Jon and I have been happily married for over thirty-one years. People will often ask what our secret is. Or they comment that we make being married look so easy.
The truth is, our marriage is easy, but we work at it every single day to make it that way. Some of our “secrets” to a happy marriage were things we learned early on. Other “secrets” have evolved naturally over the years.
I strongly believe that every couple can enjoy a happy marriage if they’re both willing to put in the work and take care of each other. The following are some of the things we do to keep our marriage healthy and alive. I hope they help you create happiness in your marriage, too!
1. His Needs, Her Needs
When we got married, we chose to write our own vows. We did not share our words or thoughts on what we were going to say to each other before the wedding. We wanted it to be a complete surprise. We were young and, to be quite honest, probably a bit naive.
However, what we discovered when we spoke our vows was that we both shared a common theme for our marriage. We each had a desire and determination to place the other person’s needs above our own.
For example, in my vows I told Jon I wanted to “give him a warm, safe home where he could relax at night. I wanted him to feel secure and always know that he was loved. I promised our home would be filled with kind, gentle words and to always have Christ be the center of our family. I wanted to give him a marriage he could be proud of and it would withstand any trouble that came our way.”
At the young age of 23, I really didn’t know at that time how essential this would be for him. He has a very stressful job as a partner in a national CPA firm, and it makes me so happy to know when he walks through the door after a long, challenging day, our home is calm and peaceful. It always has been. Even when the kids were young, we didn’t have a lot of chaos in our home.
I knew Jon needed a safe haven where he wouldn’t be met with more stress, criticism or nagging, but instead love, care, and warmth. It’s my gift to him to walk into a calm environment where he knows he’s able to rest, relax and recharge his battery.
In Jon’s vows, he promised to be my best friend and give me everything I needed in a husband and a father for our children. He promised to always be by my side, to give to me when I was down, and keep giving to me when I was up. He promised to protect me and give me the comfort and security I deserve. He promised a lifetime of love, fulfillment, and happiness. Not only has he lived up to those promises, he’s given me so much more than I could have imagined.
It’s been 31 years since we spoke those vows. They are just as true and meaningful today as they were the day we said them. Perhaps even more so because we have lived them.
I must point out this concept of putting your spouse’s needs above your own only works when you are BOTH doing it. If one person is constantly giving and the other person is constantly taking, then the relationship will be out of balance and resentment will eventually creep in.
It is essential in a happy marriage that both people are committed to putting the other person above themselves. There is no room for selfishness in a happy marriage. It is a partnership and you have to always want what is best for your spouse.
2. Flirting and Dating
Flirting is fun! We all did it while we were dating. Why on earth would you stop flirting once you’re married? Jon and I still flirt. We send text messages throughout the day. We hold hands when we’re out walking. Jon might brush up against my arm in the kitchen…He’s sending me a message loud and clear. We are constantly hugging each other. These are just a few ways we stay in touch and connected as a couple.
Never stop dating your spouse. It’s as simple as that. When you get busy with life, kids, careers, and everything else that makes life busy, life can get pretty hectic. Unfortunately, going out on dates can be one of the first things to go.
But here’s the thing: date night does not have to involve a big fancy restaurant, an expensive play or concert, or even hiring a babysitter. Just spend some time alone together doing something you both enjoy, even if that’s a walk through the neighborhood, attending a farmer’s market, or sitting on your patio in the backyard.
When we were first married, we would go to happy hours and eat free chips and salsa and get drinks 50% off. Or we’d go to the dollar movie theater and sneak in our own popcorn and candy.
One of my fondest date night memories is when Jon and I used to walk down to the local convenience store with our basset hound and get thick, creamy chocolate milkshakes. I was expecting our first baby and that was about all the extravagance we could afford at the time. The whole date probably cost $2.50. We still talk about those milkshakes.
Those dates are some of our most precious memories.
In order to keep the romance alive, it’s really important to take an interest in what the other person enjoys doing. I love to shop. If shopping was considered a sport, I would probably qualify for the Olympic team. Jon does not like to shop unless it’s absolutely necessary (or we happen to find ourselves in the tool department at Home Depot – then he’s okay).
However, because he knows I enjoy it, one of our favorite dates is going out for drinks and appetizers and then walking around the mall. Now, to compromise, I don’t drag him into every store and I know he prefers an outdoor mall to an indoor mall. Again, we are putting the other person’s needs and feelings above our own.
Jon loves to go hiking, and it’s not exactly in my DNA to hike trails or mountains. However, we have discovered that taking a three mile walk through our neighborhood is not only good for our physical well being, but it’s also good for our relationship. We enjoy being together and a walk in the neighborhood doesn’t cost a thing. (Not to mention, there are a lot of hills in our neighborhood, so it’s kind of like a hike).
We’ve also discovered new interests together such as playing golf. I never imagined I would enjoy golfing, but it has become one of our favorite date nights. We also have a standing Friday date night of ordering pizza in and just relaxing at home. We like to swim, play cards or just sit on the back patio, listen to music, and talk.
No matter what we’re doing, our date nights are about spending time together and just enjoying one another’s company.
Here’s a little bonus advice on dating your spouse: Remember to put your phone away. I know this is difficult for all of us, myself included. However, the message you’re sending to your spouse when you pick up your phone to answer a text, take a phone call, or check something on social media is that they’re not as important as whatever’s on your phone.
Try to be intentional about leaving your phone in your purse, or in the car, or even at home. Treasure the moments with your spouse and show them they are your top priority – not your phone. If this is really difficult for you and your spouse, try making a game out of it.
The first person who picks up their phone has to take out the trash, make the bed, clean the bathroom, or any other chore you both detest. Or, you can implement a rule that says every time a phone is taken out, that person has to add a dollar (or $20!) to a joint savings jar. However you choose to play this game is up to you.
I recently saw a post on Instagram which said, “We should treat our spouse like we treat our phones: touch them a lot. Take them everywhere. Be lost when they aren’t around. Stare at them constantly. Give them the majority of our attention. Do that and you’ll be blessed.” WOW. Imagine how our spouses would feel if we gave them as much attention as we do our phones.
One last tip for how to really commit to putting your phone away during date night. If you’re parents of young children and they’re with a babysitter, of course you are going to want your phone in case there’s an emergency. I suggest setting a specific ringtone for the babysitter. Then you’ll know if it is a message or phone call you need to answer right away. Otherwise, let it go unanswered.
3. Have Secrets
Now, you may think I’ve gone crazy to suggest you have secrets. I’m not talking about keeping secrets from your spouse. I’m talking about those little secrets that only the two of you know. In a happy marriage, you should be able to have your own “secret language”.
For instance, Jon and I have silly names or funny sayings that only he and I know about. Some of them wouldn’t even make sense to the rest of the world, including our own children. We started saying these things early in our dating relationship and they’ve just stuck. We fit them into our conversations almost daily. They are ours and ours alone.
We have secret gestures that only we know about. Every time we bow our heads to pray, Jon will reach over and take my hand. It might be in church, it might be when we say the blessing at dinner, praying together in our home, in a crowded restaurant, or even at a tailgating party before a college football game. I just know when we pray, he is going to reach over and hold my hand. It’s a very simple thing, but that one gesture means more to me than anything. We have been holding hands while we pray for 32 years and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives.
This is also where trust comes into a marriage. If one spouse shares something private or a personal struggle, don’t go and tell your friends or family about it. Husbands and wives should be able to trust their spouse to keep personal matters private. Keep secrets between the two of you and not from one another.
Communication is key. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult areas of a healthy marriage. You are not married to a mind reader, no matter how much you wish you were. Men and women don’t always know how their spouse is feeling or why they’re suddenly in a bad mood. Again, this is not easy for most married couples. You really have to be intentional about expressing yourself, your concerns, your feelings, and your needs.
There have been times in our marriage where Jon and I were not communicating well. For example, a few years ago, my kids introduced me to Words With Friends and I was hooked! Pretty soon, I was playing Words With Friends with several of my Facebook friends. One of these friends just happened to be with an old friend from high school..
From my point of view, this was very innocent. From Jon’s point of view, he did not see it that way. It took a lot of courage for him to tell me that this bothered him and he wished I would stop. I had no idea it was bothering him. I went directly into the computer room and deleted the game.
My marriage to Jon, and his feelings, were far more important to me than a silly game. Had he not had the courage and strength to communicate this to me, I probably would have continued to play the game without ever knowing it was bothering him. To this day, I’m truly grateful he shared his feelings with me.
Early on in our marriage, we had to find out the best way to resolve conflict. I remember one day in particular, Jon got upset with me about something. I don’t even recall what it was, but he stormed out of the house to “clean the garage”. I followed him and “gently” told him that we were not going to spend our entire Saturday in an argument and we needed to talk it through.
That was a big turning point for us. Do we have disagreements? Of course we do – every marriage does. But we also know we will resolve the conflict and come out stronger in the end. We never sweep things under the rug or let things go unresolved. That only allows bitterness and resentment to enter into the marriage and that is not a healthy relationship.
We also make sure we apologize and forgive. Once we have kissed and made up, we let it go. We do not bring up past grievances or mistakes. It’s in the past and it stays in the past.
Couples have to talk in order to communicate. You must be able to share your feelings, your insecurities, and your weaknesses with your spouse. When you say “I Do”, you automatically put yourself in a vulnerable situation. A husband or wife should be able to trust their spouse is going to love them unconditionally.
It’s also important to praise your spouse – continually and often. Tell them how beautiful or handsome they look. Tell them you’re proud of them, or you enjoy spending time with them. The other night, Jon and I were going to sleep and just as we were drifting off, he reached over, grabbed my hand, and said, “I love our life!” Just a simple statement. But those four words said everything I needed to hear. It was the greatest compliment he could give me.
Another essential key to communication is to listen to your spouse. This too is difficult for married couples. It’s an area we can all improve on, no matter how long we’ve been married. If your husband or wife comes to you with a concern, or a problem, or perhaps unmet needs in the marriage, you must really listen to them without judgement. If you don’t actively listen to your spouse, they will eventually stop sharing with you and the communication between you will ultimately break down.
Communication takes trust, honesty and respect for one another. Don’t become so complacent in your communication that, especially after years of marriage, you just assume the other person knows how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking. They don’t. Again, your spouse is not a mind reader. And unfortunately, they never will be.
Think of all the happy, successful marriages and relationships you know of. What’s different about them? What makes them work? In my own personal experience, what makes the happiest, most successful marriages is faith.
Faith in God, faith in each other and faith in the institution of marriage.
God created marriage when he created Adam and Eve. He knew it was not good for Adam to be alone, so He gave him a wife. Eve was a partner, a best friend, and a lover to Adam. She completed Adam.
Jon and I decided from the beginning we would always have Christ be the center of our relationship. We believe Jesus died on the cross and will one day return. We have accepted Him into our hearts and having faith in Him has seen us through some challenging times.
It’s during these times that we look to God for strength, wisdom and forgiveness. Jon and I are not perfect people. We are not perfect Christians. We’re definitely not the perfect husband or wife. But that’s the best part of our marriage. We are perfect in God’s eyes and we are perfect for each other.
There will be storms in your marriage. There will be trials and challenges. There will be struggles with children, careers, in-laws, health issues, and financial troubles, to name a few. The list goes on and on. Because of our faith in God, we’ve endured some pretty big storms and came through them stronger than before. We couldn’t have done it without God being the foundation of our marriage.
We also have faith in one another. I have faith Jon will always be there for me and always have my back. He is my biggest cheerleader and I am his. We support one another and encourage one another in everything we do. Believe in your spouse and let them know you believe in them. Tell your husband or wife, “I have faith in you!” Everyone wants to hear those words. Why would we not tell the one person we love the most that we have faith in them?
Marriage is a gift from God. Treat your spouse as if they were a precious gemstone. They should be protected, treasured, and continually polished. Don’t take your spouse or your marriage for granted. Show the world you’re proud to be married to your spouse and they will do the same for you.
The most successful marriages are those where both husband and wife seek to build the self-esteem of the other. – Anonymous