We head into the last 5 tips of this marriage series. If this has been helpful in any way please SHARE it on your social media and tag your friends so they can benefit as well. Would love to hear some summary thoughts you might have in the comments…

Marriage Tip #36

Fight well.

i do think because of the nature of marriage being between two people that each one looks quite significantly different from the next one. i don’t think every marriage is as easy or hard as the next one. In fact i am pretty convinced of this: context and history and personality and family and expectation and personal struggles and and and… there is just no way that two marriages could ever be more than just a little alike.

[Which is why 40 tips feels helpful – a tip that is so obvious to you might be marriage-transforming for someone else – i doubt anyone has found all 40 useful but hopefully everyone has found at least 3 or 4 that have added something]

Because marriages are so different, conflict in marriages will be different. Some people do it really well and some of us do it really badly. And hopefully, all of us are getting better at it.

The absence of conflict does not necessarily mean that you have a good marriage. It could mean someone or both people are holding stuff inside because of wanting to avoid conflict and at some stage, an eruption is very likely, which will be way worse than any conflict you might have engaged in along the way.

Conflict does not have to be bad. How well or badly you do conflict [and this is often a place where a counselling session or ten can be super helpful and at times marriage-saving! See tip #3] can set you up for success or head you in the other direction.

Here are some thoughts that come to mind [and we may need a part II of this one]:

– No name-calling. This one feels pretty easy, but you’d be surprised. There are the more hectic unkind below-the-belt kind of names, but also more subtle names and labels we put on the other person that often might be hiding some issue we are too scared [slash cowardly] to bring up.

– Stay away from “You always…” and “You never…” language, because while it emphasises a point of frustration you might have, it is very rarely true. Talking about feelings might be more helpful, “When you [insert thing] it makes me feel [insert emotion]” because then you are dealing with the effect something your person does has on you, rather than accusing them of something.

– Don’t leave [again another one counselling can help talk you through]. Slamming the door and leaving the conversation can have a detrimental effect on someone who has had a parent or friend or previous relationship partner literally walk out on them. If you need time to think or calm down or a break from the intensity of the moment, then express clearly that you need a time out and will be returning.

– Be extremely careful about saying things you can never take back. You might be forgiven for throwing out an anger-induced “I hate you!” or “I wish we’d never¬†been married!” but that will take miraculous intervention to wipe from your partner’s memory.

i would love to hear some other tips on how to do conflict well and there must be hundreds so let’s fill up the comments section below. What tips do you have for doing conflict well or avoiding doing it badly?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #37

Be kind to single people.

This isn’t so much a marriage-enhancing tip as a world-enhancing tip. And there are a number of ways this can take place, largely be being aware and intentional when it comes to single people.

Can we collectively all stop exalting marriage as the pinnacle achievement of life [unless you want to include marriage with kids cos that’s a whole other level of STOPPIT] – to be well married is as brilliant an achievement as to be well single. One is not better than the other and getting married is certainly not the finish line to life many single people get made to feel it is.

Celebrate marriage, yes, but can we celebrate singleness too, especially when people choose to be single?

Secondly, can we give single people an honest but balanced view of marriage? i was talking to a single friend the other day who seemed quite stressed by the fact that so many married people had told her how difficult marriage was, to the point of her beginning to wonder if it was worth desiring for her life.

i think the opposite is as problematic. And again, let’s remember each marriage is different and so if you have had an easy marriage and express that to someone, make sure they know you are just speaking about your one and not all marriages. Some are easy and some are hard and i imagine most are both and varying degrees of them depending on when you catch the person. i will never tell someone how hard marriage is [one of the hardest things i have ever done] without also telling them how great it is at the same time. Honesty and balance.

When people get married a lot of single people lose their friends, or largely lose their friends. [i was single til i was 35, i can remember things!] As newly married people we need to be conscious of our friendships with single people and how we can champion them [this means creating space for them more than it means setting them up unless they particularly want that].

Lastly, i think a huge step forward would be for married couples to include singles who often feel left out. It does sometimes feel naturally easier to invite other couples for meals and hangouts and things and one married couple and a single can feel like a weird dynamic and one married couple and two singles can feel like a setup etc etc But figure it out. Speak to your single friends and get an idea on how they would like to be included or even on the difficulty you are facing in trying to include them or need for time for just the two of you or whatever. But let them know you see them and care and that they are still important to you.

Any singles got any thoughts to add to this? Have you felt included by your married friends or does any of this ring true?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #38

Game well together.

Some of the biggest conflict that tbV and i had in the early days of our marriage was not being able to do this.

Losing badly is a thing and for me it generally comes out of a place of trying to understand what i did wrong so i can do better next time. But if every time Val beats me at a game i explain why i lost [never because she played the game better than me surprisingly enough] it would take away from her victory. So learning to lose well – in life, but particularly in marriage – can be a loving act. And it is so hard when you are as competitive as me, but so worthwhile on those occasions when you get it right.

Winning badly is also a thing though and can happen in a way that makes a competitive person who is already feeling bad that they lost feel even worse and more useless. While there is a lot of pride happening on both sides of the win/loss equation we can be more loving to our person by taking a win calmly and maybe as the winner offering to pack up the game and not rubbing it in or proclaiming ourselves ‘Ultimate Gamemeister of the Universe’ [at least til a good thirty minutes have passed!]

But there’s more – we stopped playing games with at least one couple we are good friends with because the dynamic between them when they played was so horrible to have to be around. Any time the wife would do something that went against the husband it would be taken as a personal offence and vice versa and pretty much any game we played with them [that wasn’t a team game that they won] would end in affected relationship [which is a good sign to you as a couple that you should stop playing games or else get help to fix that stuff up].

The final game-playing advice i would give is to not play as a couple [in terms of choosing to never do anything that affects your partner negatively in the game]. Val and i are both quite good at games [we give them a lot of time and focus as it is one way our hospitality plays out] and so typically we will be seeing each other as the biggest threat and there is never any question as to whether we are playing a couples game [where you refuse to take any action to hurt your partner as if this means anything in the real world] because we will tend to take each other down as a priority [we view this as an act of love and commendation of our gaming skills]. But you get some couples who play games and will never take an action against each other and so it ends up often being an unfair grouping because each other individual is playing against two people.

This is very much a games-playing-people tip and won’t apply to everyone as some people really don’t like games but for most people i do think there are some types of games you will find that do cater for you – games like Dixit and Codenames and Spyfall have an air of competition to them but the fun is more in the game and no-one really cares who wins. So if you can find your games, then you might open up a whole new world. With a new fantastic point of view.

But if you can find games you love playing together [Val and i are big Scrabble fans and early marriage spent a lot of time playing Carcassonne together] then it can be a good win, because it is a chance to slow things down and chill together doing something you both enjoy.

If your game playing in any way ends up putting cracks in your marriage or even just in your relating for the next couple of hours after the game, you need to be serious about figuring that out and if you can’t then choosing to not play games together might be a helpful thing for your marriage.

How do you do on games? Any that particularly pull you together or drive you apart? Was this ever an issue for you in any way like it was for us? Do other couples come to mind when i talk about people playing as couples or in-game conflict? Share some stories…

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #39

Find moments to spoil each other.

There are times for budgets and living simply and i would suggest this is most of the time. Be aware of comparing down instead of up when it comes to lifestyle. Be mindful of what you do as a family in terms of water conservation and looking after the planet [recycling, organic, freshly sourced] and find ways to be generous when it comes to money, time and resources that you possess.

Basically, when it comes to living as a couple or a family [oh, and this works for singles too], try and constantly be mindful that you are part of a greater extended network of people and be aware of community, province, country and world. You can’t do all of the things, but you can maybe do some more of the things than you are doing now.

But then also find moments, and i would suggest these are exceptions rather than the norm, to step outside of that and just spoil your person [not recklessly, do it holding those other things in place] in a way that is meaningful and significant for them.

This might be especially profound and meaningful when they are having a bit of a rough time or struggling in life, or it might be a bit of a fun surprise when things are going well, but it is a great way to let them know, “I see you!” as a slight deviation from the normal ways of life.

Also if there love languages are time or acts of service or words of affirmation or touch, the spoiling doesn’t have to cost you anything – a walk or a massage or focused phone-free attention or a written note can be all of the things or more.

Would love to hear some stories on this. What is one thing your person has done for you in the last six months that really made you feel spoiled and seen in a not regular kind of way?

Find moments to spoil each other.

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

Marriage Tip #40

Rinse and repeat.

These have been 39 different tips and ideas for improving your marriage and i imagine some of them have been more helpful to you than others. The main point i would make in a series on marriage is that every day you wake up and try and love your person well. There is no arrival point i don’t think when suddenly marriage is perfect and you have arrived. It is a relationship and like all relationships [or most at least] it requires a lot of effort and time and commitment in the same direction.

So six months from now come back and read these tips again. You might find you are doing a lot better with love languages and listening and are ready to work a bit more deeply on communication and playing games well together. And so on. The idea is to be working on an ongoing commitment that says “To love you well i commit to standing in front of the mirror and seeing what needs to be worked on next.”

What might be a fun activity, if you haven’t done it yet, is to sit with your spouse and read through these together. Make a game of it and each of you write down three numbers of tips you feel like your marriage could use work on the most and see if you match up. Or print them out and stick them in a jar and each day pull one out together, read it and see if it feels like something you need to work on that day.

This also is not the conclusive list of all the tips needed to make your marriage work. One thing many of us could do better at is talking to other married couples about our challenges and figuring stuff out together. Even asking single people who hang around us what they observe and would like to tell us. If we have an attitude of openness and willingness to learn and grow and improve, then our marriage is probably going to be alright.

Now that we’ve hit 40 tips on how to be able to do the “I Do” better, which of them did you find most helpful or interesting and do you have any ideas that were left off of the list?

#ButHowCanIIDoBetter

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