17 Hard-Won Marriage Tips
Last Saturday, Tyler and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary with very little fanfare. I cooked a steak dinner with sides from the farmer’s market, and the kids had Totino’s Party Pizzas (per their choice) and watched a movie. And then, Tyler and I finalized our budget for the month. Ah, love.
While I don’t like unsolicited advice, I do love a list. And with both marriage and parenting, the more practical, the better. I made a list of 17 Tips I’ve Learned in Marriage. Feel free to take any of these and stick them in your back pocket for later. And, of course, I want to hear your best marriage tips and tricks in the comments. Enjoy!
1. Be a pal.
Tyler and I use a lot of words to describe us, but the heart of our marriage is this: We’re pals. We like to hang out together. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We watch tv together, drink coffee in the mornings together, make each other laugh. You know, like that. Marrying my pal has been the best.
2. You’re both going to change. Leave room for each other to grow.
I’m thinking mostly about faith here. Faith has always been a deeply personal journey for me, and for Tyler as well. Since faith is a meandering road, I’ve learned to be okay when we find ourselves at different points on the path. Way back in premarital counseling, our counselor gave us permission to keep parts of our faith private. He helped us to understand that we may not experience God in the same way. He assured us that you can have a good marriage without being fully in step with each other in regards to your spiritual lives. While sharing my beliefs with Tyler is always a rewarding conversation, we each have our own, individual relationships with God, and those views have changed over time.
3. Learn to ask, “Have you talked to Kelly?
I mean, change the name for your spouse, but just hang with me. So, let’s set the scene; someone comes up to Tyler and says, “Hey, I heard that Kelly said such and such. Is that true?” Tyler says, “Have you talked to Kelly?” Or, someone else comes up and says, “I heard Kelly was upset about something. Is she okay?” Tyler asks, “Have you talked to Kelly?” Seems simple, right? Yep. It’s also super effective. Tyler asking this question simultaneously gives me agency for who and what I want to share, and it shows we are a team.
4. Sometimes it’s okay to go to bed mad.
Yes, the Bible says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” But I’ve learned to see this scripture more as a metaphor than a direct command. Tyler and I have had our fair share of disagreements and arguments, and they are never, ever productive past our bedtime. Sometimes, it’s best to say, “I love you, and I want to talk about this more, but I have to get some sleep.” We won’t hold onto our anger for long (We’re pals, remember?), but we might go ahead and go to bed.
5. Be a good roommate.
A huge part of marriage is learning how to live together in the same house. Is the trash full? Take it out. Are the dishes piled up? Wash them. Are you trying to do some laundry, but there’s a load of towels sitting in the washer? Throw them in the dryer. Making a cup of coffee? Offer some to your pal.
6. Don’t let other people define your marriage.
Tyler and I have attended retreats, conferences, and panels about marriage. We’ve read books, watched video series, listened to podcasts, and read blog posts about marriage. We are happy to improve our marriage, but we don’t let other people dictate how our marriage works. The best marriage advice we’ve received is advice we’ve been able to adapt to our marriage, not the other way around.
7. Do a regular budget.
Money triggers arguments. So, you can ignore the money and avoid fighting. We tried that, and we ended up broke and mad anyway. Now, we schedule a budget meeting, and then reward ourselves for being grown ups. With a budget, we spend our money better, and we like each other more.
8. Beats Me Parenting.
9. Support each other’s weird hobbies.
Between the two of us, Tyler and I enjoy: Tudor Dynasty history, barbershop quartets, competitive marching band, John Mulaney comedy, Broadway musical soundtracks, Harry Potter, A/V equipment, trips to the library, BBC Masterpiece Theater, and America’s Funniest Home Video montages. We support each other, refrain from eye-rolling, attend events related to these things without grumbling, and cheer each other on from the sidelines of life.
10. Always be willing to up your game.
I’m talking practical stuff here. If you both stink at cooking, find a class, watch some YouTube videos, or search the internet for recipes. If you both are tired of the house being a mess, read some books about decluttering. On my end, I learned how to cook a lot of things from scratch, read a book about speed cleaning (No, I’m not kidding. It was this one.), and learned how to menu plan from blogs. Upping my game made our household more efficient, which made the marriage run smoother, too.
11. Keep Yourself Healthy.
Just like with oxygen masks in the event of an emergency, help yourself first before assisting others. When you live in close proximity of your favorite person, you can unintentionally project your shame onto them. To take care of myself, I (try to) do these things: Get outside. Exercise. Don’t eat garbage. Spend time reflecting and being grateful. Get mental help from a professional when I need it.
12. Give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Rarely do you intentionally make each other mad (I mean, if you are trying to make each other mad… um, stop doing that). Just remember you’re both trying to do the best you can with what you’ve got, man.
13. Listen longer.
Tyler and I say this to each other in conflict. Instead of jumping in to take our turn, we remind each other to listen longer and really hear one another.
14. Use more words.
When one of us is upset and not making sense or when one of us is confused, we say this. It’s a way to say, “I’m willing to listen to you, but I’m not quite understanding what you mean.”
15. Don’t badmouth each other’s family.
I can be frustrated with my family, but you can’t be frustrated with my family. And if you are frustrated, then you can’t be mean about it. We’ve just learned that when you are the in-law, you nod your head a lot and say, “You are totally and completely right to be mad about this. No, of course you aren’t overreacting. What do I think about it? Hmm, would you like some chocolate?” (Please see Tip #3 when family tries to get your take on the situation.)
16. Be willing to be the bad cop.
Similar to Tip #14, if one of us is struggling with another friend, Tyler and I are both willing to be the bad cop. Tyler has gladly taken the fall for me when I’ve been in a tense situation or when I’ve wanted a way of getting out of something. If I’m too angry or upset about something, he doesn’t mind coming in and saying the thing that I can’t say on my own. And vice versa.