From the moment I first locked eyes with my angel, her spunky beauty captured my imagination—and very soon afterward, my heart. Shauna was eighteen then, ready to take on the world. Me? I was a spit-shined and eager twenty-two. If you started counting days from our first conversation to the day I kissed my bride, you’d wind up with ten days shy of a year. What can I say? When you know, you know.

Shauna and I have been married eighteen and a half years. Today (and for many years now) we’ve enjoyed a rich, satisfying marriage. But it hasn’t always been this way, and the lessons learned while tripping our way up the trail are priceless. This week I’m going to share a few of those lessons and invite you to do the same. I’ll begin with a piece of advice handed to me eighteen years ago by a good friend who was newly married at the time. The simple fact that I remember this wisdom these many years later is proof that:

1. It stuck.

2. It was supposed to.

Here it is, in all its simple glory: “Always give each other the benefit of the doubt.”

Seriously, friends? This may just be the most practical relationship advice you’ll ever lay eyes on. Sure, you might stumble upon more poetic words, or latch onto a concept more inspiring. But more practical? Probably not. ‘Cause you know what?

– His clothes are strewn across the floor again, leaving his side of the bed looking like a battlefield where the fallen soldiers got raptured out of their uniforms.

– She’s stomping around the house. Her jaw is clenched.

– He hasn’t asked a single question about your day. And he just yawned while you talked about your coffee with your girlfriend.

– She’s backseat driving again.

– He sighed during an important conversation. What’s up with that?

– You’re out for a nice dinner, you bought her roses, and she says she’s lonely.

Life teaches us to cut to the chase, to draw conclusions and make decisions based on what we encounter. What we need to realize is, every conclusion is based on at least one assumption.

– Leaving his clothes out means he doesn’t respect me. What does he think, I’m the maid?

– Stomping again? What did I do?

– He hasn’t asked me a single question. He doesn’t even care about me!

– Mrs. backseat driver doesn’t think I can drive. What am I, twelve in her mind?

– He sighed. He might as well roll his eyes. I guess he thinks this is stupid.

– She’s lonely? I thought we were best friends.

Always give each other the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make assumptions. It means we should assume the best. Assume positive intent. Assume leaving clothes out means I’m a beatnik, not disrespectful. Assume the stomping is there for good reason. Assume he hasn’t asked a question because he’s going through something or just plain tired. Assume she means “lonely outside our marriage,” not “You don’t do it for me.”

What do you think? What are some of your marriage lessons worth sharing?