Carolyn and I were happily married August 4, 1979. During the first year of our marriage, she was in college and I was in graduate school. We didn’t have much money. Buying a bag of potato chips was a splurge. Going out for a meal was a huge splurge. We had a hand-me-down car, borrowed furniture and I rode a bicycle to grad school. Our first Christmas tree was a leftover three foot twig from a Christmas tree lot that we got on Christmas Eve.
Our wedding day in 1979
But wow, were we happy!
A few years later we both graduated and I began starting a church from the ground up while Carolyn practiced nursing. During that time we had our first child, then our second and then our third. Pressures mounted: time pressures, financial pressures, career pressures, relationship pressures.
Yet amazingly we stayed happily married through it all.
Now our three boys are adults and we’re in a second honeymoon phase and having a blast together.
Recently I shared about five keys to staying happily married. The topic was so popular and the subject so important, I wanted to share five more keys with you.
So here are five more keys to staying happily married based on our personal experiences:
One: Make Time for Each Other
Carolyn and I have been busy people and sometimes extremely busy. Can you relate?
As I write, Carolyn is leading her high school girls Tuesday evening mentoring group. Last night, after working all day, we met with our Prayer and Advisory Group. Tomorrow Carolyn will be out all evening again. During the past two weeks I have been traveling at least part of the week.
When our children were younger, the pace was even more hectic.
But no matter how busy we have been, “each-other” time has always been a high priority.
One way we accomplish this is by finding activities that we both enjoy. Some activities I enjoy and Carolyn doesn’t. Other activities she enjoys but I don’t. We try to avoid those and invest our time, especially when the kids were young, in doing activities we BOTH enjoy. For example, we both enjoy antiques, so we have enjoyed shopping together, sometimes buying and sometimes generally admiring antiques together.
Two: Learn a Foreign Language
He tells how different personalities express love and want to receive love in five different ways.
One: Receiving Gifts
Two: Quality Time
Three: Words of Affirmation
Four: Acts of Service
Five: Physical Touch
For Carolyn, Acts of Service speaks love. The problem is that frankly I would usually rather be served than to serve. So it is sometimes tough to be a servant. But when I do it, I really fill Carolyn’s love cup and that enhances our relationship.
For me, Words of Affirmation speak love. Since Carolyn doesn’t naturally speak this language, she has to make a conscious effort to use it. When she forgets I pull it out of her by asking something like, “Do you think I’m the smartest, handsomest, cleverest, sexiest hunk in the world?” She says, “Yes.” Then I respond, “Wow, I love it when you say things like that.” Then we enjoy a good laugh together.
Three: Don’t Hang Wallpaper Together
It’s a cliché, but there is wisdom in this advice. We didn’t realize this early in our marriage. We actually once tried hanging wallpaper together in one small area. The rest is Mark and Carolyn relationship lore.
Here’s the principle: Avoid situations that put you at odds with each other.
This might include things like:
Dancing: A few years ago we thought it would be fun to take dancing lessons: ballroom, swing, tango, etc. Carolyn is a better dancer than me. So she naturally wants to take the lead. But if she does, I get offended because the guy is supposed to lead. You can see the problem. We don’t do much dancing now.
Business Partnership: Some couples can work together well in a business. For others, it is far too much closeness. If it doesn’t work for you, avoid it.
Four: Spend Less Than You Earn
So many marriages experience immense stress due to overstretched finances.
The underlying problem is similar to what we teach our children about taking too much food: “Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach.”
Similarly, smart couples don’t let their eyes get bigger than their bank account.
Just like the mashed potatoes and gravy look so good that kids pile on too much, “stuff” looks so good that we pile on far more than our actual finances.
The answer is to be satisfied with less. The joy of more is temporary, and the resulting financial pressure is unrelenting. It is not worth it.
Make the first item in your budget “ourselves,” meaning your savings. Shoot for a goal of 10% savings. Use your savings to pay off debt and share the joy of financial freedom. We have found financial freedom a great blessing to our marriage.
Five: Use Strategic Words and Phrases
The book of Proverbs (in the Bible) says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). You can kill your marriage by using harmful words and phrases. Conversely, you can breathe life into your marriage through good words.
Here are some strategic words and phrases that have helped us stay happily married for 34 years:
Good morning gorgeous
My mistake, I’m sorry
Please and thank you
I sure am lucky to be married to you
You were right
Tell me more
You’re the best thing that ever happened to me
I’ve been thinking about you all day longI love you