My husband and I are fast approaching our 14th anniversary. That’s pretty hard to believe. It’s also hard to believe that, aside from the occasional misunderstanding, we’ve had a really happy and peaceful life together so far. As I analyze why we get along so well, I keep coming back to the same things.
We treat each other gently, communicate openly, pay attention to each other’s needs, spend time together, and have common interests. I don’t remember anyone giving us the formula, or even being very conscious of keeping to it. But these 5 simple things have, in a compound way over the years, deepened our friendship, love, and dependence upon each other in exponential ways. Conversely, I’ve seen marriages where the lack of these practices erodes friendship and love, as years pile upon years of neglect and regret.
1. BE GENTLE WITH EACH OTHER
I am careful with my husband’s feelings. I try to speak to him as kindly as I would any other friend or acquaintance. That’s not to say that I would ever withhold the truth or hide my true feelings from him, but that when I talk to him I don’t take him for granted. It’s easy to lash out at those closest to you when you’re frustrated or having a bad day, but we really try not to fall victim to that temptation. We’re respectful of each other’s feelings and we are gentle in the way we say things to each other.
2. SAY WHAT YOU NEED
I think this is a particular struggle for a lot of women. They expect the people in their lives...their mom, their friends, and especially their husbands, to be mind-readers. No one can read minds, and no one, no matter how well they know you, really knows exactly what you need when you need it, all the time. (And as someone who is terrible at reading a room or sensing felt needs, I have to implore you on behalf of my fellow ignorants. Just tell us what you need!) More than likely, your husband wants to take care of you and meet those needs. You’ll have to be brave, and express them. Yes, you open yourself up to rejection if he says no, or refuses. But won’t you feel better, and more confident, having said it out loud? Be done with the cycle of disappointment in someone who wasn’t even given a chance to know how you would have liked to be helped.
If your husband isn’t hearing it the first time, try writing it down for him. My husband is a spectacularly bad auditory learner, but if I put something on a list it will be done within hours. Other husbands would balk at being given a list...so, learn your husband’s communication style and express yourself in the best way for him to truly hear you. Writing it down is one way to ensure he knows how important this is to you.
You also have to be specific. You can’t just say “spend more time with me,” because that’s vague and unattainable. You’ll be setting yourself up for more disappointment, because he still has to read your mind to know how much or how often you expect. Instead, say (or write!) “Have breakfast with me every Monday from 8-8:30.” This is something he can check off a list.
3. TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER
Now since we can’t change our husbands, we can only be responsible for how well we perform in each of these categories. But hopefully, if you’ve been gentle with him, and if you’ve openly communicated your specific needs to him, he will rise to the occasion and meet them. But even if not, you need to find ways to take care of him. I am not advocating for a woman who’s already drowning to put more responsibility on her shoulders. Don’t enable him to carry even less of the load by doing more to pick up his slack. But, assuming all things are equal, then be his helper. My husband is kind enough to do all of our grocery shopping. But I make sure to jump up from what I’m doing and help him unload the bags when I hear the garage door open. When he’s working on the house, I will be in charge of the kids and make myself available to help measure or carry a load. And if he asks me for help, I always say yes. If he was brave enough to ask for something, I’m going to give it.
4. SPEND TIME TOGETHER
It’s very easy for life to get away from you, and to feel like ships passing in the night. There are three major things that come between married couples: work, house, and kids. That last category is especially dangerous, because it feels like you’re focusing on something noble. You are...just not when it’s at the expense of your marriage. I’ve seen this many, many times, especially from dads. They’ll plan a family outing or take the kids for a bike ride, but the kids are just a shield from the wife that he should be investing in. His guilty conscience is assuaged because he’s being a “good dad,” but his wife is left lonely and starving for his attention. Not ok. Family time is wonderful, but husband-and-wife-alone-time has to be a priority. Women do this (and I’m guilty too!) when we spend all night putting the kids to bed, or falling asleep with them while tucking them in, only to have nothing left for our husbands. It’s totally fine to do that once in a while (or when they’re babies, because seriously, #itsaseason), but if you’re spending every night with your kids and never meeting up with your husband at the end of a day to debrief, then some habits need to change. You’re teaching your kids that they’re your priority, and your husband is not.
5. FIND COMMON INTERESTS
This is really hard for women, because really, guys like the dumbest stuff. Basketball, superheroes (ok, just mine?) golf (the worst!) or cars...whatever the guy thing is, I know it’s hard to get interested in it. But can we just admit for a second, they have it worse? Vintage shopping? Crafts? Snooze! The reason you got married is because you were best friends, and best friends have common interests. They do things together and have fun together. You have to try to find them, and if he isn’t budging, then you’ll have to cross over to his side. It won’t be hard forever. As it turns out, if you can find a team to get behind, basketball isn’t boring. And thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superheroes are fun now too. I am proud to admit that I was with my husband on opening morning of the Avengers at 8:30 AM (kids dropped off at school), wearing his Spiderman shirt. And after all this time, I was every bit the excited nerd about it that he was. I know that married couples can find this kind of common ground, and they’ll be stronger for it. Go have fun together!