BY MONIQUE HART
4 Habits that Will Strengthen Your Marriage
AS I SAT GLUED to the television, watching my favorite scene from Pride and Prejudice, my eyes filled with tears. Mr. Darcy tenderly whispered to Elizabeth, “I love ... I love ... I love you.” I wanted to shout back, “I love you too, Mr. Darcy!” But instead, I closed my eyes and prayed for my future husband. I knew he would be exactly like Mr. Darcy, and we would be happy forever.
A few years later, I found myself watching the same movie with tears in my eyes – but, this time, they were tears of disappointment. My husband walked in the room and noticed me crying. He curiously looked at me, and I muttered something about it being my favorite movie. He gave me a strange look (probably attributing my tears to pregnancy hormones). I sat there feeling sorry for myself, and wondered why we didn’t have a relationship like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s – sitting together in the garden, staring deeply into each other’s eyes, and constantly professing our love. That was a realistic expectation, right?
This is an example of why we shouldn’t turn to Hollywood for marital standards. Those “happily ever after” stories aren’t realistic blueprints for marriage. In fact, Apostle Paul encouraged unmarried people and widows to stay unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8). Why? Because marriage can be tough! Apostle Paul noted, “However, if you do get married ... such people will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you” (1 Corinthians 7:28, Holman Christian Standard Bible). So, if you’ve had those What’s wrong with my marriage? moments, you’re absolutely normal. Trials and tribulations are inevitable, and warm and fuzzy feelings may come and go – but long-lasting couples don’t measure their marriages against movies. Instead, they often foster these four critical habits.
THEY STICK IT OUT
Although trying at times, having a strong, healthy marriage is possible. The toughest part is staying committed through the difficult times – painstakingly working through differences, forgiving offenses, and rebuilding lost trust. Plus, they commonly stick it out – even if, at first, it’s “just for the kids.” One of the best gifts you can give your children is a loving home – where two parents genuinely work with each other, rather than against one another. On numerous occasions, I’ve heard discouraged married women lament, “We can’t just stay together for the kids.” Then one day, a wonderful (and wise) married friend of mine asked, “Why not?” She and her husband had been on the brink of divorce, but they decided to temporarily stay together for their three children. And guess what? During that time, they each sought a closer walk with Christ, and God eventually healed their marriage. Today, they’re no longer together “just for the kids.” They’re together because of their genuine love for each other.
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong with your marriage, but start by making a list of the things that you like about your husband (even if the list is short!). “Sticking it out” doesn’t mean that you remain in an abusive relationship. It means that – provided that you’re safe – you choose to keep fighting for your marriage. Proverbs 22:6 instructs, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it’ (New Living Translation). However, “directing” entails teaching through your actions; not merely through your words. Your children will learn their greatest lessons about relationships by watching the way you relate, love, and commit.
THEY MAKE IT A PRIORITY
When it comes to marriage, lasting couples often get out what they put in. If you invest the time and effort, you’ll likely reap a big return. Most importantly, your investment must be consistent. You can’t water a garden “now and then,” and expect the harvest to continuously be lush. Therefore, make your marriage a priority. It’s not selfish to prioritize your marriage – it’s wise. When mom and dad are happy, it sets a peaceful atmosphere for the entire home.
THEY DATE FOR LIFE
I love date night! Date night is a predetermined appointment when you and your husband spend time together. For some, this means going out to dinner, seeing a play, or participating in a hobby that both spouses enjoy. For others, it might mean staying up after the kids have gone to bed, and cuddling on the couch while watching a movie. (I personally like to get out of the house, and bask in the luxury of eating a meal without holding a baby ... or trying to persuade a toddler to eat peas.)
Date night can be whatever you make it. Ultimately, it’s about spending time alone with your husband – shutting out the world, and focusing on your relationship. Although this sounds simple, staying committed to dating can be difficult for some mothers. There never seems to be a convenient time, and sometimes we can feel guilty about leaving the children. (I still feel a slight pang of guilt every time my husband and I head out for date night. I think, “But they need me here” – even though I know our children are safe and happy with their loving babysitter.) However, it’s important to understand that marital dating is good for the kids, good for our health, and good for our marital relationship.
Most couples don’t enjoy having difficult conversations. But, if your marriage is going to endure the long-haul, it’s important to talk about awkward things. Occasional check-ups will give you an opportunity to ask your husband how he feels about your relationship, and allow you to also share your feelings. Having a check-up is similar to having a tune-up done on your car. It doesn’t mean that anything in your relationship is necessarily broken, but it keeps everything running smoothly.