My lovely wife and I will be celebrating 30 years of marriage this week.
We’ve had a fantastic journey, with our share of ups and downs, plenty of romance mixed in with rocky times, lots of joy, and a few painful challenges, but all in all we are delighted with the life we’ve shared together so far.
We are continually amazed at how each year finds us closer and more in love than the year before, and although it is hard to imagine, we both feel that the best years of our marriage are yet to come. That’s how I think it should be.
Sadly, I often see marriage portrayed as all downhill after the honeymoon. I hate to hear couples reminisce about the early years of young love, mourning as if the best days are over and gone. I was further disturbed by several articles I read recently that suggest the seven-year itch has now become the three-year itch.
So is less sex, more fights, poorer communication, and drifting apart really the inevitable? With a nod to the movie Date Night, is it really just a matter of time before couples settle for becoming just “excellent roommates”?
I say no!
Whether you have been together six months or six decades, it is possible to see your future as one filled with excitement, passion, and great potential. I would like to share with you a few key principles that my wife and I have discovered as we have endeavored to keep our relationship vibrant and fresh over the past 30 years.
1. Look at Your Past Thankfully
Stay in awe of your spouse, the love you share, and the life you have built together through good times and tough times. Remain thankful for who your spouse is, and remind yourself of the reasons you were drawn to him or her in the first place. Gratitude keeps you focused on what is good in your relationship and helps keep resentment from building up.
Thankfulness is a habit that has to be cultivated rather purposefully. It is pretty easy to find problems to complain about, to fixate on missing components of your marriage, or dwell on your frustrations. However, you can totally shift the atmosphere between you by keeping your mind on the positive and by daily telling your spouse something you are thankful for about your relationship.
2. Look at Your Future Expectantly
It is great to fondly reflect on the good times of your past, but it’s not healthy to fixate on some idealized notion that things would be better if you could somehow go back to how it used to be. Instead, choose to believe that the best is always ahead of you. Whether you have been through rough patches or have sailed through blissfully, expect your future to beat anything you have had before.
It really is possible for you to have more passion, deeper intimacy, new levels of trust, and an infinite variety of untried adventures ahead of you. Just decide to go for it, and then relentlessly pursue each other for life.
3. Look at Your Spouse Selflessly
If you have a habit of holding your spouse responsible for your happiness, you definitely need to learn to take that responsibility upon yourself. However, remember that if you view your marriage as being mostly about your rights and what you get out of the bargain, in the long run you are going to end up bitter and disappointed.
On the other hand, if you see your marriage primarily as an opportunity to selflessly love and generously serve your wife or husband to the best of your ability, you will the reap long-lasting benefit of a strong and close relationship.
Don’t buy the lie that a 50/50 marriage is ideal. Instead, go for 100/100, where each of you holds nothing back and gives all you have to the other.
4. Look at Your Self Realistically
It pays to have a sober view of your self, being neither overly harsh nor blind to areas you need to work on. Dr. David Schnarch, a clinical psychologist and author of Passionate Marriage, describes marriage as the ultimate people-growing machine. I agree. Every healthy relationship grows and changes over time, and if you want your marriage to stay strong, you have to be willing to grow and change along the way too.
For the most part we don’t like change, but realize that you are a work in progress, as is your marriage. You are not yet fully all you can be, and neither is your relationship. Regardless of how great it has been, there is always more, but achieving more may require you to change and grow. You can remain pliable and teachable without losing who you are.
5. Look at Your Relationship Frequently
Watchfulness keeps you from becoming excellent roommates. It requires you to keep your eyes and your heart wide awake to all that is going on in and around you. Consistently ask questions like “how are we doing?” and “is there something more you need from me?”
Being watchful means keeping yourself and your marriage off of autopilot. Guard your thoughts about your spouse—cultivate thankfulness and fight against selfish thoughts. Work to eliminate emotional reactivity, and cultivate positive emotions like love and compassion. Stay attuned to your sexual relationship, fueling the fires of your desire and passion. Realize that what is or is not happening in the bedroom often mirrors the rest of your relationship. Make sure your spiritual relationship stays strong.
6. Look Up Continually
This is the last of the six principles, but for my wife and me it is also the most important. We are made up of body, soul, and spirit, and we are careful to keep the spiritual component of our marriage front and center, which means we keep the future of our marriage in God’s (or however you describe your personal spiritual beliefs) hands.
Whether you know him personally or not, God is for your marriage. He wants you to succeed. It is his desire that your relationship stay strong and endure long, and not just because you both made a lifelong covenant before him, but also because he wants your marriage to be a source of joy and strength, passion, and love.
Keep your eyes focused on him, trust in his plans for the future of your marriage, and believe that he has great things in store for you.
As you observe your marriage from these six viewpoints and refuse to accept the inevitability of marital decline, you will be able to declare, with confidence, that your best years as a couple are still in front of you. As we celebrate 30 years this week, my wife and I will be doing just that.