My wife Shauna and I got married twenty-five years ago today.
That’s a quarter of a freaking century.
Our marriage has weathered predictable ups and downs like any other marriage. But our marriage is not just like any other marriage. We’re pretty used to people gushing things at us like, “You guys are so cute. You act like you’re newlyweds.” And it’s true. We enjoy a fairy-tale marriage—full of adventures and battles and evil spells, hunger and blood and tears, celebration and intimacy and tenderness.
Not by a long shot. But we’ve learned more than a few practical things along the way, things I’d like to share with you in this blog post. I believe chasing down even just a few of these could make all the difference in your marriage. So here we go: 25 marriage truth-bombs from 25 years of marriage.
- Never stop dating. Seriously. Romance isn’t a feeling. It’s a whole bunch of choices—in a row— to do romantic things. Shauna and I enjoy a coffee date once a week. It’s a beautiful, life or death thing.
- I once heard someone say, “Be as committed to marriage as you are to your partner.” Wow, that’s gold. And trust me, you’ll need it.
- Build your US. Conflicted marriages are preoccupied with asking, “How am I doing?” Good marriages focus on, “How are you doing?” But great marriages also ask, “How are we doing?” Don’t just work on each other, or just on yourself. Work on your relationship.
- Differentiate between loving and liking each other. We’ve said that often. “I love you, but I don’t like you right now.” We also use that line as a joke, but in all seriousness, it separates your commitment to each other from your fluctuating emotions.
- Don’t keep score. Like, ever, for anything (unless you’re having an epic Nerf battle). Don’t keep track of how many good things you do for her, don’t make mental notes about him doing that again. Why? The Bible says true love doesn’t keep record of wrongs. So don’t. Keeping a record of wrongs is just admitting that need to forgive. Better get on that.
- Go first. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought, “Why do I always have to forgive first, start the hard conversation, make the first move to make up?” etc. The thing is, she’s thinking the same thing. Don’t wait. Go first. Why? Well, Shauna and I follow Jesus, and he went first, dying on the cross for our sins before we made any kind of move towards him at all. That’s incredible, and I want to be like him, so that’s what we do.
- Answer each other’s questions. Author and speaker John Eldredge says that we all journey through life haunted by questions in our soul, like “Am I enough? Am I loveable? Am I worth it?” Well, each partner in a marriage needs to give their lives to help answer those questions for their partner. Two caveats: One, only God can answer those questions and satisfy their souls completely. Two, we often flip it around and demand our partner answer those questions for us, when only God can do it.
- Learn to speak (and live) each other’s love languages. Author Gary Chapman says (and I agree) that we’re all wired to receive and feel love differently. We each a speak a slightly different “love language”: Words of affirmation, quality time (having their full attention), service (doing nice things for someone), gifts, and physical affection. I love what Danny Silk adds to this concept: In our relationships, when we’re not receiving love in our love language, fear develops. When our love language is being spoken, fear evaporates.
- Deal with ‘no fly zones.’ Every relationship has what I call ‘no fly zones’—topics that are off limits for conversation. It might be because those topics create conflict, stir up old wounds, or create fear—but every no fly zone is a place that can hide things, a place where resentment or distance can grow. Find ways to talk about the hard things, or they’ll just become harder things. The goal of a great marriage isn’t absence of conflict short term, but depth of connection long term.
- Marriage over parenting. It’s a massive mistake to put your kids first. Your marriage comes first. For one thing, your kids’ entire universe—their security, self-esteem, view of the world—hinges on mommy and daddy loving each other. So keep dating. Get a sitter. Let your kids watch you sitting down to talk as a couple. Make them wait until you’re done. And for the love of all things holy, get onto the same page in your parenting so you can present to your children as unified voice.
- Learn from other couples. Early in our marriage, Shauna and I would often talk afterwards about time we spent with other couples: Did you see the way he treated her? I can’t believe she said that. That would never fly with us. And look for couples who are nailing it. Go for coffee. Ask them for advice. And don’t give up! One woman once confided in Shauna and I, “When I’m with you guys, I’m always sad, because I’ll never have what you have.” Don’t ever say that. Early on in our marriage, when it wasn’t all that great, we saw a couple with a beautiful marriage and we said, “We want that. We’re going to build that.” And we did.
- The 75% rule. In any given conflict, no matter what your emotions are telling you, make the assumption that you are 75% of the problem, and therefore own 75% of the solution. It’s amazing how that moves your marriage forward.
- Faith focus. As you know, Shauna and I are believers in Jesus. That means he comes first. Our relationship with Jesus empowers us to build our relationship with each other. When our relationship with Jesus wanes, so does our connection with each other. Who Jesus is and what he accomplished for us is everything. He lived the perfect life we could never live, dying for our failures, rising for our new life, sending his Holy Spirit to live in us and be with us, and preparing heaven for us. Those truths inform and empower everything we do. And we pray together, for each other, and over each other. Regularly.
- Faithfulness. Remaining faithful to each other begins with little things that become big things. As pastor and author Andy Stanley says, many immoral choices are built on unwise choices. Shauna and I refuse to meet alone with the opposite sex, for example. Not because it’s wrong, but because it’s unwise. This principle is being criticized ruthlessly in our culture today, and I think, “Well fine, but I have a phenomenal marriage and I’m not risking that for the world.”
- Learn to truly see each other. Year seven wasn’t a good year for us. At all. During one particularly nasty argument while driving, I blurted out, “If you don’t _____ (I can’t even remember what it was), I’m going to jump out of this car!” (She was driving). She said, “Go for it.” I didn’t go for it. But one day, I asked Jesus, “Lord, please show me Shauna the way you see her.” He gave me a crystal clear picture of Shauna looking like she will in heaven—angelic, pure, breathtaking. He said, “That’s all in her right now. I want you to love her that way.” That picture changed everything. Like, on a dime. Pray that prayer!
- Switch out words. After this experience, I realized the word “love” had become empty and hollow for me. So for about a year, I didn’t say “I love you.” What I did say was, “I treasure you.” Because that’s what love means, what love does. Try it, it will show you how you’re falling short, and what love really is.
- Coming alongside. While he was on earth, Jesus promised he would send us the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter, our Counselor. That word means “One called alongside.” Why would Jesus say the Holy Spirit is called alongside us when he comes to live within us? Because he comes alongside us through people, and never more profoundly than through our marriage partners. So God is getting next to you through your partner, and vice versa. There are some things God can’t give them from the inside out. That’s where you come in!
- Honour each other. Shauna and I never humiliate each other in front of others. We always speak well of each other, always protect, always trust, always. I am her greatest fan, she is mine, and everyone knows it. I brag about her and build her up in front of others as often as I can.
- Use sex as a marriage meter. God gave us sex as a beautiful experience and bond to share as married couples meant to consummate spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical intimacy. Refuse to reduce sex to a physical transaction of pleasure. Insist that your sexual intimacy flourishes as a reflection of your connection. What that means is, don’t use sex to fix your intimacy. Use it to express your intimacy. If you’d like to have sex but sense distance between you, fix that first, so that your sexual pleasure is mutual.
- Give your marriage to a mission. Your relationship (and your family, if you have kids) is not just for you. It’s a sublime picture of God’s relationship with humanity. Spend time serving God together. Give to your local church and to charities. Open up your home and table to invest in friendships and reach out to the lonely. If you have kids, show them your family exists for God’s larger story, not just your little, insulated corner of reality.
- Disagree with the enemy. Regardless of what you may or may not believe, the devil is real and he whispers lies as a way of life—lies designed to undermine your marriage: She’s always doing that. He never looks after my needs. I’m all alone again. He’s doing it to annoy me. See? She doesn’t care. If he loved you he’d change his mind. Do. Not. Listen. To. The Devil. Don’t agree with him, even when he seems to have a point—because nestled within every half-truth is a full lie designed to drive wedge between you. A better question: “Jesus, what would you like me to know right now?”
- Enjoy things outside your marriage. Shauna and I don’t share a lot of hobbies in common. That’s not just okay, it’s important. When we enjoy friendships and activities outside our marriage (within reason), we bring a refreshed perspective to our relationship.
- Talk to each other. No really. Not just “How did you sleep?” or “How was your day?” Those are daily questions for us, but a better one might be, “How’s your heart doing?” From there, talk about your fears. Your dreams. What you’re struggling with. What God is teaching you.
- Ask for feedback. This can be scary, but if you’ve grown the kind of relationship where you can talk about anything, this shouldn’t be a big stretch. “How can I be a better husband?” “How can I support you better?” “What do you need more of from me?” And if your partner asks you, don’t you dare just say, “Nothing. I’m good.” Why? Because…
- It can always get better. Never stop growing, improving, deepening your connection.
- BONUS: Break the routine. Buy her a crazy gift out of the blue. Whisk him away on an impromptu date. Try a different card game. Keep it fresh!