out.
Like many other couples we know, in our marriage, we’ve outlawed the “D” word. It is not an option that gets discussed and it certainly is never something to throw around in an argument to spark fear. Change motivated by a threat will never last.
If you want your marriage to last forever, and to be a happy and enjoyable relationship then remove the option for an out. Because there will come a day when a divorce will sound easier than sticking around to work things out. Be willing to do the hard work of overcoming your relationship struggles instead of forcing change with threats, empty promises, or pursuing divorce. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.
7. Support and encourage.
The world can be a harsh place, let your home be a safe and supportive space. If you know your husband is going through a difficult season in his career, set aside extra time to listen to his venting. If he is trying to make better decisions in regards to his health, do what you can to support and encourage the choices he’s trying to make.
If there is one person in the world that we should be able to rely on to support and encourage us, that should be our spouse. Make sure that the words you speak lean more often toward encouragement instead of criticism.
8. Be involved in their life, interests, and career (but not in an overwhelming or annoying way).
Your husband may have hobbies that do not interest you in any way. You don’t have to join him all the time, but it is nice to show a bit of interest. If your spouse is interested in something, there’s a good chance they want to talk about it to anyone that is willing to listen. Be willing to listen once in a while. Ask questions, be curious and allow them the joy of sharing their interests with you.
The same thing goes for the difficult circumstances they face. Hearing about their work troubles might just bore you to tears, but if they want to talk to you about it, work hard to be genuinely interested, and give them the listening ear they crave.
As women, we usually complain about how little our husbands communicate with us, so if you find a topic that your husband wants to talk and share with you, don’t discourage them! However, don’t be obnoxious either. You don’t have to interrogate your husband on a daily basis to try to stay involved in his life, that’s just annoying and frustrating. Find out what he likes to talk about and let that guide your conversations.
9. Show gratitude and appreciation.
A little thank you can go a long way. It doesn’t matter if you can find 100 things that you want your husband to do around the house, if you see him do just one of those things, make sure that he feels appreciated for it. Don’t be obnoxious in your appreciation, but it always feels good when someone recognizes and thanks us for doing something. Pay attention, notice, and say thank you.
10. Have fun together!
Life is full of work, bills, chores, repairs, discipline, soccer practice, volunteer activities, workouts, and a whole host of things that would not necessarily be considered fun. Your relationship with your spouse will involve discussing and working through all of these “unfun” things on a regular basis. If that’s all that is involved in your relationship, your love will quickly go cold. You’ll go from passionate lovers to passing in the night roommates. Who wants a marriage like that?
Find some things that you both enjoy doing and schedule them on a regular basis. Some of these activities can certainly involve the kids, but also be sure to find some time to enjoy fun activities alone. Don’t just do dinner and a movie every chance you get a date night, mix it up with something that actually makes you laugh and enjoy each other. Schedule a day date and play a round of golf or go on a hike together. Head out to the bowling alley or the comedy club. Think back to your favorite times when you laughed and smiled the most and try to find a way to include those kinds of things on a regular basis.
One of the gifts God has given us to enjoy in our marriage is the gift of sex. But many women roll their eyes at the thought of sex being a gift. Maybe it was at one point in life, but now, in the midst of work stress, parenting issues, exhaustion, and a packed tight schedule, sex is the last thing many women want to think about. And yet, it’s often one of the main things our men are interested in.
If you have found yourself struggling to be interested in sex, or just too busy and exhausted to care, then I would highly recommend the Boost Your Libido course by Sheila Gregoire. This is a 10 module Biblically based course that will help you get your brain, body, and your relationship in the mood for intimacy.
Sheila is a popular speaker, blogger, and author. Her blog, To Love, Honor and Vacuum is one of the most popular Christian blogs on the internet and is a fantastic resource for all things related to love, marriage, sex, and relationships with a Christian perspective.
I went through the Boost Your Libido course several months ago and found it to be incredibly valuable. Each module has a video lesson, some additional reading, and simple exercises and suggestions to help you apply the things you have learned. You can learn all about the details of the course and enroll through this link.
Today’s Action Step
If your marriage is feeling a little rocky read back through the 10 habits for a strong marriage and choose one area to begin working on today. It will take time to heal a hurting marriage, but the time and effort are completely worth it. Your relationship will be so much stronger when you make it through this season.
Have an honest and open conversation with your husband about the status of your marriage? Do you both feel it’s “smokin’ hot” or are there areas where you could support and love each other better? What small changes can you begin to implement this week to help you show more love in your marriage?
Share in the comments – What is one habit you have with your spouse that makes the biggest difference in your relationship?