Keys to a Happy Marriage

9:29 AMHeather

A couple of months ago, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. I mean--go US! I wanted to shout our accolades from the roof tops at this achievement in a world where so much has become disposable. Not to mention that our love story is rooted smack dab in the middle of some serious pain and suffering. So, we are basically rock stars when it comes to this marriage thing.  

And so, in my prideful efforts to toot our own horn, I posted photos and overshared all sorts of moments of our early dating years and our wedding. 

Including this gem.

Where I realized for the first time that we were apparently 12 when we married and we were far too young and had no business making some lifelong commitment. Yet, we did it anyway. And lest there be any doubt, we were all in. Because our pastor made us each say "I do" twice. Just for good measure.

So we are essentially doubly married.

And as it so happens when I hit milestones in life, I get all sentimental and full of advice, even more so than some little old lady in a nursing home when someone pops by for a visit.

I've spent a fair share of time reminiscing about our years together and what makes it work and what wisdom I've gleaned along the way to pass on to anyone willing to listen read. Because the truth is, Chris and I are indeed happily married. The truth is that my husband is still my best friend and I still cannot believe he picked me.

He's quite a catch, in case you didn't know.

And somehow I snowed him some nearly 25 years ago when he got all caught up with me in the middle of my severe depression and complete unraveling in life.

He's still here. 

And I still lean toward an unraveling or emotional meltdown on a now semi-regular basis. 

But I haven't scared him off yet. So I'm pretty sure we're in this thing for the long haul.

Here are some things I've learned along the way. The secrets to our "success," so to speak. The keys to our happy marriage, for all of you who are the least bit curious.

Prayer. When I was about 15, I received life changing, mind blowing advice from my friend Jennifer's mom, Shirley. She encouraged Jennifer and me to pray for our future spouses. Shirley and her husband Ron seemed quite happily married, so I took her advice. And I began to pray for my future spouse. I dreamed of him and asked God for specific things. In hindsight, I probably should have prayed more about myself as a wife rather than making it all about him. But, nonetheless, I began to pray that wherever he was, he was making good choices toward our future together. I prayed over a list of things I had created that I thought would make a good husband and asked God to weave these traits into my future love. When my dad got cancer, I prayed my future spouse would always be able to understand that part of me and the deep impact. 

He became real to me and I began to envision what it might be like someday. That someday prayer helped me deal with dating woes of that day. 

And crazy side note--in a home economics project as a junior in high school, we had to plan our future, fake wedding. Hold on to your seats, kids. My future man was named Chris and he was from the city of Dallas. 

Yep. Nailed it.

When Chris and I began dating, he was quite the spiritual leader in our relationship. Just as I had prayed he would be. And he and I prayed regularly together. Out loud. When it was awkward. (It's not awkward anymore, BTW). We prayed for our ability to stay pure, we prayed for wisdom about our relationship, we prayed over decisions. 

Prayer. Running to God together about every concern. Keeping our foundation the Rock who promises to faithfully strengthen us.

We've prayed in frustration in the middle of a disagreement. When one or both of us didn't want to do so. We've prayed desperate tearful prayers in the middle of a miscarriage and in the shocking aftermath of the news that we'd lost our nephew. We've prayed for God to show us how to raise these children he made and then gave us. We've prayed over finances, house purchases, and even which dog to adopt from the rescue organization.

If you've met our Murphy, you know we are winning!

Prayer. Keeping the priority where the priority should be. Asking God to be the center, the foundation, the leader. 

Side note here. I grew up in the church, being taught to ask God for to show me the right person to marry and to help me be the right person to be married to. No one told me that sometimes, when those prayers are answered, there's a sequel. That's waiting for the right time. We met as college freshmen. We finished undergrad AND grad school before we married. It was a long 4 1/2 years. Even our most Godly friends didn't get why we waited.

If you have found the one, but the timing is not right yet...hang on. Pray continually. It's worth the wait. I am so glad that Chris had the fortitude to wait until we finished schooling and were gainfully employed and he felt the timing was right. I know without a doubt that God has blessed our obedience and we've avoided a world of strife we might have otherwise faced. 

Respect. When I look back on our early, college years as a dating couple, I could say that dumb luck brought us some really good choices and blessings and experiences. But it was all God. It was all his faithfulness when we weren't faithful or trusting or even asking for specific things.

Like a couples class led by some friends for all of us "seriously dating" couples in Chris' fraternity. Kevin and Nikki felt led to write Biblically based curriculum, leaning on the knowledge of Gary Smalley, John Trent, and a host of other Christian authors. I can look back and see that there are some long lasting marriages that came out of that class.

And one of the lessons with the farthest reaching impact is the idea of not dishonoring your spouse. This means not saying things in front of them, away from them, in writing, in phone calls, anywhere that would bring dishonor to them. This means choosing to believe the best in them and continually speaking to that end. This means being their biggest cheerleader and the one who affirms them positively to their face, to your friends, to your in-laws, to your family. I'm not talking schmoozing or lying.

I'm talking withholding their faults from being topics of conversations with others. I'm talking showing them respect as the one you chose. And addressing issues privately and positively.

It made sense to me and Chris back then. So we made a deal. Pinkie swear or such that we would abide by this and set this idea of never dishonoring each other as a hard and fast and unbendable rule in our relationship. No bashing each other. Ever. Even when we must address something with each other and perhaps discuss a weakness, we do it with respect and never publicly.

I cannot tell any of you how incredibly powerful this is. It builds trust. It helps build each other up. It helps us strive toward being better people. Because we know that we each believe in the potential of our spouse and we are cheering them toward that.

Give it a try. We are not perfect people here, but we got each other's back. And just as every girl wants a BFF that doesn't gossip about her beyond her back, every wife and every husband wants a spouse who doesn't make them the butt of a joke.

Communication. This is a weak area right now in life, let me tell you. I can remember when we would each come home from our jobs and tell each other all the details of our day. We'd linger long over meals. We'd have weekly date nights. We'd have long conversations while driving. 

Then, we had kids.

And we've been tired ever since. Our ability to complete a sentence has been greatly hampered by this thing called parenting. We tried that old "couch time" thing as young parents where we sat on the couch for 10-15 minutes of conversation after Chris came home from work, when we were supposed to be training our children to not interrupt and to see Mommy and Daddy making our communication a priority.

Who are we kidding? 

We might go days here without discussing anything beyond what's for dinner and at what time does which kid need to be to what place.

Keeping it real.

But, we make feeble attempts anyway. And sometimes, we do have conversations. Like grown-ups. Like our pre-kid selves. These usually coincide with the great effort of going out on a date, which involves finding the energy as 40+ people with three children to do something on a Friday night besides put on pajamas at 5:00 pm.

And it's greatness. Well, it's good. To have a conversation, albeit peppered with big yawns and a realization that we like to be at home. And this is a season that will pass.

Because someday these people we birthed will be living their own lives. And we'll have all the time in the world to look at each other and converse. 

So we continue to take staps at keeping the communication open. Avoiding any secrets. Texting random thoughts before we forget them. Emailing at times. And talking super fast in those moments we have together in between the other demands of life.

Remember.  This is big. This can turn a grumpy marriage day around. It's powerful for me to stop in my frustration and remember. Remember how he looked at me and how I felt when we first began dating. Remember how he slept on the hospital floor when we were newly dating and I was horribly sick with a stomach virus. Remember how he planned such an elaborate engagement night. Remember the tears and emotion that choked him up as I walked down the aisle. Remember how he held me so tight and made me feel safe when we lost our first baby. Remember how he nearly fainted when our first son was being born, with all the excitement and emotions of that moment.

Remember why I fell in love with him in the first place. Remember that butterflies in the stomach feeling in the beginning. Remember all the years of memories and devotion and commitment that have brought us to where we are today.

It's such a good thing to remember. To be quick to forget the faults and the fights and the issues and the mistakes. And to linger on the memories that have knit our hearts ponder all the moments. ALL the moments that are worth cherishing and replaying. To remember all that we have to be thankful for...all that we can say God has done for us, through us, and in us.

So there you have it.

These are some of the things. We don't have it all together here, folks. Just ask our kids. 

But we are in this thing till our dying days. We will go from big bangs and 90's hair of our early days to the graying hair we have now to the baldness that may come in the future. We will work continually to pray, to respect, to communicate, to remember.

And we will always laugh at ourselves. At our 12 year old selves who thought we had it all figured out when we said "I do"... and then again, "I do." 

We will dream together of traveling the world and stalking our children and grandchildren and indulging those babies till their parents scold us. We will laugh at our mistakes. We will burst into songs of our childhood in order to embarrass and harrass our children. We will finish each other sentences and think we are the coolest people ever.

And we will thank the Lord for all that he has done and continues to do. To keep two broken people bound together through marriage.

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