Marriage Tip #16

Communication. Work at it.

i touched on this yesterday when mentioning Expectation as missed expectations can be a huge source of conflict or resentment in marriage. And someone mentioned Communication which is key to having a healthy marriage.

We looked at the five love languages in tip 5 and in some ways, i think communication works in a similar way. We communicate in different ways and we hear things or retain them in different ways and the sooner you as a couple figure out how each other give and receive communication best, the easier and more free-flowing it will become.

One of you may be better at communicating verbally, while another prefers notes. i don’t think there is a right or wrong way of communicating, but i do think there might be ways that are more helpful [for your person] and ways that are least helpful.

Also gauging how much communication is necessary/appreciated can be very helpful – some people are big picture people while others are detail people and if you start giving reams of detail to someone who was just wanting a Yes or No answer it can get problematic quickly.

Communication is another area in your marriage where compromise will likely be necessary and helpful and it’s a kind of a dance in a way fo figuring out what to give and what to take, how to read each other, when to have a talk to figure out stuff or when to just adjust.

But you can’t just expect to continue communicating the way you have always communicated and expect your partner to just be okay with that. It’s a mutual submission thing where together you figure out how this can work best for everyone.

Any fun or less fun communication stories from your marriage? Any tips that worked for you in this area in terms of finding each other when you both had different ways of communicating?


Marriage Tip #17

Cheerlead your partner. Publicly.

Now i’m not talking social media updates every five seconds about how you mysteriously managed to marry THE BEST husband/wife in the world – surely that could have only happened once, so thousands of you are only kidding yourselves – and i’m also not sure how helpful it is generally to throw competition into compliments, because by inference you saying your person is the best means everyone else lost out somehow. But hey, you really dig your person and think they’re great and worth celebrating? That i can get behind.

If you see some couples out in public, you sometimes wonder if they actually even like each other at all [i guess the tragedy is some of them have arrived at the point where they really don’t] and if that’s you, return to the tip about counselling and get help quickly.

But this tip is more about championing your person and celebrating them publicly. And i think this is something that needs to be balanced with private celebration as well. The whole world does not need to know every single thing your person does that is great – create opportunities through a note or a gift or a surprise coffee or dishes-wash to let them know you celebrate them on a regular basis. But then take opportunities when they do something public or just really cool that you think is praiseworthy to share with your wider circle of friends.

The opposite of this [two-for-one-tip-Sunday here] is to really try to avoid criticising your partner publicly [whether on social media or in front of friends or strangers]. Especially if it’s a private issue that the two of you need to sort out with each other, be very careful that it doesn’t spill out into public as a way of getting a dig at them. i do think it is good and healthy [triple-tip-Sunday] for other people to know that marriage can be hard and that you guys struggle sometimes [it can often feel like everyone else’s marriage is going swimmingly while you are trying to keep your head above water and just being more honest here will encourage a lot of people] but not to necessarily have to know the nature of your struggles which are yours to figure out.

This might be person specific because your person might not like being publicly cheered at all [learn that quickly and respect that] and this is a good point to remember our single friends and the effect that constantly praising your marriage partner publicly can have on them [particularly if you have single friends who are not super amped about being single] and so really we all just need to try and be aware of those around us as we live this one out.

Cheerlead your person privately a lot. Let your positive words outweigh the negative ones. And find the times to do that in public. Work on eliminating public criticism altogether. But also be honest that marriage a lot of the time can be hard and a lot of work.

Your experiences with this one?


Marriage Tip #18

Stop with the marriage jokes/negative statements.

One of the things that really makes me mad/sad is when i’m at a wedding reception [or sometimes even during the wedding preach] and someone makes a joke about marriage.

You know the ones – ‘ball-and-chain’ reference or ‘end to freedom’ or ‘engagement ring then wedding ring then suffer-ing’ and so on. It’s just a joke, right? Except that it isn’t.

Because marriage, for some people, and i don’t think necessarily for everyone, but definitely for me and tbV, is one of the hardest things in the world to get right, or somewhat right. We don’t need people attacking it from day one. Because that is what negative jokes do – they undermine – they create the tiniest of cracks – they grab a laugh at the expense of usually the woman, but sometimes both.

Because marriage can be hard [and i imagine it must be at least some of the time for everyone] it will provide moments that resonate with the punchlines of those jokes and in that moment you might flashback to the joke and your experience is reinforced and so you will accept it a little more easily and possibly be less inclined to fight against it. Bitterness and resentment can quickly follow.

You might think i’m taking this a little bit too far. Lighten up, man, it’s JUST. A. JOKE.

Except that marriage is being attacked and eroded by society, by the media, and by jokes and cartoons and t-shirts all the time.

Maybe one joke about marriage is not going to cause you [too much] trouble, but if each one is a crack and they keep coming from all sides then crack, crack, crack and eventually, something has to give.

Rather we should be making bold statements to uplift marriage. NOT as THE fulfilment of life – and please let’s get this one right because we cause so much pain for single people when we suggest that being married is the goal of life [believe me, Val and i get this when people make similar statements about having children – good for you, but it’s not better than our decision not to] – if you’re married, be married well and if you’re single be single well. But when speaking about marriage let’s be positive and uplifting and let;s encourage each other rather than break each other down. It really is hard enough as it is.

Can you recall a statement someone made about marriage – or maybe your marriage – that hurt or maybe caused a crack? Have you been at one of those weddings when it feels like they’re taking shots at the couple or marriage in general?


Marriage Tip #19

Create your own traditions.

This goes hand in hand with tip 9 which was about finding silly things that are just yours to celebrate or giggle at [looking at you ‘do do’] and i don’t know that this is essential to a good marriage at all, but i do think it is a good way of enhancing one.

We have friends in the States who every Christmas do their family photo dressed in the craziest costumes ever and it is the most fun tradition ever and makes us laugh every time and we are so super jealous. We could steal theirs, or we could just be intentional about creating our own.

One thing we discovered three years into marriage and then five years into marriage was that all the traditions we have were passed on family traditions – and there is nothing wrong with that – but unless you interrupt the natural flow and come up with your own traditions you won’t [not rocket science, this stuff!]

As they say, the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago and the next best time is today. Until we get that time travel stuff working we can’t go back and initiate traditions that started when we got married, but we can start something now that becomes a tradition.

There was a period when on Sunday afternoons tbV and i [and on occasion, we invited people to join] stuck on some records and lay on the carpet listening to music and just slowing everything down – put away phones, stop doing activities, just stop and listen and be. We found that one super good for us, both as individuals and as a couple.

The one tradition we started last year, or possibly the year before was for Christmas deciding that our gift to each other will be a book to read and a game for both of us. This year my folks are away Christmas Eve and so we are just going to open the books we have given each other, find a comfy position, something fun to drink [Nachtmusiek i am looking at you!] and that will be how we spend our Christmas Eve together.

With families it is often hard to navigate cos Christmas Eve and Christmas Day often have to be juggled between them and so another tradition we have had for a while actually is to see Christmas Day Eve [so the evening of Christmas Day] as our time and we hang out with good friends and leftovers and probably play the paper game and have a lot of laughs and just celebrate good people and things in a more chilled relaxed environment.

But there is Easter and birthdays and Sunday afternoons and first day of spring and last midnight of the month – so many opportunities to interrupt the normal flow of things and put something in place that will enhance your relationship and maybe be something special just for you or maybe close friends or family as well.

Do you have a tradition that is just in your immediate family that is a little unusual or different or special that you came up with and don’t mind sharing? For newlyweds in particular [or recentlyweds] this is a great reminder to come up with some things for the following year that can become your things…


Marriage Tip #20

Don’t tell all of the truth.

Ooh, i see i got your attention there. Because truth-telling is important, right and not telling the truth has to be bad.

But i can think of two examples where you might change your mind [and this could be marriage specific so filter it with your person but i suspect this will be more often true than it won’t]

Firstly, “You DO look fat in those jeans!” is a kind of truth you may be thinking but sharing it openly will not go down well. But also ladies please don’t ask hospital pass questions like that which have no safe answer [Are there questions guys ask that fall into this category? Answers below please]

So this is the thing, honesty is one of my absolute biggest values. So people who know me well have their eyebrows raised like errant caterpillars trying to escape right now, thinking, ‘It must be a trick question! It must be a trick question!’

i was once counseling a couple i met on Baptist Summer camp. They were really struggling with trust issues and one of the reasons was that the guy – trying to be open and honest and real and really trying to do the right thing – would go and tell his girlfriend every time he saw another girl on campus that he thought was hot. This happened fairly often and although he was trying to love her well by being completely honest with her, the result was that her identity and trust levels were being eroded daily. Sometimes it is healthier to not share all of the truth [which is different to lying or being dishonest, which are generally bad].

i got into trouble for doing the same thing once after a youth trip where i felt i was honouring tbV by letting her know afterwards that there was a fellow leader that if we were not together i likely would have had something with… #NotHelpful

My advice to varsity guy [and later to myself] was this. You must tell the truth – if you’re feeling attracted to someone else [especially within marriage] then accountability is key and having someone else know who gets to ask the hard questions of you is key – it just doesn’t need to be Val [or girlfriend in his case].

My friend Rob used to be my go-to guy for that kind of thing because he would totally not judge me but also hold me accountable. It was helpful for me to be able to share when there was an attraction to hopefully remove any chance of me ever acting on it even from a small inappropriate way [where i assume most affairs grow from]. But it was important to realise that sharing those particular truths with Val would likely erode trust and create spaces for jealousy and so on.

i guess this can be viewed as a double tip because Accountability outside of your marriage is so incredibly valuable and here is one helpful example as to the why. There are some things you really should share with your guy friends [or girl friends] and some things you should share with your spiritual leader or mentoring couple. The majority of your stuff should be shared with your partner but figuring out how to do this well early on [and having them know who your person is] is a great way of being able to love your partner well.

Have any of you learned this one the hard way? Are there other examples of truths you might discuss with someone outside of your marriage that help protect it?

i found my sister-in-law Shana’s comments particularly helpful:

Ok I know this isn’t really your point, but I’ll also comment on the clothing questions. When we got married and moved in together, it was the first time in my life that I wasn’t living in a house with other girls (sisters and then flatmate). Suddenly I didn’t have anyone there to peek into their room and say “does this look ok?”.

Naturally, I automatically started asking Carl. Didn’t go so well the first few times, until we had a conversation about it. I explained why I ask him. And he explained that the WAY I ask often made him feel trapped, because I phrased it in such a way that there was no way he couldn’t hurt me with his honest answer. Instead of asking “do my thighs look big in this” or other such questions (which, let’s be honest, many women ask their partners all the time), he asked me to say “what do you think of this outfit”, or “do you think this works?”. It gave him room to soften the answer. Instead of saying “yes, your thighs look big” he could say “I like your black skinnies, they’re really flattering on you”, or “why don’t you try it with your other jeans”. Same honest answer, less hurt for me, less trapped for him.

Ok so this seems like a lame comment on clothes, BUT we’ve realised recently (6 years later) that this principle actually applies to so many other areas of our relationship. Give your partner room to be honest and truthful, but don’t trap them. Assume they WANT to honour you in their honesty, and that they want to hurt you as little as possible (even though the truth really does hurt sometimes and its unavoidable), and give them space to tell you the truth in a way that gives them the freedom to be as honoring and as least hurtful as possible.

Examples that we’ve learnt:
1. ” how much do you love me? Can you pass me that thing?” Or “don’t you want to do me a favour?” aren’t helpful phrases. A “no” to either communicates “I don’t love you” or “I don’t want to serve you by doing a favour”. Both of which aren’t true. He’s just tired and doesn’t feel like getting up.
2. Asking if you can postpone a conversation so till you’re in a better space to receive the truth/honesty your partner wants to share.
3. Second to that point is identifying tough truths that you need to tackle together with someone else. We learnt that there were some ‘confessions’ that we needed to make to each other that were best done in a counselling situation, not on our own. There was someone to help us process receiving that information in a way that was constructive.

On the second part, I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with having an outside accountability person for some things. Controversial statement alert: it’s not always (ever?) healthy to be each other’s “everything”. It’s not even romantic, it’s exhausting. Have a village,¬†people. Let your village contribute to your marriage. Carl has people he talks to about some stuff, I have people I talk to. None of this is secret. I’ll often say “hey, I’ve been chatting to xxx (usually a sister or Nicky-the-marriage-whisperer) about this thing because I’m really struggling with it and I know you’re not the best person to support me in it”. So he knows it’s there, there’s no deception.

As well as these thoughts from Hilary Alison Mushambi:

About accountability outside the marriage? Definitely agree on that. I’m the kind of person who’d like to know if my spouse is struggling with temptation etc, at the very least because it informs me that there is work to be done at home, but I agree that the details would probably be less than helpful. But it is a hard balance to find between how much is helpful to share and how much not. Definitely agree that it shouldn’t be kept to himself though, so a trusted friend to talk to would be a good thing.


p.s. for those of you thinking the hashtag reads ‘But How Can I Do Better?’ give it another read #SneakySneaky

[For the next 5 tips in the series, click here]

[To return to the start of the series, click here]