Updated: Jul 9, 2022
JEN MAKIN, CMHC
Marriage can be one of life’s greatest joys, but it can also, at times, bring a tremendous amount of heartache. I have heard the saying, “If it hurts you, let it go.” And many people do let their marriages go, either through divorce or simply not caring for it anymore.
Marriage maintenance is a real principle. Day to day, I see couples working hard in every area of their life, except for their marriage. And this can be a slippery slope.
May I suggest one simple way to keep your marriage well fed? And it’s so simple you can start today.
KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES
Emotional safety within a marriage is just as important as physical, sexual and spiritual safety. Kind words can be so powerful to a marriage. However, kind words are not enough. Knowing your boundaries matters. Understanding that it’s healthy to have expecations within the marriage is key. Sometimes I hear individuals say that they don’t want their spouse to think they are “mean.” This can oftentimes create an opportunity for manipulation because the spouse with the fear of coming off as mean may be saying yes when they mean no. They may be sacrificing too much and ignoring their own boundaries because they don’t want to appear mean.
Marriage at first is blissful. Engagement is exciting and the marriage is sweaty pits and smiles, but hopefully a magical day. Then reality sets in and its sweaty socks and groans. When the relationship was new and fresh, the couple looked into one another’s eyes and could only see the good. Now, reality is setting in and that’s when foundational work happens.
If the foundation isn’t created on solid boundaries, something happens gradually. The couple begins to only see one another’s flaws. Day to day life sets in and that’s when things get messy. The picking and complaining starts. Phrases like “You never..” or “Before we were married you always..” tend to slip into daily vernacular.
If this is occurring in your marriage I challenge you to stop today. Instead, replace it with a new vocabulary. A great skill for this can be found in another post about shame. Instead of seeing what’s (s)he’s not doing correctly, notice what they are healthily.
They missed taking out the trash because they were running out the door in a hurry to make it to work on time: “Babe, thank you so much for always making it to work on time. I appreciate how seriously you take providing for the family. I noticed that you missed the trash but I handled it for you today.”
She jumped out of the shower and left her towel on the closet floor. Again. Instinct kicks in and you feel justified to scold her like a child. Instead try: “Honey I really appreciate how you take care of yourself and shower every day. It means so much that you value your hygiene. I find you very attractive. And don’t worry, I grabbed your towel off the floor so we didn’t have to wash it again.”
Sure, you’re still frustrated that the trash didn’t go out and they left their towel on the floor. But starting in on them is not productive and may just put them on the defense. In marriage, running offense and defense is never healthy. You are a team.
Quietly serve your spouse by doing those things for them at first.
Yes, you gave feedback that was necessary, but you did it in a way that wasn’t demanding, demeaning or harmful. You quietly served your spouse then took an opportunity to ask for what you need. The hope is that it is received well, “Shoot! Your right babe. I’ll be more aware of that.”
Your spouse will hopefully appreciate you being kind and loving while giving feedback. If they attack you, other trouble may be brewing. When you’re consistently kind and loving, your marriage can grow. With that strong foundation, you can climb any mountain and navigate every trail. You have open, loving and meaningful conversation.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
No marriage is perfect. How boring would that be anyway. Plastic makes me yawn. I want healthy. And healthy can be messy and sloppy. Healthy takes accountability and manages their own emotions without the intention of managing their spouses too.
Having a marriage with momentum and longevity these days is rare. Cherish your marriage and know your boundaries. If you don’t know what this means, talk to a therapist, join a support group or ask a trusted loved one. Sometimes when we are in a toxic marriage, we normalize behaviors and think that our over sacrificing and boundary betrayal is normal. Speak up and then listen up.