Today, my wife and I celebrate 17 years of being married. As with any marriage, there have been a few rough days -- but I’m blessed to say far more good and great days have marked our 6,208 days of marriage. So how do you make more good days than bad in a marriage? As I’ve thought about it, there are many reasons, and no easy formula. Obviously, if marriage was easy, 50% of them wouldn’t be ending in heart-breaking divorce. But like all our relationships, there are choices we make along the way that direct the outcome of our marriages. Choices to serve when you don’t “feel like it”. Choices to love someone who is unlovely. Choices to grow through our own past garbage, and choices to surrender our selfish desires in order to honor and love someone else.
So as I’ve reflected on my amazing wife and how we’ve thrived (not just survived!) in marriage the past 17 years, here are 17 reasons that our marriage has been great. I hope this will encourage you in your marriage, too (in no particular order!):
- Keep growing yourself: It’s so much more fun to point out your spouse’s faults than it is to identify yours and do something about them. Traci and I both strive to focus on each others’ strengths (not flaws!) while doing what it takes to grow in our own areas of needed growth. That’s why we’ve attended seminars together and separately, why we’ve attended counseling, worked with life coaches, read certain kinds of books etc… When we each grow personally, our marriage gets better.
- Create great memories: Traci and I work hard to create great memories for our marriage (and for our kids!). We have to think through different ways to experience this amazing world. Sometimes that means saving a few bucks here and there, sometimes it means not spending a dime -- either way, you can create great memories with just a little thought.
- Make God the most important person in your life: As a pastor I did a lot of marriage and pre-marriage counseling. In every instance I would remind couples of the same truth: The most important person in your life isn’t your spouse (or future spouse). The best marriages aren’t with the people who love each other the most, but instead, the best marriages belong to the couples who love God first, and then each other. When God is our number one, it’s possible to love others the way He loves us. When we try to love our spouse more than we love God, both our marriage and our Overboard Life gets out of whack. Keep God number one, and your marriage will be better! Jesus Himself said the most important law was to Love God with everything you’ve got…and the second most important law was to love others the same way. God first. Then others -- even your spouse.
- Laugh frequently: My wife and I experience a lot of laughter. We love to watch funny movies, funny plays and try hard to seek joy in the life that’s happening all around us! We give our kids freedom to be funny, and more-often-than-not, we laugh at spilled milk rather than get angry when the glass tips over. I’m confident my wife would tell you that joy has been a core value in our marriage.
- Give the grace you want to receive: All of us want grace given to us when we mess up, but most of us want “justice” when we’ve been wronged. I’ve counseled too many couples that were holding each other hostage with every word and every mistake in their marriage. God is an amazing grace-giver (see also: #3) and He expects us to do the same. Your marriage will be stronger when you offer your spouse the same grace you want them to offer you. Keep your list of wrongs short. Think of grace like many people do voting: give it early, give it often.
- Take chances together: Traci and I have rolled the dice a few times, but we have chosen to take those risks together. A few have turned out well (her Usana business, my publishing company), a few not-so-much (I know The 10-Day Journey can still work!!!). In her awesome blog, my wife loves to say that she hopes her life is a like a roller coaster. It has ups and downs, but when it’s all done, you’re laughing with your hands in the air, your hair is wind-blown and wild, and you can’t wait to do it again. Taking (reasonable) chances together has created some of the best memories (see also #2) we’ve made together.
- Share in your spouses dreams: Like taking chances, sharing in your spouse’s dreams is a huge way to draw closer together. It’s not that we always have the same dreams and goals together, it’s just that we are participating in one another’s passions. My wife will tell you her Usana business wouldn’t be where it is without me, but I don’t do many presentations with her, I don’t help recruit passionate entrepreneurs who want to change their income and their health and I don’t make her weekly business calls with her. I do listen when she talks. I help brainstorm. I watch kids while she’s gone. I encourage her to attend seminars and conferences even when that means I play Mr. Mom for a week. I help her with social media and tech. As she dreams about the future of her business, I’m her biggest fan! And believe me, the same is true for me and my dreams when it comes to her -- she is my biggest fan!
- Date EVERY week: Some of you who have heard us talk on this topic knew this one was coming! I am convinced that over the past 7 or 8 years, dating has become one of the most important parts of our marriage success. We date every week. When the kids were younger, often any extra money we had went to a baby sitter, so our date was walking around the mall with the elderly people who were out getting exercise. We had some great dates like that. Other times it has been a movie or dinner or hiking or bowling or working out or watching a play or learning a new game or watching a sunset or driving to a light house or…. be creative, and be committed. Date your spouse every single week!
- Get-a-way alone several times a year: Once a quarter, Traci and I take off for at least one night away and ditch the kids. When we lived near family, sometimes we’d have family take the kids for a night and we’d just stay home. Either way, we made it work so that we had a night without the kids. For the past 7 years, we’ve actually taken 1 week away without the kids, too. When I suggest that to many couples, they roll their eyes and say, “that’s impossible” or “our lives our too busy” or “our kids would never make it…” blah blah blah. We thought the same things when we first decided to make this an annual part of our marriage maintenance. We found out three crucial truths that proved us wrong:
- Our kids actually enjoyed the week away, and looked forward to spending time with friends and cousins.
- Our lives were too busy to not get away. The busyness of life makes our week away even more important!
- It was hard work on both ends of the trip, but not only is it possible, it has become the highlight of each year
- Surprise your spouse regularly: Everyone loves surprises -- including your spouse. Surprise him with a romantic night at home. Surprise her with flowers. Shock him with tickets to the game. Watch her light up when you hand her a 4-hour spa get-a-way. Break up the routine with a surprise that’s sure to make their day.
- Let your pastor speak into your life: If you’re following through with #3, then this one will be much easier. Make sure your pastor has insights into your marriage and that you trust him for advice. It’s not that pastors are perfect, but often the insight he can give can stop a small irritation from becoming a marriage ending problem! Over 17 years of pastoral ministry has allowed me to see that some of the strongest marriages I saw were owned by people who listened to their pastors, and came to them for advice. Hebrews 13 offers strong words about protecting your marriage and listening to your pastors…not too surprising that both of these are in the same chapter.
- Write mushy letters, notes, emails and texts: Maybe you’re not a “writer” or you don’t like that “mushy” stuff. Whatever. Your letters aren’t being published, it’s an expression of your love for your spouse. And believe me, everyone loves to loved on. Be mushy. Say cheesy stuff. Share your heart. Send that suggestive pic in a text. Make your spouse blush in a board meeting when they glance at their phone. Create desire. Make her smile. Build him up. Use your words to convey your love and do this frequently!
- Take divorce off the table, now: After Traci and I had watched a couple of our friends choose to end their marriage in divorce, we made a commitment to take divorce off the table. It’s not an option for us. We have pledged to each other, and to our kids, that no matter what, we are going to make this marriage work. That means when problems arise, our solution is to find a solution, because dissolution of our marriage vows is not one of the options.
- Share adventures: Kind of like #6, adventures are opportunities to create memories (see #2) with your spouse. Tackle a challenge together (run a race, climb a mountain, swim across the Pacific Ocean…ok, that might be a little tough) so that you have to encourage and strengthen one another along the way. Lose weight together, work out side by side, start a business, start a ministry -- share in some mutual adventures and enjoy the richness of shared experiences.
- Develop healthy “other interests”: We all have other interests that our spouses don’t share. Make sure you other interests don’t pull you away from your spouse. I enjoy golf, playing basketball, watching baseball, reading and playing board games. My wife likes crocheting, reading, working out and shopping. When we each enjoy those other interests with healthy boundaries and in moderation, we don’t drive any wedges into our marriage or create time tensions that can be the source of arguments, fights and bitterness. When our other interests are disproportionately too big, our marriage suffers.
- Sacrifice self: You can’t really love some one fully, until you’re willing to surrender your own interests, first. In Philippians 2, the Bible describes Jesus’ love for us by pointing out that He was willing to put His own desires and interests second, to the Father’s. Then Paul urges us to live the same way and when you and I live like that in our marriages, a deeper love will flow than we knew was possible!
- Don’t be afraid/ashamed to ask for help: On more than occasion we’ve asked others for help in our marriage. We’ve gone to our pastor, a doctor, a life coach, trusted (godly!) friends and even our parents. We’ve participated in counseling, paid for marriage seminars and attended couples’ retreats. Marriage isn’t easy, and when you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
I’m so blessed with an awesome wife, and an amazing 17 year journey we’ve been on together. Not a perfect journey, but one I wouldn’t give up for anything. I don’t know what the future holds, but I can’t wait to see what God will do with us, and through us, as we seek to keep our marriage Overboard for Him!
Go ahead and take the plunge -- your marriage will be better on the water!