Once my husband and I passed the thirty year anniversary of our married life together, friends started saying things like, “You’ve gotta tell other people your secrets,” and “How do you do it?” So, besides love, trust, and communication, I started to think about what tips and strategies we have devised over the years to make it through the hurdles. Here’s my best shot at sharing those with you.
Ever since we returned from our honeymoon, we have taken at least one night a week and designated it as “date night” out on the town for the two of us. We take turns planning the date, which includes making a dinner reservation, booking movie tickets, or coming up with something new to do. We “dress up” for the date, and make sure NOT to discuss the kids, to-do items, controversial subjects, etc. The goal is to talk about interesting things like we were getting to know one another on a date. Thirty two years later, we still do this, and I still look forward to it each time. (see Togetherness below.)
We learned early in our marriage that if we discussed controversial subjects, we got into verbal arguments that lasted quite a while. (What to spend money on, vacation plans, whom to socialize with….) We needed a solution. I devised the in/out boxes on our home desks. Anything that might be fodder for an argument, is written down and placed in the spouse’s “in” box. Once a day, we check our boxes. If we come across a note that makes us upset, now we have time to cool down before responding IN WRITING, and placing the response back in the spouse’s box. We have compromised and solved many issues in this fashion. Keeping up with the times, we often use email now instead of notes in the boxes…as that works too.
In a partnership, it’s natural that one partner is going to prefer certain tasks over others. In a marriage, it takes communication to find out which household tasks each partner is willing to do, and which tasks are “terms for negotiation.” In our home, my husband detests putting dishes in the dishwasher and also emptying it. So, we negotiated. I took over that task for life (he will NEVER have to do it as long as I’m alive), and in exchange, he agreed to carry my purse whenever we are together, (it’s so heavy!). It’s also really important to him that the temperature of our home is cool because he gets hot easily. We negotiated that he has complete control over the thermostat, and I, in turn, get complete control over the TV controller. We both are very happy with that deal! Both negotiations have lasted thirty years.
Time Is Money
In our marriage, it’s important to us that we are on time. If I cooked dinner and was expecting my husband home at 6:00 pm, it used to make me upset when he would get home late and the food I cooked was over-done and soggy. I needed a solution. I decided that if he paid me $1.00 for every minute that he was late (past the designated agreed upon time), then I would feel lucky and happy instead of grumpy and annoyed. Our kids knew the rule and they used to cheer me on, “Mom, WoooHooo, Dad owes you $20 now!!” This rule has worked so well, that my husband and his friend now use it for each other when they meet for their workouts. Our rule also has an added feature; each successive late day in the course of a week increases the dollar amount by double.
Phones Shutdown at Sundown
As soon as dinner starts, our cell phones get plugged in and silenced. We are done with them (and our computers) for the night. Conversation, reading, entertainment, and together time is our priority. Enough said.
Finance & Budgets… Oh My
If you ask most “experts,” they will say to pool your money once you get married. We have found that doesn’t work. We prefer to keep different accounts for different purposes. We set up a joint account to pay household expenses, bills, the mortgage, taxes, etc. (Scott runs that account.) We also set up an account to pay for the children’s expenses such as education, lessons, sports, other kid’s birthday party gifts, etc.. (I run that account.) Any items deducted from the above accounts are open for negotiation, and the budgets must be agreed upon by both of us. Then we each have a separate account for PERSONAL expenses. This is highly important! Our personal accounts are sacred, in that we can spend the money in these accounts on whatever we’d like. I choose to spend mine at the nail salon, shopping mall, as gifts, and for charitable purposes. Scott likes new surf boards, wine, well….you get the picture. The main point is that for the sake of the relationship, I can’t “nag” him about what he spends his personal money on, and vice versa. It’s very freeing! (Note: We have joint credit cards and also individual credit cards which help keep these accounts in order.)
Lots of times couples don’t realize the power of the words they use when they speak with each other. Words are powerful things in a marriage, and using the right ones does make a difference. My advice to women: Omit “can” and “could” from your vocabulary and substitute them with “will” and “would.” Men view “can” as a challenge to see if they are man enough and able enough to do something, and they don’t like that. When a woman uses “will” or “would,” she is asking for a favor, and most men will happily do favors for their spouse. Women also should remember to “admire” and “watch” their spouse. They like to be acknowledged for their accomplishments and to be watched doing what they are good at. And, of course, always remember the affection! My advice to men: women like to vent so please just listen, you do not need to solve the problem. IF we need help, we will ask. We also have moods, so please let us know that you love us no matter what mood we are in, (brownie points for you if you say you LIKE all the moods because they are fun to experience!) Lastly, if we ask you how we look in a particular outfit, the correct response is always GORGEOUS!
So much of married life is spent apart from each other, that your time together as a couple should be spent on activities that you mutually agree upon and are enjoyable. I know you have chores and errands, but if you can squeeze in the purposeful togetherness time, it goes a long way towards sustaining a happy relationship. Some things we like to do together are meditate with this app Headspace, take walks, work out, go to concerts, travel, read and discuss a daily inspirational quote at breakfast, take photos, and spend time with our friends and family.
Remember the days when you were a kid and you had a idol? Whether it was an athlete or a musician, or a local coach, you thought that idol was AMAZING, and you could have been the President of his/her fan club. It sounds silly, but in a marriage, you need to be each other’s biggest fans. That means you “cheer” your spouse on when they need it, you empathize with them when they need it, you help, accompany, support, and encourage your SUPERSTAR to the best of your ability. And the second best part is that the President of YOUR fan club lives in your home too!
Date nights, private time at home and fun with family is great, but every relationship needs time away as a couple, on an overnight vacation every six weeks. No matter what your budget is, (trade babysitting chores with a friend or neighbor, ask a relative for help), it’s crucial to get away from home to feel the carefree romance that only a vacation can provide. Whether you go camping, moteling, or choose full luxury mode, this priority to romance is something couples seldom do. ONLY ONE NIGHT IS NECESSARY…YOU DON’T NEED TO TAKE OFF WORK (When I tell friends that this is a good idea, I’ve heard every excuse you can imagine why they can’t do it!) If you budget for it, and plan ahead, you can make it happen. You will never be sorry you did.
These tips are ideas that work for us. If you have other suggestions or feedback, give me a comment below. And remember, if you’re married, you’ve already done the hardest part….finding your mate.
For help on finding a mate…check out my book Organize Yourself, So You Can Have Fun