I certainly don’t write this from the perspective of someone who has marriage figured out. My wife and I have had our share of issues and disagreements. But we have figured out a number of things that work well for us, and some of them are general enough that I suspect they’d work well for others too. So, in mostly no particular order, here are ten things that my wife and I have struggled to learn and strive to live out:
She works too – The first thing I often want to do when I walk in the door is get out of uniform and relax. I just want to sit down and enjoy some peace and quiet… after all, I’ve earned, it, right? I’ve had a hard day at the office, getting things done and dealing with all the various forms of stupidity that the military has to offer. But I’m not the only one who has had a long day. Admittedly, my situation may be different from most; we have a daughter and three loud boys, and my wife home-schools our four children. She puts up with so very much! People often ask, “Does your spouse work?” as though the only real “work” is a job outside taking care of the home. Don’t dismiss what your spouse contributes, and consider what your spouse deals with every day, whether they work in or out of the home. She’s going to need time to decompress, time for peace and quiet, time to relax, just like you. Respect her needs.
Friends, not roommates – Think back to your wedding day, to those dates where you were first getting to know this wonderful woman who became your spouse. What she said mattered; what interested her was important; you wanted to get to know her. At least, I hope that was your experience! Now that you have come to know her, that relationship shouldn’t end. This isn’t a task we check off as “completed” on a to-do list. Don’t allow the woman of your dreams to become that person who shares a house with you. The routines and the stresses of life will make it very easy to fall into a rut, where you both take care of your responsibilities but never interact with each other in a meaningful way. If you find yourself treating your spouse like (or worse than) you would treat a co-worker, a business associate, or a roommate, then take a step back and remember her as the love of your life.
Family is your hobby – We all have interests and hobbies to occupy our time, but don’t let that become your second job or your “other woman.” It’s not pleasant to be confronted when your personal interests are overpowering the needs of your family, trust me. My wife once held all my video games for ransom. I was livid, but she was right; I deserved it. Be willing to evaluate yourself, looking to see if your pursuit of your hobby “in moderation” is really a consuming passion that detracts from the needs of your wife and children. Whether it’s your car, your golf game, your football team, or your WoW account, understand that hobbies can be addicting. If you feel like you “just HAVE to…” then check your priorities. My hobby will be there waiting long after my children have grown up. But my children can’t stop growing so I can waste my time on a hobby now. One ideal solution is to see if your family can get involved in your hobby somehow. My children love to help me cook. My wife (after many years) now enjoys (a select few) video games. We can’t always get together with other adults for game nights, but we play as a family, and we grow closer as a result.
Individual time – After suggesting that too much time spent on a hobby can be detrimental, it’s strange to suggest the opposite. But I believe it with all my heart. My wife respects that sometimes I need time by myself, and I understand she needs the same. Within reason, I do want time to enjoy my personal interests. That relieves stress and helps clear the mind. It makes me more stable emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I can often use that quiet time by myself to figure out some of what’s been on my mind. Or perhaps I just need a moment where I don’t need to think or worry about what the kids are doing or wonder if all the responsibilities are taken care of. Just remember… she needs that too.
Praise and compliment – The old joke is that the typical woman says, “You never tell me that you love me,” and the man replies, “I told you that 13 years ago! What?” The fact is, in marriage, no news is definitely not good news. Just like I prefer frequent feedback or at least a pat on the back now and then at work to confirm I’m doing my job and meeting or exceeding expectations, my wife needs to know that she’s still everything I want, need, and hope for. She needs to know that I still find her beautiful, and not just in some “oh yeah, you’re pretty” thoughtless way. She needs to know that I love the sparkle in her eyes or the brightness and warmth of her smile. She needs to hear –often—that I am grateful for what she’s doing. Be specific in praise and generous with compliments, because the rest of the world rarely is. It will be fresh rain to a flower in a parched land.
Leave work at work – Your family needs you, not your burdens. They need a husband or father, not an office chief or program manager. It’s not always possible to just ignore responsibilities at work, and some days the family has to take a back seat to getting the mission or the task done. Those days should be the minority, not the norm. My kids don’t really care how many forms I processed or how many officers I briefed. They just want Dad. My wife doesn’t center her day around how well I performed in the last inspection, or what the Commander thinks about the spreadsheet I designed. But her day does focus on spending time with the man she loves. Do not pass that up. The military will get its time out of you, don’t worry. But whether your time in service will be three years or thirty, at the end, you will be promoted to Mister. I want my wife and children to be there and to be proud when that day comes.
Communicate – Even though you leave work at work as much as possible, keep your spouse and kids in the loop on what’s going on. Whether it’s a little thing (calling home because you’re trying to finish typing up this article, so you’re running later than normal—oops, sorry honey) or a big thing, you two are meant to function as a team, and that requires some communication. If your wife is your best friend, she’s going to want to know what is going on in your world, how your day went, what great things you did, what troubles are on your mind, and so on. If there’s something coming up that might affect her, don’t keep her in the dark. The more time she has to prepare, the better. No one likes getting told at the last minute about bad news. And remember, communication is a two-way activity. If you are a father, your wife has possibly spent significant portions of the day dealing with children; she might be eager to have an adult conversation for a change.
Integrity – The most frightening thing in my wife’s mind is a lack of security, and I know she is not alone among women in that regard. You are your wife’s close friend, confidante, and lover. You know her on a level few if any others do. She has made herself vulnerable to bring you into her life because somewhere along the way you earned her trust. Do not abuse that trust or take it lightly. When you make a commitment, to her or to others, you are showing her that her trust in you is well-founded. This is true of the “big” things, but it’s especially true of the little things you’d think wouldn’t matter at all. (You may have noticed women seem to pick up on these things much differently than men.) The reason is, it’s the little broken commitments along the way which lead to bigger and bigger problems; starting out with dramatic breaches of trust is rare. The “insignificant” decisions you make are the most important, because they speak to a pattern of character, and your integrity of character is what gives her that vital security she needs.
Fight about the issue – One thing my wife and I learned very quickly (whether by good advice or by good fortune, I can’t say) is that if you must fight, only fight about the issue at hand. Do not let anger or resentment fester; do not let walls build up over days, weeks, months, and years of disagreement or hurt. You have a choice at every step of the disagreement for how you will act. My wife and I were arguing, practically screaming at each other, storming back and forth through the hallway, into the living room, into the kitchen, just letting each other have it. We were sticking it to each other as well. Where there is intimacy, there is vulnerability; we knew just what to say to really jab at each other, and we weren’t pulling verbal punches. I let loose some mean-spirited comment, and suddenly, instead of firing back, my wife replied, with absolute sincerity and the same emotional force as the hurtful words we’d been throwing back and forth, “I love you.” Everything froze, and the all the stupid argument was defused in a split second. She didn’t lose, I didn’t win, we didn’t resolve everything in that moment. But we did immediately refocus and come together as a team facing a circumstance instead of as enemies facing each other. For the life of me, I could not say what we were fighting about. But I can say with complete certainty that her response will stick with me for the rest of my life. Work as a team, and if you must, then disagree with each other about the issue at hand. You’re on the same side.
This will pass – Above all, remember, all the things you’re facing are temporary problems. A while back, a work situation was frustrating me so much that I could not get it out of my mind. I could not think of anything but the problem and consequences I expected. I was adding stress to my wife as a result. One day, I was riding to work, and I realized I was looking out at a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful sunny day, something I was missing out on because I was so frustrated. As I looked out at the waves on the horizon, I knew that a week later, this situation would be resolved and forgotten, and I’d be focused on whatever the newest issue would be. The struggles and frustrations we deal with are, far more often than not, a short-term matter, whether it’s a situation at work or at home within our marriage. Don’t let these concerns dominate your every waking moment; next week you probably won’t even remember it, and you risk missing out on so much along the way. Enjoy the journey down this precious road, for better or for worse, with all its potholes and panoramic vistas.
But most of all, enjoy the company.