10 Things I’m Learning About Marriage

This post is brought to you by monthly contributor, Vina Barham.

Oh marriage. I came into this thinking I’ve got it all figured out, having read every book on relationships I could get my hands on. But the real teacher is our everyday experience, and even though my husband and I have only been married for four years (a newbie we are, really!), I wanted to share a few things I am learning that has proven helpful in growing our relationship. I hope some of these speak to you.

1. Remember the small stuff.

Marriage is really about the everyday stuff, the everyday hugs and conversations, the everyday ordinary moments that add up: the kind tone, the understanding nod, the thoughtful gesture, the supportive look, the fun kiss, the genuine smile, the endearment, the delight, the embrace. Build up your marriage through the small stuff.

2. Focus on the good.

Cultivate genuine appreciation for your spouse. Find the praiseworthy, the lovely, the good in what your spouse does. No matter how small. For being so gentle with your child. For being a fun dad. For working hard at his job or business. Leave him notes, or simply thank him right there and then. No flattery here, just sincere gratitude for specific things he does.

3. Avoid scorekeeping.

So you change more diapers than your spouse. And he often does it the “wrong” way. Realize that if you were in his position, you would not be as good as changing diapers as you are now because you just couldn’t do it more often. Figure out a way to divide up the child-rearing and household tasks that make sense for you both, and leave it at that. Keeping score is exhausting and utterly counter-productive.

4. Embrace your differences.

Assume the best in your spouse’s intention even when his methods differ from yours. Don’t be afraid of conflicts but learn ways to resolve them respectfully without undermining each other. See how your child benefits from the different ways you parent and nurture.

5. Don’t criticize.

Just as the small good acts can add up, the small negative thoughts and words do too. What you think of your spouse, he will become that to you. And worse, your child will pick up on it. If something is bothering you about your spouse, first take time to see what’s going on with you. Often, it’s about our own issues. If it’s something your spouse needs to hear, bring it up but be specific about which action got you frustrated. Resist the urge to attack and devour. It may feel good to do so at the moment, but never worth it in the end.

6. Make time and space for intimacy.

It’s easy to let this one go but especially if you have a little one who needs all your attention, sex becomes essential. Even more than date nights. I’ll have to write about this for another post, about all the reasons we really need to make this a priority. Get creative. We sleep with our daughter in our family bed, and let me just say it’s sparked our creativity in more ways than one.

7. Don’t rely on your emotions.

Listen to what they are telling you, but don’t make it your reality. Some days, I really don’t feel much “love” for my spouse but it doesn’t mean I don’t love him. Use it to gauge your inner temperature to figure how you are doing, but don’t dump it on your spouse if you are feeling the heat. Instead….

8. Journal.

Write about all the changes you are experiencing to help you process it better. Writing often brings me clarity about an issue as well as an outlet to write our story as it unfolds. I love reading about my experiences a few months down the road. I learn from it and I grow. Or I just laugh.

9. Know your boundaries and leverage them.

I am a hopelessly strong introvert and honestly, at the end of the day, I don’t have much energy to give to my spouse. So I really try not to get spent right before he gets home. Lately, I’ve tried to make dinner right after my daughter wakes up from her nap so I can be free of the stress I usually have to deal with come dinner time. We try to go on a walk if we can right before hubby gets home so I can some “alone” time while still playing with my daughter. It really has helped me be in a more cheerful mood by the time my husband gets home from work.

10. Finally, assess your expectations and rewrite them when necessarily.

Or just let them go. I always imagined dinner a time for elaborate conversations and a lot of laughter. We still do laugh a lot, but mostly because my daughter gets in this silly mood at dinner time. But we don’t really get to talk the way I want to because it’s quite impossible with a toddler. Just bits and pieces of our day interrupted with a funny gesture or word from our little one that elicits giggles. And I just take it as it is. Either that or I fume about the conversation that isn’t happening and is sure to not happen after dinner because of my attitude.

Above all, if you mess up, there’s no better fix than a true apology. Marriage is after all, about growing in grace. Especially with children.

What about you? Any tips to add?

About Vina

Vina spends much of her ordinary days getting to know her winsome daughter and seeing the world through her eyes. She loves learning about everyday simplicity and authenticity, which she shares in her blog, A Nourishing Home.

37 Responses to 10 Things I’m Learning About Marriage

  1. Vivian May 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    LOVE your list! 30 years married and going strong, I can vouch for the points you make. This sentence in #5 “Don’t Criticize” is brilliant, and really often the essence of it all:
    “What you think of your spouse, he will become that to you.” I would add one thing to your statement: “When If something is bothering you about your spouse… If it’s something your spouse needs to hear, bring it up but be specific about which action got you frustrated.” I would add, to do this when you BOTH are in a calm, pleasant mood. Not when he walks in the door after a rough day, or when you are frustrated and cranky. :-) Be kind, be positive, be gracious!

    And if you find yourself in a truly bad situation, with an abusive husband, or one with serious emotional issues, or an addiction, seek outside help early rather than later. Help is not someone who will just listen to you gripes, but someone who can reach out to your husband and get him help to fix the problem. Shame and hiding the issue doesn’t work in the long haul, and serious issues generally only get worse. The sooner the better. The explosions you see in folks married for years who suddenly can’t take it anymore are generally those who’ve been covering over a spouse’s serious issues for a long time.

  2. Sarah October 3, 2010 at 6:49 am #

    I like the comment about being consciously appreciative. The hubz and I try to make a habit of thanking each other every night for everything the other did for me today, and then we name specific events. ie. Yesterday my hubby worked hard on his schoolwork with a mind that one day he will support his family and enjoy his career and I thank him for his focus. It gives me an opportunity to point out the things he’s done that really mean something for me – which creates gratitude and love in me, and helps him to see how he can serve me in a way that speaks to me…and vice versa.

    Thanks for this post!

  3. Natalie September 27, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    Well said! I have three little ones, and I am always learning new ways to just…chill out. The “beam” in my eye is usually my unrealistic expectations or unwillingness to just go with the flow and enjoy…whatever!

  4. Christine September 26, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    There are a couple areas of marriage that God has been working on me lately.
    1) no one, not even my husband, can meet all of my needs. I need to be dependent on God to meet my needs
    2) something I read recently in Sacred Influence has certainly helped me in our marriage. My husband tends to unintentionally say things that I find hurtful, and I tend to hang on to that hurt. What I learned though is to simply pray, as soon as something is said, “Lord, I forgive him”. And then to let it go. It has only been a couple of weeks, but having this attitude of forgiveness has certainly saved us from some needless fights and lonely nights!
    3) my husband is not my child. He is Gods. And just like I don’t like it when people interfere with my parenting, God does not want me nagging and interfering with his parenting. I need to allow God to work on me, and step out of His way do He can work on my husband as well.

  5. elizabeth September 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    I’m new here! I love all the input help from this blog- thanks!
    My husband and I are having our 3rd anniversary next week. So we’re babies in this. A lot to learn.
    I appreciated this post. Marriage is something I care about a lot. There have been two things that have really sustained and refreshed us. I think they’re a couple thoughts that are going to stick with us.

    Something that got passed on to us early on was “It’s better to understand than to be understood”. Its been a blessing to remember.
    The 2nd is on Eph 5 something we heard about a year ago that I love! (the love, respect chapter) We have since had many conversations about it as it has become more real in our marriage.
    God set this thing up this marriage thing to work beautifully. When a husband loves his wife well… she’s motivated to respect him. When she respects well… he’s really motivated to love her well. Right! But the GOSPEL happens when that doesn’t work! When a husband loves his wife when she is unlovable, and when a wife respects her husband when he is unrespectable. That’s God’s covenantal commitment love for us. That He loved us when we were unlovable. In marriage we have the greatest priviledge to take part in His story every day with our husbands. In marriage- covenant love will say “I will- regardless if you…” When I can rest and remember that our God loved me when I was unlovable and I have experienced His grace… then because of His grace I can extend it. I don’t have to assert my rights. I still really suck at this! The more I grow in understanding His love and grace and who he says I am- the more freedom I have and can grow into the woman and wife He’s asked me to be.

    • Heather September 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

      So true!

  6. Lilly September 24, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    I absolutely agree with your “attack and devour” comment, and often, I see that I am not feeling good, and I am just trying to get rid of the bad feelings. Lately, though, I’ve tried to picture the little child inside my husband when this happens, and it is one of the very few things that snaps me out of that. I guess the next step would be to picture the little child inside of me, and try to be kinder to myself.

  7. carmen @ life blessons September 24, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    Oh gosh! I’m learning SO much about marriage, and only being married a year, I know there’s much, much more in store for me. And I actually look forward to all that! Here are some of the lessons God has been graciously teaching me about my young marriage:

    - A Lesson About Love I Learned in the Cereal Aisle

    - What I’m Learning About Conflict (And How to Make It HEALTHY)

    - Notes from Reading “Love and Respect” About Respecting Husbands

    I love learning from all of you wise and insightful women!!

  8. Audrey September 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    I think the most valuable piece of advice I’ve been given about marriage has been “Pick your battles”. It seems like a no brainer, but it’s really not! If it’s worth arguing over, then by all means, argue over it. But is it really going to accomplish something? Is the arguing going to solve a problem or is it just going to make everyone mad at everyone and not really solve anything? Pick your battles wisely and you’ll be better off!

  9. Danielle September 22, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Ooo, so good. I guess the only thing I would add, is to emphasize finding play time. It’s so easy for that to slip away, but just hanging out and being friends can do wonders to build bridges and ease tension in a marriage.

  10. trish September 22, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    “We sleep with our daughter in our family bed, and let me just say it’s sparked our creativity in more ways than one.”

    - so you have sex while your daughter is in the bed with you?? that seems a bit much for me….

    • Joy Y. September 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

      She probably meant they have to find “new” places to be intimate….

      • Vina September 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

        Thanks for clarifying Joy! That’s exactly what I meant! :)

  11. Lori September 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    Thank you for your post! It is all about attitude–noticing the good little things so they begin to add up in my thinking versus the annoying little things. I appreciate your take on how hubby does things differently (like changing diapers) maybe partly because he hasn’t had all the experience I get at that as a SAHM. That generalizes to so many little things that I need to cut him some slack on in my thinking. Great reminder in this post!

  12. Jamie R. September 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    I LOVED reading this post and I needed these reminders. I have a hard time letting problems fester and then I can’t hold it anymore and one problem becomes a mountain of problems. My poor husband doesn’t know how to handle it when I just unload on him. I need to work on letting the little things go.

    Thanks for a great post.

  13. erin September 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    This is a great list, Vina! I really appreciate the way you put #10. Sometimes we have romantized expectations about marriage, family & life & they need to be let go. But, not all expectations, desires, goals should be let go. I hear the advice often, “Don’t have expectations”. I hear it most often from couples who aren’t very happy in their marriage. I think the throwing out of expectations can go too far. My PIL are very unhappy in their marriage, and nearly divorced a few years ago. They didn’t & they are now still married with no expectations. “I don’t care if he calls me to tell me where he is. It doesn’t matter to me when or if he comes home. It saves me stress.” “I don’t mind if he gawks at other women. I’ve grown used to it.” “I really care what he does at all.” Their no growing together. It becomes just a toleration, or something. And, I think for a man who needs to feel respected so badly, it is a bond breaker for him to know his wife expects nothing from him. She doesn’t seem him as a good man, worthy of respect. And, he is going to pull away even more.
    Anyway…. I think you stated your #10 point well. Re asses your expectations. Are they good & worthy, or are they ridiculous? Should they become a goal (rather than an expected?) to be worked towards?

    • Vina September 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

      Hi Erin! That is sad to hear about your PIL. I totally agree with you that throwing out expectations can go too far. It becomes avoidance of conflict. The easier choice sometimes, but definitely not the better one in many situations. Thank you for pointing that out!

  14. blossomteacher September 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    Thank you for a great post. I stopped after #1 and texted my hubby that I loved him…just as I try to notice and appreciate the little things he does, I am working on doing more little things for him. Thank you for being my reminder today!

    • Vina September 22, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

      Aaaawww…you are an awesome wife! :)

  15. Cathy September 22, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    Humor salvages most sticky things at my house. I used to get mad at my husband for clothes on the floor many years ago, so I would threaten to throw them out in the yard. He laughed for a long time before clothes started vanishing. I finally quit fighting him on it, and he realized that my home was important to me.
    First of all, I had to learn to laugh at myself. I found out that a book could be written about all the ridiculous things I do. Learn to enjoy the fun, crazy world of married life and family!

  16. Ellyn Schaffner September 22, 2010 at 6:56 am #

    This is such a lovely and “passionate” post – thank you. Marriage is a complex and beautiful dance!


    • Vina September 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

      Dance is definitely a beautiful metaphor for it! :)

  17. Jill September 22, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    Thank you so much for this post! We’ll be married 4 years in December, and honestly, I’ve been criticizing my husband too much. Not often, but I let things build up, then “attack and devour,” as you put it so well. Thanks for pointing out that tendency, I will definitely be working on it and letting the small things go.

  18. Hannah September 22, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    Thank you, Vina! We’ve been married 4 years, too. Number 6 hits me right where it hurts. I haven’t been making it a priority especially with two little ones! Thank you for the reminder.

  19. Sherry September 22, 2010 at 4:50 am #

    Wow! Great post! So much great wisdom. We’ve been married 17 years. I’m still learning… :)

  20. Joy Y. September 22, 2010 at 4:34 am #

    Wonderful article! Any wife would benefit from reading these wise words. It seems marriage is on my mind too….an idea for encouraging husbands is something I posted about on my blog just yesterday. Maybe that could be a help to someone else. http://www.vimandvigor.typepad.com

  21. Leslie September 22, 2010 at 4:25 am #

    I have a hard time with taking my frustations of the day out on my husband, if he does something I don’t like, say put his clothes on the bathroom floor instead of the hamper. So I need to find a way to channel my frustrations before he gets home, so that I can welcome him with a good attitude instead of a rotten one. It’s not like this every day, but days that are going the worst.

    • erin September 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

      Can you just tell him about your frustrations, maybe? I know when it’s a REALLY tough time, talking about it doesn’t help too much. But, it helps in the little things. Just having my husband empathize over the little hardships help diffuse frustration. And, he shares his with me, too. It brings us closer together. And, provides clarity & perspective, so we can understand each other.

      • Vina September 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

        Hi Leslie! I totally can understand and can relate to the clothes on the floor! I try not to tell him about what I don’t like something when I feel most frustrated about it. One thing I’ve learned to, which has worked for me is to phrase it positively like this: “It really means a lot to me to have the floor free of clutter, do you think you could help me out with picking up your clothes when you remember? Thanks!” Sometimes it comes out in an entitled tone instead of a request…it doesn’t work well when I do it that way! :)

  22. Nichola September 22, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    I liked what you said about assuming that they have good intentions. This can be hard to see in the moment something rubs you the wrong way, but it has been a huge help to my husband and I. I would add, your spouse is not your enemy, and usually has no intention of becoming your enemy. When we are at odds about something, this is something we remind each other of. “I am not against you, I’m on your side.”

    • Vina September 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

      Yes Nichola! Totally! In the heat of the moment, our spouses totally feel like they are our enemy, but far from the truth!

  23. Katie September 22, 2010 at 2:28 am #

    We are coming up on our 4th wedding anniversary this December and it was so great to read this as it’s pretty much all the same things that i’ve learned but hadn’t thought to sit and write down. Thanks so much for this post! I’m sure I will come back and keep reading it as a reminder of what really does work and help in the day to day. Bless you and your marriage!

  24. Mandy September 22, 2010 at 2:21 am #

    Great idea about making dinner right after naptime & then going for a walk before hubby gets home! I’m an introvert (reenergized by alone time!) too, and have three kiddos, so this should really be beneficial to our family! =)

    • Vina September 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

      A fellow introvert! :) Hi!

  25. Lisa September 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    So much solid and true wisdom here!

  26. NaturalMama September 21, 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    What wonderful advice I needed to hear. The most convicting one was #1. Kissing and just being touchy is very important to my husband and I am bad about just letting the day go by without initiating either. :( Thanks for the reminder.

  27. Jennifer Sara September 21, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    “Marriage is after all, about growing in grace.”

    That is a great quote right there. :)

    The best advice I can give to anyone is that if you are REALLY upset at your spouse about something don’t wait to let them know. Don’t go yell at them either! But letting something fester can really cause a blowout later down the line. Sometimes we need to talk things out and it of course works best if both parties are willing to really sit and talk it out calmly and with love. Praying always!