***As seen on The Huffington Post***
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: There IS no secret formula to a perfect marriage because there IS no such thing as a perfect marriage.
Experts divulge ways to ensure your marriage will work. There are plenty of internet quizzes to help you decide how healthy your marriage is. Articles advise what to do and what not to do, making you sweat over the checklists you’re not meeting.These pieces can be fun to read. Sure, they can give you some insight into healthy relationships. But can they help you decode the secret to a perfect marriage?
I don’t think so.
I’ve been married for almost five years, but in many ways, it feels like longer—not because we’re miserable but because we’ve been together for quite a while. I met my husband at the age of twelve, and he’s been my one-and-only ever since. When we said “I do,” we’d been together over a decade. We thought we were going to own this thing called marriage. Challenges? Difficulties? Please. Those were for people who rushed to the altar, not us.
Then we put the rings on and we realized—marriage IS hard. There are plenty of frustrations, stressors, and times when you just feel like tossing your ring into an inferno.
Each marriage and experience, though, is vastly different. The equation for happiness, thus, cannot be generalized. Others can tell you how to make your relationship work until they’re out of breath, but it still won’t work unless it fits your particular circumstance. Our marriages are unique products of who we are as individuals, our past experiences, our relationship experiences, and our current status of connectedness.
Thus, this article isn’t about giving you the top ten secrets to perfect your marriage. This article is about telling you ten things that have worked for my husband and I. Read them, keep a few of them if they suit your relationship, and, most importantly,use them as a springboard to find your own ten ways to improve your relationship.
1. Phone Away Thursdays
On Thursday evenings, we put away all technology and watch a movie together. These few hours a week help us focus on each other and give us a scheduled time during the week to spend time together. In many ways, it’s like a cheap, at-home date that helps us reconnect during the week.
2. Just Spill
I’m guilty of using the silent treatment when I’m mad, but my husband’s helped me overcome this. If I’m pissed about him slacking around the house or if he thinks I was being a jerk to his family, we spill. Being honest with each other and telling each other when you’re mad about little things will prevent issues from escalating. Letting things simmer, in our experience, leads to the irrevocable blow-ups that can damage relationships.
3. Separate Bank Accounts
Our families think we’re crazy for this, but we’ve found separate bank accounts helps us both maintain independence. It started because we were lazy; we didn’t feel like switching our individual direct deposit items or bills to another account. Now, we’ve found it works because we both manage smaller purchases on our own. After coming up with a system for splitting bills, we’ve found we rarely fight about money because we have a sense of independence.
4. Talk about big purchases or decisions
If I’m buying a $20 shirt at the mall, I don’t run it by Chad. If I’m buying a $600 laptop because mine blew up, I do check with him. When he decides to get inked again, he runs it by me. We respect each other enough to get opinions on big purchases and decisions. It’s about maintaining the feeling of teamwork. We maintain our independence in the day-to-day things, but the big things are decisions made together.
5. Recognize the small gestures
The movies and literature tell us romance is in the big, sweeping gestures. We’ve come to realize these high expectations can lead to disappointment and resentment. Routines and budgeting practicalities rule out private jets to secret islands and dozens of red roses. Look for the small things that show you care about each other. This might come in the form of a Milky Way, my favorite candy, when Chad stops to get eggs at the grocery store. It might mean I pick up Krampus at Walmart because I know Chad wanted to see it. Small gestures can lead to big connections, and showing appreciation for these gestures can enhance relationships.
A study by Sara Algoe at UNC-Chapel Hill looked at forty-seven couples who had been together for an average of five years and found that expressing gratitude for small things can lead to big results.
6. Come up with a chore system
Our early fights were about chores. I’m talking vicious, name-calling level fights over dishes and trash duty. We tried doing our own laundry, dishes, and cleaning as individuals. We even tried a chore chart at one point to fix this.
It took years for us to find a balance we could both live with. Do we still fight when we feel like the other person is dropping the ball? You bet. Living in a family where both the husband and wife work full-time can be straining. We both grew up in families where our mothers were stay-at-home moms for at least a good portion of our childhoods. Adjusting to a two-career family, thus, was something we didn’t have a model for. In this area of life, I think it’s just about trial and error.
7. Respect individual hobbies
My husband is a gamer; I am a bookworm.
Sometimes I feel like he spends too much money on gaming. Sometimes he thinks I fill our house with too many books.
Sometimes I feel like he spends too many hours in front of the television playing Xbox.
Sometimes he feels like I spent too many hours with my nose in a pretend world.
Sometimes I get tired of hearing him talk about PewDiePie and Steam. Sometimes he gets tired of me talking about vampires and plot devices.
We don’t share in the same hobbies, but we do our best to respect them. We give each other time to pursue our individual interests. In marriage, you cannot completely let go of your individuality or resentment can form. Healthy couples spend time together and apart.
Exhausted, ticked off, grieving—whatever we’re feeling ,Chad and I laugh together every single day. We have dozens of inside jokes and crazy pranks we pull on each other. Even when we’re in the midst of a tragedy or rough patch, we pull together to find the humor in the world around us. Keeping things lighthearted has helped us find joy together. I know when I’m ripping my hair out from a rough day at work, I’ll come home to him and he’ll make me feel better about it. Our shared sense of humor has helped us stay connected to our youthful, childish sides, which ultimately has helped build our bond.
9. Eat Dinner Together
I can’t cook at all. I’ve burnt everything from spaghetti to pancakes. I’ve created literally inedible concoctions. Thus, I use the term “dinner” lightly.
However, the point is, we sit down and eat together every night. Even if we’re being pulled in different directions for the evening, this grounds us in a half hour together where we’re sharing in a meal. This uninterrupted time together helps us reconnect after a long day, even if it’s just reconnecting through shared laughter over my latest cooking failure.
10. Preserving MemoriesIn high school, we started scrap booking our memories together. From time to time, we’ll pull out our seven different picture books and go back through all of the places we’ve been together. When monotony creeps in, it’s good to be able to relive the moments that make you who you are as a couple. Plus, it can inspire you to get out there and make new memories. Since looking at our pictures and realizing we haven’t been anywhere new lately, we’ve added some trips to our summer bucket list.
As I said, there is no secret recipe for a perfect marriage. It’s about trial-and-error, in many ways. It’s about being self-reflective and realizing what you need to work on and what you’ve got down.
Most of all, it’s about deciding you’re in it for the long-haul—and then finding ways to make the long trip successful, no matter what it takes.