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Five Tips for a Long, Strong Marriage

Five Tips for a Long, Strong MarriageOn February 28, I will have been married for 18 years to a man who can still make my heart flutter when I look at him. (Except when he leaves his dishes on the couch.) Approaching our 20-year anniversary has made me think about the lessons we’ve learned over the years about marriage. Our relationship isn’t perfect, of course; we’ve even needed counseling a few times to help us navigate difficult issues. But we’ve held onto each other for nearly two decades, through suffering and struggle, so I humbly share our hard-won wisdom for a lasting, edifying, and satisfying marriage. 

  1. Accept that your mission in marriage isn’t to always be happy, but to become HOLY and help each other get to heaven. My husband and I converted together three years into our marriage. We have always been very compatible and our first years together sans children were a lot of fun. But in RCIA, our first priest emphasized that marriage is a partnership designed to help us become the best versions of ourselves. And that more than anything, we’re to help each other get to heaven. This challenged us to hold each other accountable, to encourage each other spiritually, and to see our union as something bigger than our individual selves. This mindset has also helped us weather those “for worse” times, because it framed them as periods of training in forgiveness and virtue, instead of proof that our relationship was failing. 
  2. Get on the same page financially. Almost every couple I know has struggled with differing habits and expectations about finances, including us. My husband grew up in a wealthy family; I grew up impoverished. To say we had different approaches to money would be an understatement. In past generations, frugality and budgeting were passed on to children from parents who understood the value of “home economics.” If you weren’t taught how to be a good steward of your money, learn how BEFORE you get married, and save yourself the wrangling with your spouse over it. For us, Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover was a godsend, but Crown Financial Ministries has a good program, too.
  3. Five Tips for a Long, Strong MarriageMake sex a priority and get counseling if it isn’t. Sex is important because it’s how we renew the marriage covenant; it’s a source of great graces for a couple. Sadly, my sexual hangups often caused me to increasingly avoid intimacy, which sent the message to my husband that I didn’t value being with him. I allowed fear–of being used, being rejected, not looking perfect–to keep me from getting closer to him. My fear of being vulnerable became glaring during an especially rough patch and it wasn’t until I worked through my issues in counseling that I learned to treasure the gift of sex. Beyond grace, sex has a subtle but important effect: It helps you don those “rose-colored glasses” that keep the daily, minor irritations of living together from becoming major annoyances that drive you apart. This is one reason premarital sex is dangerous–those “sexy” glasses make the person seem so wonderful that we’re willing to overlook warnings the person isn’t right for us. 
  4. Keep the marriage relationship a priority, even over the kids. A few years ago, an insurance company surveyed 1,000 couples about their communication. The results were shocking: excluding time asleep, couples now average less than four hours together each week, an hour of which is spent in silence in front TV and 40 minutes doing chores together. Nearly 30 percent said they don’t actually talk until the weekend and one in 10 only talk via phone or by email! Thirteen percent even admitted to using Facebook to learn about their spouse’s life. Maybe you think this won’t happen to you, but even the most in-love, committed couples can fall into the trap of being “too tired” from childrearing or “too busy” with work to nurture the marriage. (Ask me how I know this.) Remember: God made marriage the sacrament, not raising kids. You’re not just roommates; you’re lovers, so act like it. And ladies, don’t always expect him to initiate time together, either. Plan a date night every single week and carve it in stone on your calendar; surely, if dental appointments get a time slot, your marriage should. Just as importantly, plan time together at the end of each day. Go to bed 20 minutes early and just lay there holding hands and talk. Trust me on this. 
  5. Five Tips for a Long, Strong MarriageAgree to trust each other’s judgment when it comes to mental illness or needing outside help. Both my husband and I have periodically suffered from depression and anxiety that necessitated medication and/or counseling. We also needed counseling to help us cope with his PTSD. (See, I told you we weren’t perfect.) Most couples wait until they’re on the brink of divorce before they even consider seeking treatment for problems and then, it’s common for one spouse to refuse outside help. The truth is, it’s hard to think clearly when you’re anxious or depressed. And prolonged strife and emotional estrangement can overwhelm you with fear, anger, and hopelessness. My husband and I have been able to repair our relationship before it’s irrevocably damaged because we’ve agreed to trust each the other when one of us says to the other, “I think you’re depressed and may need medication/counseling” or “I think we need a counselor to help us reconnect and better support each other.” You can’t know what life may bring, so agree ahead of time to use whatever tools are necessary to preserve and heal your marriage–even counseling. 

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

BOOK: THE CATHOLIC GUIDE TO DEPRESSION by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty

REVIEW OF THE CATHOLIC GUIDE TO DEPRESSION

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About Misty

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 13 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 20 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her five children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.