Maybe the most common request I get when talking marriage is “so give me an example”.
At the heart the question is “How do I do this and get the same result?” Marriage and relationships aren’t a recipe and there’s no guarantee that if you add two eggs and whip perfectly that you’ll end up with anything but whipped eggs.
Being married is promising to choose to love a moving target for the rest of your life. You will grow. He will grow. You will change. He will change. And you keep choosing each other over and over.
But I definitely think there are some ingredients that make marriage sweeter that can be added generously to a marriage.
Ingredients to Make a Sweeter Marriage
Be On The Same Team
Our 5 year old has recently started playing soccer. Watching a bunch of 4-6 year olds run around a field kicking a ball is super cute (even if I’m not exactly a soccer person) and she really loves playing and being on a team.
The league issued these reversible jerseys which I’m sure were intended to make my life easier. I only ever have to find the one shirt, and even if she shows up at the field in the wrong color (hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood) it would take 2 seconds to flip around and change to the correct color.
But even though the jersey has both purple and white as possible exterior colors, she can’t be both purple and white at the same time. She can’t play on both teams in order to get extra playing time for herself. She can only play for her team, with her same jersey color.
My husband and I don’t always agree on everything in our marriage or in parenting. That happens. We are two different people with different life experiences and families of origin. So we come to the table with two sets of opinions sometimes.
But we can’t wear two jerseys at once.
Either I’m showing up in my Leah jersey, the bright pink, my way, focused on me, self-seeking jersey that represents myself alone…
OR I’m showing up in my Heffner family jersey, green and most likely dirty, that comes to the table looking for the best answer/plan/idea for all of my people.
Sometimes it can feel like my husband vs. me, when one of us shows up in our own team jerseys instead of the family jersey.
But we aren’t working against each other.
We’re working for and with each other.
This is something I remind myself of. Sometimes it look like: Him getting rest in this moment isn’t him stealing rest from me. We’re both tired. And he will happily give me a nap too.
And this is something we remind our kids of. Which usually looks like: No, you can’t ask Daddy for a different answer when you don’t like Mommy’s. We’re on the same team.
One of my favorite feel-good reads is a book called Love Comes Softly in which Marti comes to the unsettled West and is almost instantly widowed (and pregnant, although no one knows it). Clark needs a mother for his daughter and offers to marry her before winter. And come spring, if she wants to go back home, Marti may do so if she agrees to raise the little girl in the East. Over the course of the winter, Clark and Marti fall in love. Not all at once, but because they choose to show up for one another and be intentional in their home and how they care for one another. (More Clark than Marti at first, but you’ll have to read it yourself to know more.)
Clark and Marti didn’t wake up one morning and *click* madly fall in love. It was small. Thoughtful. Caring.
In this season I’m in with the ever-growing gaggle of littles and all the mess and magic that comes with that it can be easy to miss my husband if I just hope it’ll happen on its own.
Good and solid marriages don’t happen by mistake or fall into anyone’s lap. They take work. Showing up again and again.
Being intentional – something small, thoughtful, that helps you learn about and connect with your spouse – that’s the kind of things that will help us to grow closer, even in the seasons that don’t look quite like we thought they would.
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Be a Safe Place
My husband has always wanted to start his own business. When he was about 10, he started getting an industrial cleaning supply catalog and planning his evening/weekend business cleaning business. When we met it was flipping houses. Now he does online marketing. And each and every single stage in between has been ideas and dreams and trials and errors and growing and changing and keeping on keeping on.
And in all those talks – all the ideas and fears and everything else – I see how valuable it is to be a safe place for him to come. He gets beat up enough other places. When he’s talking with me, I want him to be able share what he thinks and how he feels.
This totally isn’t (just) about business. I want to know this in his life, too. Walk with him. Weather the things with him. Share struggles or hurts or valleys. Share joys and excitements or mountain tops.
In how I respond, how I ask questions, my body language – you name it – I want to be safe place for him.
Practice Makes Progress
Practice makes perfect. I probably heard that about 300 million times in my life at various sports’ practices or with piano lessons.
But I’m not a professional volleyball player (unless Kerri Walsh Jennings is looking for a way out of volleyball shape partner then, sure, I’m in. How could I say no to that?!). I’m not a musician in any way shape or form.
So I can tell you that all the practicing I did not make me perfect at any of those activities. Not even close.
What it did was make me better, or at least show some improvement.
And this is true in marriage, too.
I can’t expect to show up and master the skill of asking good questions, for example, on the first try. In fact I still haven’t mastered it because sometimes I’m tired or not thoughtful or a whole list of other things.
All these intentional and thoughtful actions we do are great and wonderful and so impactful. But they aren’t magic. They won’t *click* on the first try. As much as we’re working on learning new habits, we’re working on unlearning old habits. We’re literally changing how our thoughts and feelings process an outcome by working to produce different types of outcomes.
That takes practice! Tons and tons and tons. A lifetime in fact.
But it all makes for progress. Imperfect progress. And grace-filled growth.
What do you like to do to sweeten your marriage? Share it in the comments!
P.S. Don’t forget to enter the GIVEAWAY now through May 31, 2017!