Thursday, March 15, 2012

Keeping a Strong Marriage in the Storm

“How do you keep your marriage strong?”

This is the question a follower recently asked me that inspired this 3 part series on marriage. I’m writing to you not as an expert, but as a woman who’s in a loving, healthy marriage, despite all the stress we face in raising a child with a mental illness. Like many of you, we face numerous nights too tired to pour into our relationship or our romantic evenings become unglued when our son goes into a rage before bedtime, but despite these challenges and more, we continue to take it one day at a time and focus on what has always worked for us.

The most important part of our marriage is our foundation in God. When we can’t even make sense of the pain, we each have a source we hold on to. I believe having this shared faith has helped us unite even when everything else pushes us apart.

We fight fair! This may seem silly, but we’re serious about this. We never call each other names or cuss at one another. We do have arguments, but we still respect one another in our differences. We know that once you say it, you can never take it back, so we bite our tongue. And as often is the case, any bad thoughts are completely unfounded once the stress is resolved. And never, ever, does the word “divorce” get used.

We like timeouts. Just like our kids, we give ourselves timeouts. When we become angry at one another, we often wait until we have cooled down before we discuss it. We may spend the evening avoiding one another, but once we calm down, we’re better able to express ourselves and we aren’t as critical of one another.

We don’t expect a perfect life. We see marriage as a united journey through life, with that comes good times and bad times. We have an expectation that there’s no escaping this reality, we will have challenges in this life and together we can get through it.

We support each other’s interests. My man loves poker with the guys. I love the movies. My man loves spending the day on a golf course. I love the gym. We may not share the same interests, but we don’t stop the other from enjoying it.

We encourage each other to escape. When life at home is hectic and getting a sitter is out of the question (which is almost always), we encourage one another to get away with supportive friends. I have dinner with my girlfriends and my husband goes golfing with the guys. We make sure that the one staying home doesn’t complain and instead cheers the other on. Because a happy spouse is a happy life!

We forgive one another. Saying sorry goes a long way. My husband is great at this, but I’m always working on it.

We take over when the other can’t continue. There have been so many times where one of us has reached a point of meltdown with our son and the other person steps in and takes over. It’s kinda like handing the baton over during a marathon race.

We’re surrounded by healthy marriages. I believe you can learn a lot by example, seeing other marriages at work can teach you a lot.

We protect our marriage. My husband doesn’t give other women a ride home alone and I don’t chat with old boyfriends on Facebook. We act as if the other is by our side everywhere we go. This may seem silly, but we’ve seen marriages fail when these boundaries are broken.

We don’t expect all of our needs to be met by each other. If I’m not happy, it’s not my husband responsibility to make me happy. I also don’t expect my husband to listen to every feeling I have, that’s what girlfriends are for.

We laugh a lot! It helps that I married the funniest man on the block, but really we do laugh a lot, especially at ourselves.

We appreciate the small things. We may not go on fancy dates or extravagant vacations, but enjoying a frozen yogurt while watching the tv show Big Brother and discussing every moment together is really a perfect night. We don’t require much to make us happy.

We use the “five love languages” to communicate. When we first got married we both read the book, The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It basically outlines the five ways love is communicated and how we can act to make our spouse feel loved. The five languages are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. So in our marriage, if my husband notices that I’m stressed out from the day, he’ll do the dishes for me since he knows that “acts of service” is one of my love languages. I feel loved that my husband did the dishes, so in return I do something that falls under one of his love languages. If I had washed his car, an “act of service” I would’ve failed in making him feel loved since his love language is not the same as mine. Instead, telling my man that he looks hot and grabbing his butt is speaking his love language. In the end, we’re both loving one another the way we need to feel loved. This is an awesome marriage tool!

We date one another (sometimes). This is an area we really do cherish, but with our son’s illness and having 3 bouncing boys, getting a sitter isn’t always easy. So though we see this as an important part of our marriage, we both wished we could do this more.

We continue to work on our marriage. For us marriage is not something that happened when we exchanged rings, for us it’s an ongoing process. Recently we have committed to starting our day out praying for one another together. We haven’t been consistent, but we’re still trying and we’re working on other areas too. For us, we will never be done.

And I can’t forget, after being together for 23 years, he still brings me flowers for no reason, that’s gotta count for something right?

My husband often surprises me with love notes made out of everyday objects. The image on the left is kitchen spoons and a measuring cup and the image on the right is fresh oranges!

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Please share... what do you do to keep your marriage strong?

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The 5 Love Languages Book:

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Part 1 in my Marriage Series:
How Pain Can Divide Us

Part 2 in my Marriage Series:
Lessons That Build a Lasting Marriage


  1. Very inspiring series, Mama Bear! I could say you're lucky to have such a great husband (you are!), but that doesn't give the two of you, and your faith in God, nearly enough credit. Obviously, you both work very hard to keep your relationship strong.

    1. Thank you for reading the series, I appreciate the feedback. I agree that I’m lucky in love and that sure does help make things easier.

  2. Thanks for sharing this series Mama Bear. I think it is very important to get what works out there. There are so many myths about marriage, in the movies, TV, fairytales it is easy to forget that it is hard work: very rewarding but hard. Add in any kind of complication (like our kids) and the work gets harder.

    The pivotal point in my marriage was right after a financial crisis that came from one of my father-in-law's manias. It was my worst fear come true (at that point) and I thought I wanted out, but I took an extended time out (a vacation with my family) and thought really hard about it. And I decided that commitment was about going through the obstacles together and not running away from them. And making that choice to commit fully improved things in ways I can't describe. This happened before our son was born--so we had had a trial run in dealing with difficulties.

    Now the life shake ups that we've been through have improved our skills of getting through things together. Communication and Good Will are what get us through--along with a lot of the things that you mentioned above.

    1. Thank you for pointing out the myths about marriage, it can easily fool us and make us think something is wrong if it isn't easy.

      I’m glad to hear that your trials have made you stronger, at the time we may never consider it, but tough times really can make you cope with everything so much better.

    2. What my parents always told me about unpleasant events building character turns out to be true! (I just wish there were an easier way to get character ;)