Marriage Secrets (from Two Happily Married Social Workers)
I was sharing with a friend about the marriage workbook my husband and I are writing, and she asked me, “As social workers, do you ever have dark times?” It gave me pause. We often share healthy ways to improve your marriage with others, but what tools do we actually use the most?

Because let’s be honest; we have to use tools to keep our marriage strong. We have both been social workers for almost 11 years, and although we have the knowledge of what makes a marriage successful, we are still human beings, flawed and complicated. We have two younger children, we both work, we serve at our church and we have hobbies, interests, friends. Life gets busy. We get tense. We snap. We *gasp* bicker and argue sometimes, but…

I still think I’m the luckiest girl in the world to wake up each day next to my husband. We have a strong marriage that grows each year. So how do we do it? Here’s a few secrets:

1.       We let go of the past. This is such a difficult one to do. In marriage counseling, couples will spend session after session listing all of the pain, hurts and past injustices their partner has done over the years. While there is some value in processing past issues and/or patterns, to continue to move forward in a marriage, you have to learn to let things go!  This is an easier said than done tip, but it is possible.

I met my husband at 18. I cringe at how immature we were, the decisions we made, the silly arguments we had. 17 years later, I am such a different person and he is too. So bringing up things he did in the past is like holding a grudge against your high school friends or that ex-boyfriend you dated for a month in college!

Imagine if every time you interviewed for a job, they grilled you about your first employment experience. At 17 or 18, were you a great worker? Did you do everything perfectly? Probably not and wouldn’t you be frustrated if the employer kept grilling you about that? You’d want to shout: “But I’ve learned so much, at 35 I’m a consistent solid worker with a lot of experience, why are you focused on when I was 17?”

In marriage, we are the same way. No one wants their silly/stupid mistakes held over their heads for a decade or longer, yet many couples do just that! Whenever I feel a twinge of hurt over a past argument, I let it go. If I don’t want my mistakes constantly brought up, I need to extend that same grace to my husband.

2.    We reinvent fun. This is crucial. Stagnation can erode a marriage. Unhappy couples often report they’ve been doing the same things for years. They go to the same restaurant, they live in the same house, they have the same date night (watch Netflix, half-hearted sex, then bed). We've learned that you have to reinvent fun to keep your marriage fresh.

Over the years, we’ve tried new things together. The purpose of this is two-fold. It keeps our lives interesting and it gives us things to talk about. One summer we took up tennis (I was terrible, my husband was not). I had been running for several years, but when my husband started, we trained for races together and talked about the newest running shoes or training methods. We had a year where we learned to make Indian food. We’ve eaten Paleo together. We try new restaurants. We recently started training for a sprint triathlon.

Talking about the same things year after year becomes boring, and when couples are bored, it’s amazing how quickly that interesting new coworker or neighbor seems far more exciting than your spouse! You have to keep your marriage and time together fun, new and fresh.

3.      We embrace the power of grace. I cannot tell you how important this is. I’ve written about grace before and the impact it has on a marriage. The Bible is so clear about the dangers of “scorekeeping” and unforgiveness, yet so many couples get hung up on picking at every little thing their spouse does.

After almost 17 years together, there are things my husband does that drives me nuts and frankly, despite many discussions, he still does some of them (mostly because they are habitual and tough to change). So instead of picking endlessly, I’ve learned to laugh and remember that I do things that drive him nuts.

At the end of the day, I have two choices. I can go to bed, detailing in my head all the things he’s done wrong (“I can’t believe he left the breakfast food all over the counter, he didn’t call me when he said he was going to, and he didn’t sign the kids’ homework again”) or I can think about the good things he did (“I’m grateful he made breakfast for us, I’m glad he’s busy and thriving at work, he didn’t sign their homework, but he made their lunches for tomorrow”). After years together, perspective and self-talk are more important in keeping our marriage vibrant than any flowers or romantic gestures.

So have we had dark times? Yes! There were two periods where our marriage was kind of a mess, but we persevered. We surrounded ourselves with people who loved and encouraged us. We depend daily on God’s grace and focus on Bible verses that are helpful (we love Philippians 4:8). We serve together, laugh together, run together. After almost 15 years, our marriage still grows stronger each year. It’s not perfect, but it is full of respect, love and hope.

These are only a few tools we use, but they are some of the most important. The communication or compromise techniques are helpful, but without grace, fun and letting go of the past, they will only go so far. It can be difficult to be gracious or find time for new hobbies, but it’s crucial to a healthy marriage. It’s how these two flawed, silly social workers have stayed strong for so long.

If you are interested in our upcoming marriage workbook, coming out in Spring 2019, you can subscribe to our mailing list for updates!

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