I have been married for seven years.  Those 7 years have been the most incredible, most joyous, most devastating, and most difficult years of my life.  My marriage has been tested so many times.  About two years ago Honey and I were faced with an issue so great that I didn’t have any idea how we could possibly get through it.  It took a lot of work, and while at times I think our relationship shows the scars of that experience I know we are better for it.

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about marriage.  This post and this post  (and this follow-up) are getting lots of buzz among my friends.  The first post sparked a lot of debate among my friends especially because the author seems to place all the burden of a successful straight marriage on the woman.  As far as I’m concerned, marriage is a two-way street.  I’m certainly not going to be the one doing all the work.  I’m pretty sure the sentiment is the same in a marriage between two women (or two men).  The second pieces are by Glennon the wise one behind Momastery.  She puts it all out there.  She so succinctly captured marriage for me in these pieces that I kinda wanted to read them aloud to Honey.  After all these pieces stirred some feelings for me I decided to give some thought to what it is exactly that helps keep my marriage moving forward.  It can be boiled down to three small, but important things.

1.  Communication.  I’m not just talking about the big things.  I’m talking about talking about the big things, the little things, and all the things in between.  I’ve talked about the importance of talking more in our relationships before but I’ll be honest and say that Honey and I had slipped quite a bit recently in this department.  We were acting more like co-parents who disseminate information more than we were a couple.  So what changed?  We acknowledged it and made more of an effort to improve.  Now we text the goings-on of parenting to each other during the day rather than saving those mind-numbing conversations for the end of the day.  As a bonus, the texts sometimes end up being playful or flirty, which is never a bad thing in the middle of the workday.  Also, when we have a really big thing to discuss we schedule a time to talk about it and move on.  Honey and I need to make some big decisions about child care for next year so we agreed we would not discuss it until a certain point.  It helped guide the conversation for both of us.

2.  Honesty.  This one goes hand in hand with #1.  Leave nothing left unsaid.  Nothing.  Hopes, fears, frustrations, disapproval.  Pure unadulterated truth.  This is extremely difficult but so important.  If you have a major issue that you can’t share with the person that you chose to spend your life with than that is an issue in itself.  If this is a overwhelming proposition for you, or if you have significant concerns that need to be addressed in your marriage you might consider having your honest conversations with the help of a therapist.  However, if you are ready to tackle brutal, loving honesty with your partner establish some ground rules.  As a member of a search committee at my church we established a “No elephants in the room” rule.  If there is something it is clear everyone is thinking but no one is saying, say it.  Be honest but kind.  Use I messages rather than placing blame.  I feel _____ when  you _____.  Early in our marriage I had a personal assumption that was really holding us back.  It took a tremendous amount of guts on my part to finally say it out loud but Honey offered me reassurance that it wasn’t a concern and I’ve never thought about it again, but at the time I truly thought would end our relationship.

3.  Time.  You need to nurture all the relationships that are important to you.  That nurturing takes time.  It doesn’t have to be about grand sweeping gestures or elaborate dates.  Although for us, we have decided that getting out twice a month without children is important.  Therefore we budget child care and dates into our monthly expenses.  We go out once a month just the two of us and once a month with friends.  When for whatever reason we can’t get our monthly dates I think both of us feel the strain.  The other big thing we’ve done to increase our time together is something that’s going to scare you:

PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE/IPAD/TABLET/LAPTOP. (Not right now silly, how will you keep reading this?)

Step away from the things that are distracting you from really spending time with your spouse.

Our nighttime routine used to look like this: put kids to bed, grab phone/ipad, sit on opposite sides of couch, watch TV, stumble upstairs to bed.  We never shared joint attention (to steal a phrase from my professional life).  So we talked about what it was doing to our relationship (see #1) and decided that we needed to PUT DOWN THE PHONES.

Now our evenings look like this: put kids to bed, put devices on the kitchen counter, watch a mutually agreed upon show (currently Parenthood-how have I not watched this before?!), snuggle, chat, stumble upstairs to bed.  What am I missing not attached to Facebook at night?  Absolutely nothing.  What am I gaining?  Time with my spouse who I love.  Sounds like I’m getting the better deal.

I’m curious if you too have whittled down the essentials to your relationship and if they are the same.

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