Marriage Tip #21

Tend towards the cleaner one.

Now this is not to much specifically a marriage tip as it is a people-who-live-in-the-same-space tip and i probably observed this more living in community with tbV and others in Philly than with just me and Val. But it can be huge.

The person who hates breadcrumbs on the counter is MUCH MORE emotionally invested than the person who doesn’t care [or notice] breadcrumbs on the counter. The person who is bothered by dirty dishes stacking up is SO MUCH MORE affected than the person who can let them stack for days.

This can be a huge source of bitterness and resentment that might manifest outwardly in conflict [which is often not pretty] but can be worse if it stays internally and builds up. Because at some point [months or even years down the line] it will erupt and that will likely cause a lot of pain.

The kitchen and bathroom tend to be the main two places of issue here [toothpaste lids, toilet seats, bath rims, things piled in sink, things not put in sink] although it can be other places as well. This links in well with the communication tip 16 [As well as tip 12 on changing your annoying behaviour and 13 major on the big issues, give energy to the small issues] and as most of these do with serving one another in love.

But let’s do a quick test now. If you are married and reading this, ask your partner [or send them a WhatsApp right now if they are not nearby] how well you do in terms of keeping things clean. Some of you may be surprised by the answer. Or ask what is one thing they wish you would keep cleaner. That might be telling.

Once you have an idea who is the more-focused-on-clean-and-orderly in your relationship it is up to the other person to up their discipline in that area and do better. Because, as we established right near the top, this means more to the one who wants things to be cleaner. It might not come naturally to you [because you don’t care about it as much] and so you might need help and some patience from your person, but commit to being better and you will find ways together to help you to do so – maybe pick one area at a time and work at it.

The benefits and love that this will show to the person who prefers clean and orderly will be so worth it.

Stories on this one? Are you the clean and orderly one and if so what’s your #1 frustration [then ask a friend to tag your partner] area? Or are you the less bothered one and what is an area you are willing to try and be better at?

Tami Joy Aucremann:

A little perspective from the “clean” side though. While I 100% agree that it is not good to keep your irritation bottled up until it becomes resentment, something I’ve had to learn is to sometimes just let it go. Is a dirty dish in the sink really worth the erosion of my marriage? I try to keep that in perspective. Things like beard hair around the bathroom sink likely means he got up early to go to work, or dirty teaspoons on the counter mean he made me a morning cup of tea. Choosing to appreciate the good in the situation rather than focusing on the irritation.


Marriage Tip #22

Don’t keep scorecards.

This is one that i have found quite hard, especially when i was unemployed and so had more time and more opportunity to do things around the house. It becomes very obvious when you have done the dishes the last five times and ready for your partner to ‘get involved’ and in that moment you aren’t remembering that she has been working on the taxes and done the last major shop and cooked the last two nights…

This is a major ‘serve one another in love’ tip but at the same time it does live in the tension of both people needing to be doing the serving, else things are likely going to start boiling over at some stage.

The idea of the scorecard is that i have washed up three times and so now you have to wash up three times. It’s not helpful, it’s not healthy and it will only get you into trouble. But like i suggested, having a healthy balance of who does what tends to be a good way to do this.

You will have some tasks around the house that one of you really loves doing and some that one of you really hate doing and most that you probably both don’t mind too much doing. There might also be things you discover along the way where Val becomes designated ham maker [Christmas tradition – because she just nails it out of the park] and i become designated baked potato and pork crackling maker [although after Thanksgiving she may have won crackling rights] and that can come out of a celebration of someone doing something really well. There can also be a task someone is ‘banned’ from doing [hopefully via gentle negotiation] because of how awful they are at it.

We have found it helpful for the most part to have some designated roles [i do dustbins, Val does taxes], some that either of us do [dishes, laundry] and some that we avoid like the plague [dusting, windows] until we can get someone else to do it… and while holding your own scorecards typically feels detrimental, there perhaps needs to be some behind-the-scenes unspoken general scorecard of balance where each of you are pulling your weight, or as i like to call it, serving each other in love.

If one person’s job takes more time and/or energy than the other person’s [even for a season] it does make sense that the other person picks up some more slack and vice versa. How best can we love each other and conserve each other’s energy and have a clean and functioning house that works for both of us? Is probably the question you’re asking at the end of the day. There is no formula, but find what works well for you.

Take this opportunity to ask your partner how they feel about the balance of chores/tasks at home right now and leave their uncensored replies in the comments… if you dare…


Marriage Tip #23

Quit with all this ‘Best wife in the world’ nonsense.

Because technically, unless there is some kind of major world tie going on, 99% of you are completely lying.

Now this is probably not a major ‘How to enhance your marriage’ tip BUT it might be a how to help enhance other people’s marriages tip or it actually might be significant. Definitely not for all of you because you don’t all do it. And it works for ‘Best mom in the world’ and ‘Best kid in the world’ as well.

Firstly, it is likely not true. And even the smallest hint of dishonesty can form a subtle crack in your marriage. For example if Val was to call me ‘Best husband ever’ [will never happen!] i know it’s not true and so instead of an intended compliment it actually has the opposite effect cos it’s blatantly obvious to me that it’s not true and so it ends up losing meaning rather than adding it. But if she says “I really love my husband” or “Husbandman did something special today” [Firstly, i love it when she calls me that cos makes me feel like some kind of superhero and it’s one of our shared things] then it gives me a boost because i know it’s true.

The second part of ‘Best person ever’ and unintentionally so, is that it is a dig at everyone else who is not married to your person [or your sibling or your co-parent] because if you have the best wife in the world then at best i can only have the second best wife in the world and it feels like negative competition that is unnecessary and unhelpful.

[i know there are some people reading this thinking ‘you’re going too far, Brett’ it’s just a harmless little thing’ but i firmly believe that harmless little things [one piece of litter, one joke about marriage, one racial putdown] combine forces to become big things that build divides between us. The small things matter, and sometimes more than the big things, because we allow them too much freedom and untouchability]

i do believe in publicly praising or celebrating your person but i also believe you need to completely outdo that in your private praise and celebration. If i am gushing about Val every single day on social media [and some people do that] then i can’t imagine what effect it has on single friends i know long to be married, friends who have lost their wives, divorced friends and maybe even those who are struggling in their marriages. There is a place for it, but once again let’s try keep some balance.

Let’s question ‘Why am i saying/writing this thing?’ – To look good in front of others? To genuinely celebrate my person? To try and win some wife/husband points [and let’s smash that notion in a future tip!]? To make others wish they had it as good as me?

Maybe this tip should have read, ‘Be mindful about how i speak about my person on social media’. Do you have any thoughts about this one?


Marriage Tip #24

Wife first. Family second.

Sho, this is a tricky one. And it will definitely look different for every marriage.

One of the most complex things about getting married is that, for the most part, you tend to inherit a second family [and sometimes more] with a history, a way of doing things, their own set of expectations, their own broken messiness and demands [not even in a negative sense, simply time/money/energy needs that come out of close relationship]. And your partner typically gets the same.

Just like with marriage, there is no blueprint for this. Your partner might be in extreme too-close relationship with their parents or family or they might be in extreme absolutely-distant non-relationship although i imagine for most people it probably falls somewhere in the middle. There are new relationships to navigate [after all, you didn’t choose the family particularly and they didn’t choose you], traditions to understand and to either fit in to or break away from, a whole host of expectations that often link to gatherings, gifts, meals and helping out in crisis and maybe some other things.

So it is hard to give advice here. Except for those heading into marriage to be aware [it’s not something most of us tend to think much about] that this will need some thought and movement and possibly cause some confusion, frustration and pain along the way in smaller or bigger ways. But also it can be a source of great joy, community, support and encouragement. For example, the family i inherited through Val are phenomenal when it comes to crisis – they will drop everything and be there without asking a question and that is such a great thing to have added to your life.

But i think the one thing i will say on this is that if it comes to a space where you have to choose between your person and your family, you need to pick your person. When families play one partner against the other it can be devastating and when a partner chooses to side with their family and not their spouse it can cause a whole lot of damage that is very hard to repair.

Even as i am writing this, i realise how problematic it can be without having the benefits of a face to face conversation to really pull out all the nuances and context needed to say such a thing [What if your husband is a psycho beast?] so maybe let me refine it a little bit by saying, ‘In situations where it’s a difference of opinion/expectation/need more than it is about any kind of abusive/destructive character then generally i would tend towards choosing partner over family.’ i think this tip is about recognising and acknowledging that your partner is a bigger priority to you than your family [as in parents and siblings].

Honour and respect and love the family you inherit as much as you possibly can [that often demonstrates much love of your spouse] but [unless partner turns out to be Hannibal Lecter] always let your partner know that you have their back first.

Any stories about navigating the extended family dance that you had to learn or discover or would like to add [that maintain respect for your family in case they’re watching]?

John Zippy Benn:

This is something that Dané and I learned was very important very early on…we still have moments when we need to remind ourselves and each other that we are a team. Siding with your family ‘against’ your partner is like scoring an own goal…you have won a small victory, but ultimately you have set your team back.

As a husband and a dad, I would add that this applies to your children too. Your marriage should take priority (in the broader arc of life) over your children, because a strong and stable relationship between mom and dad will teach your kids a thousand lessons that you cant convey directly.

Hilary Alison Mushambi:

A piece of advice I always found helpful in this is to have your spouse’s back when dealing with your own family. For example, if I am uncomfortable about something my in-laws do or expect of me, my husband is the person I talk to and he will intervene with his family on my behalf. In the same way if my folks do something uncool I step in because I know them best and how best to deal with them. (And they are more likely to listen to their own child.)


Marriage Tip #25

Put down the screen. And just be.

And Repeat.

This is probably a good tip for anyone in this day and age, but probably one of the saddest things in life is seeing a couple at a restaurant together both glued to their phones. And knowing that on occasion we are that couple, although we tend to work fairly hard not to be.

i grew up in a time before cellphones were a thing [yes kids, your grandad is THAT old!] and so i know this one is possible. But for many people they tend to take over and that is bad – if your phone has a higher priority in your life than your partner, you need some kind of intervention and quickly.

Be intentional about this one, because sometimes it’s just easier to slip into being on your phone [and you can add tablet, television and computer to this list] jumping into your mail, playing that game, catching up on a WhatsApp conversation and ignoring your person.

As with cleanliness, i would suggest that with most couples the investment in screentime is likely to be different. One of you is more addicted than the other and you need to put things in place to tend towards the person who prefers less screen time.

Maybe it’s as formal as putting simple rules that you both agree on in place – phones on silent after work hours, no screens during meals, no phones in bed or thirty minutes before lights out, No Screen Thursday…

i would encourage you to set up a conversation with your person this week and ask them how they feel about this one. You might assume – perhaps because of behaviours you have both slipped into – that they are okay with the amount of screen time you have, and you might be right, but you also might be missing something. Decide together on some good principles for you as a couple or family how you would like your phone usage to look and then your tv/screen time in other spaces.

If screens are the go-to – and they are for many of us cos of the lack of effort required – you may want to be intentional about putting some work into creating some alternatives – a friend recently bribed me with chocolate squares of heavenly goo to come and teach her kids a board game as one way of reducing their screen time – and it sounds like it has been a great success. But see this as an opportunity to introduce or explore a new hobby or opportunity to read or practice a new skill…

How do you think you do on this one? More importantly, tag your person and let them answer how they think you are doing…


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