This week marks 19 blissful years of being married to Ben!
A young couple recently asked for our best advice on how to have a good relationship. I guess I choked under pressure, because this is the answer I gave: “Being married to Ben is just really easy! I don’t have any advice.”They seemed disappointed with that answer, with good reason. That answer is helpful for exactly…no one.It’s haunted me ever since!! I’ve wanted another chance to do better, and I’ve thought about what answer I would give, if I could do it over.It is easy to be married to Ben – he’s super easygoing, very patient and kind, and the most selfless person I know. He’s tons of fun to be with, and makes me laugh all the time.Our marriage isn’t always perfect, but we’re very compatible, and that helps! Maybe my marriage advice is “Date very, very carefully!!”Beyond that, there are a few other things I would say, if I could have another chance to answer the question:
1) There is no other option.
Ben and I both committed to this relationship for life, so we will make it work. I think that changes everything about how a couple faces hard stuff. If you have to make it work, you will do everything in your power to do so. If there’s another option, it will affect whatever you do.
It’s like my planking challenge that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago – my muscle therapist once told me, “Never start planking until you’ve decided how long you’re going to go. You need to have that number in your mind before you even start.” Same with marriage! 😄
*I feel the need to acknowledge there are circumstances when this is not possible, and there are many, many stories out there full of pain and suffering. Obviously, life happens, and heartbreak doesn’t need judgement on top of it, so that is not my intention. Just wanting to promote an attitude of commitment, with a huge dose of love, grace, and empathy for those who didn’t get their happily ever after.
2) Pray together, even when you don’t feel like it.
When I was growing up, my parents prayed together every night. I always knew that if I went to their bedroom after they had gone to bed, I would find them reading the Bible together, and praying. There was nothing that made me feel as secure as knowing I would find them there together. I loved to crawl into bed between them and have them pray for me.
I thought all Christian couples did that, because it was so normal for me, so when Ben and I got married, that’s what we did. But over the years, I found out that my experience growing up had not been “normal” and I realized what a gift my parents gave to me with the example they set.
Ben and I have stuck with this, and it is such an important part of staying connected to each other, and to God.Sometimes, I do not want to do it. If I’ve had a really bad day, Ben has sometimes just prayed for me. But most of the time, we make it work. It’s difficult to pray together when we’re frustrated about something, so it means we have to work it out before we go to sleep.
It is not always easy, but it’s worth it.
3) Make time together that nothing else can interfere with.
This is easier now because Everett needs to be in bed by eight, so we have to be home a lot in the evenings, but it was harder before having kids. Life got so busy, we would go for long stretches of time without having an evening at home together.
But then I read a book about managing your home, and it included a chapter on scheduling. The author suggested that every couple or family needs at least two weeknights and one weekend night at home, in order to keep life balanced and under control. This may not work for everyone, but we started scheduling these times in. It was HARD, but we found that it made a huge difference for how connected we felt (especially for me, because my love language is quality time!).
But we also found that we had to keep it a secret from some people, because others wouldn’t always see it as “necessary”, and thought we should be meeting demands from other people instead of guarding our time so carefully. But we kept it a priority, and all these years later, we still keep an eye on the calendar, to set aside that time together.
Because our girls don’t go to bed at eight, we make sure to send quality time with them, and then they spend time in their rooms, reading and unwinding before bedtime, which allows Ben and me to have time together in the evening without it getting too late.This has worked very well for our family, and I would do it all over again. Guard your time, because no one else will do it for you!!
4) Honour each other with your words.
Ben and I try very hard not to say negative things about each other. We don’t make mean jokes, and we don’t use sarcasm. I can be critical about stuff in general if I’m not careful, but this one has always been a big deal to me in our relationship.
It probably stems from the example of my parents, as well as being in ministry for the first 10 years of our marriage. Setting a positive example in our relationship has always been a big deal, because other couples have done that for us. It’s not that we’re perfect, but it’s something we hold as important.
5) Work together.
One of my favourite things at Ben’s parents’ house is the way they make meals together. Ben’s dad especially loves to cook, but it’s always a joint effort, and I like watching them work together.
At our house, I usually do the cooking because Ben is working and I’m home all day, but if he’s around, he will always help get meals ready. When he notices that I’m getting overwhelmed by the mess in our house, he’ll round up the kids and be the energetic leader we need to get things cleaned up quickly.
It’s just more fun to work at things together.
6) Leave room for different ways of working through and expressing emotions.
This was my biggest lesson this last year. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that some people want to talk about their feelings, and others DO NOT. And that’s okay!I am a verbal processor. Sometimes I don’t even know exactly what I’m feeling until I’ve been able to talk about it. I feel so much better if I can get it all out, have a good cry, and clear my head.
Ben is the opposite. Most of the time, he does not want to talk about his feelings. He needs a chance to think through things before he’s ready to share anything. This is super hard for me, because I’ve always felt like I’m showing love and concern by asking him about how he’s doing. I actually feel cut off from him if he won’t tell me about how he’s feeling.
This last year especially, it became clear that we needed to get better at dealing with this difference in our relationship. Here are a few tips we figured out:
- Be honest. It is helpful for me when I ask Ben something and he says, “I will answer that question, but I don’t feel like talking about it right now.” I can’t read his mind, so I appreciate when he communicates clearly with me.
- Don’t take it personally. I’ve had to work hard at understanding that Ben is just different from me. He’s not trying to shut me out, he just needs time to be quiet with his feelings, as much as I need to talk mine out!!
- Be brief. Sometimes I’ve felt so worried about Ben, I’ve really wanted to know if he’s okay, and how I can pray for him. But I also want to respect his need for space. A compromise that’s helped is asking him to give me one sentence summing up how he’s doing, and then dropping the subject. It helps him to know we won’t dig into his feelings, but he can still honour my need to know where he’s at.
- Find other ways to show support. During rough times for Ben, I want him to feel like I care, but if I can’t show that by listening and talking through emotions, I try to look for other things he appreciates. I turn the lights on outside if he’s getting home after dark, just to make our home look more welcoming. I make sure his comfy sweat pants are clean and in the drawer so he can find them easily. I keep the container of homemade granola filled and ready for his favourite snack. Basically, I do anything I can think of to care for his physical needs, because I can’t do much to help with his mental or emotional needs.
These things have helped a lot, and I always appreciate when Ben talks about issues even when he doesn’t feel like it, because he’s also making an effort to adapt to my way of dealing with things.
That’s what I’ve learned after 19 years! A lot of this is wisdom we’ve learned from other couples we know, or from good books we’ve read, so I’m very thankful for the positive influences we’ve had throughout our marriage.
I’m also just really thankful for how fun it is to be married to Ben! We’ve had good, good years together. There have been some hard things to work through, like my health issues, miscarriages, infertility, and some tough transitions throughout the years. But when I look back, I’m really thankful for everything we’ve gone through together, and for all the lessons learned. We have a beautiful life together!