In a world of Hollywood romance and “highlight reels”, it’s tempting to believe our relationships are lacking. What Hollywood doesn’t tell us though, is that healthy marriages are built on the faithful pursuit and practice of everyday love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” 1 Corinthians 13:4
Thanks to Hollywood’s big screens, “reality” TV, and the seemingly innocent fairytale stories we learn to love before we really even understand what love is, our view of romance is extremely distorted.
From an early age, we’re taught that romantic relationships require fancy gowns, expensive jewelry, surprise getaways, mushy love notes, intense passion, and at least a few dozen roses.
Those can be expressions of love… but, with divorce rates on the rise across the nation and passive-aggressive chatter becoming the norm in our social circles, I can’t help but wonder if our relationship frustrations are due in part to the unrealistic expectations we place on “romance”.
Relationship advice is a regular request in my inbox… but I usually shy away from this topic because I don’t feel qualified.
Certainly, 15 years doesn’t make me a marriage expert.
And to be frank, our relationship hasn’t weathered all that many “storms”.
By God’s grace, we have no redemption story, no “5 steps to how we rekindled the flame”, no dramatic forgiveness, or “why I took him back” narrative. Not even a light-hearted tale of “the night he slept on the couch” (unless you count the time he was sick).
We love and respect each other… and we really like being together too.
Some of your relationships are not as fortunate. They are riddled with pain, hurt, heartache, loss, and anger — for this, I am saddened.
My intention in sharing today is not to cause more pain and hurt.
Rather, I hope to give center stage to the often-overlooked little acts of “everyday love” that are the cornerstone of our relationship. It’s not nearly as glamorous as those Hollywood movie romances, but it’s so much more rewarding.
I’m also sharing a few practical tips AND some of my favorite relationship resources below!
But first, let me share a few silly stats from the past decade…
Less than 10 = The number of actual “dates” we’ve gone on since having children.
2 = The number of nights we’ve spent together, away from our children (one of which was at our own house).
1 = The number of times we’ve hired a babysitter.
1 = The number of times Dave has surprised me with jewelry, flowers, or chocolates (it was our engagement story).
0 = The number of anniversary or Valentine’s gifts I’ve received from Dave.
0 = The number of fancy vacations we’ve been on.
0 = The number of love notes either of us has written.
Too Many To Count = The number of times Dave has sacrificially given up something for my happiness.
Every Single Day = The number of days he has spoken my love language through small acts of service.
Google +1 (as our kids say) = The number of moments I feel safe, heard, happy, respected, and loved.
Even the best Hollywood romance can’t possibly depict how it feels when he helps clean up your child’s puke a 2 am. When he compliments the meal you know full well is burnt. When he intuitively picks up your slack without keeping score. When he listens without offering advice. When he lightens a tense situation with a cheesy joke. When he is so safely predictable he can’t surprise me even if he tried.
We rarely see that faithful everyday love on the big screens — and it truly makes all the difference for us.
Pursuing a healthier relationship…
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a happier, healthier marriage (at least not in my experience).
What follows, however, is a short list of ideas to aid in your pursuit of a healthier marriage relationship.
They can’t possibly apply to every relationship, but I truly hope one or two will resonate with your current season of life.
Baby steps — right!
If you’re single…
- Embrace your singleness.
- Find hobbies you enjoy, pursue a career you feel passionate about, support a cause you believe in.
- Focus on developing other relationships (friends, family, coworkers, neighbors)
- Get involved in church or volunteer opportunities.
- Read about the different personality types, search for free personality quizzes online, and learn as much as you can about your specific personality.
- Dig deep to uncover what makes you unique and special.
- Pray for your future spouse.
- Don’t settle for someone because you’re too eager to be in a relationship.
If you’re dating…
- Stop watching chick flicks and other cheesy rom-com TV shows and movies that distort your views of real-life relationships.
- Stop reading romance novels (even the “Christian” ones). They overly romanticize relationships, and, in my opinion, they aren’t realistic.
- Focus on yourself as an individual, not just as half of a couple (study your own personality as I mentioned above.)
- Read several of the resources I recommend at the end of the post.
- Continue to pursue individual hobbies and friendships.
- Talk about everything together! Your ideas, dreams, goals, expectations, money, sex, faith, careers, etc.
- Spend time as a couple with each of your families and friends — they will be a big part of your life moving forward.
- Seek counsel from those you trust who are older than you (parents, pastors, mentors).
- Don’t try to change your significant other… they most likely will not change and they’ll resent you for trying.
If you’re newly married…
- Read The 5 Love Languages, learn how to speak your spouse’s love language fluently, and practice speaking it every day.
- Strive to continually learn more about relationships (use the resources I link to below).
- Look for little ways to encourage each other every day.
- Try to live “unoffendable” and let the little things go.
- Communicate daily… share it all.
- Ask… don’t assume.
- Commit to never speaking poorly of your spouse in front of anyone else — this is HUGELY important for us.
- Put your spouse’s needs and wants ahead of your parents’ or siblings’ (you’re a new family together now!)
- Join a small group, find a source of accountability, or attend counseling (it’s much more effective as a preventative measure than a last resort when the relationship is in turmoil).
- Live simply and resist the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses”. It’s so important to set good habits early on in your marriage. Plus, it will be harder to dig yourself out of debt once you have children in the mix… and finances are a HUGE source of relationship conflict.
If you’re in the thick of kids and jobs and stress…
- Take a deep breath.
- Prioritize your marriage — remember, one of the best gifts you can give your children is a healthy marriage (this does not need to be a traditional “date night” or anything fancy).
- Consistently praise, encourage, and compliment your spouse in front of your children.
- Surround yourself with peers who are committed to similar family values and who challenge you to grow in your marriage and parenting.
- Seek out little moments to speak your spouse’s love language throughout the day.
- Regularly discuss your goals, dreams, values, and hopes so you “stay on the same page”.
- Monitor your media (social media, news, advertisements, TV, books, podcasts, etc.) If you feel negatively affected by any of it, remove it from your life for this season. Your family needs you to be mentally and emotionally strong — not rife with fear and anxiety.
- Stop keeping score — life isn’t fair and marriage is not a competition. It doesn’t matter who gets up more with the kids, who takes out the trash X number of times, who wakes up earlier, who spends more on clothing, who works more hours. You are a team and should both give 100% (not 50/50). Focus more on what YOU can bring to your relationship.
- Keep learning — read books about healthy relationships, listen to podcasts on marriage and parenting, attend a marriage retreat, go to counseling, seek out opportunities to grow, improve, learn, and implement.
- Evaluate your life and eliminate commitments and obligations that cause stress as stress negatively affects ALL relationships. (These might be REALLY big decisions like downsizing your home, quitting a stressful job, ending a long-standing tradition, or pulling your kids out of extracurricular activities. I promise it will be worth it in the end!)
If you’re empty nesters…
- Enjoy doing all the things you really wanted to do together but didn’t because you had young kids who needed you!
- Try new hobbies, start new traditions, and create new shared experiences together.
- Find a physical activity you enjoy doing together (hiking, biking, fishing, etc.)
- Be a cheerleader for your adult children — let them live their lives, praise what they do well, be available for help and guidance when they ask.
- Invite them back into your life/home/family but don’t be offended if they say no at times (they need time to create their own traditions and learn what works for them)
- Be the fun grandparents who say “yes” almost all the time.
- Look for ways to encourage and mentor younger married couples.
If you’re in an unhealthy relationship…
- Focus on what you can control… yourself. Read, journal, pray, and go to counseling (even if your spouse will not.)
- Write down what you are thankful for in your relationship each day — as many tiny things as you can think of.
- Surround yourself with other uplifting relationships.
- Continue speaking their love language (even if they never speak yours).
- Respond, don’t react.
- Ask, don’t assume.
- Nix sarcasm, passive-aggressive comments, and guilt trips — they never work.
- Seek medical help for chemical imbalances (depression, anxiety, etc.)
- Create boundaries for yourself and your relationship*.
* If your relationship is abusive in any way (verbal, mental, emotional, or physical) please remove yourself from the home/relationship — even if it’s only temporary.
My Favorite Relationship Books:
- The 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman)
- His Needs, Her Needs (Willard Harley) — Here’s a great summary.
- Love and Respect (Emerson Eggerichs)
- The Meaning of Marriage (Tim and Kathy Keller)
- What Did You Expect? (Paul David Tripp)
- The Four Tendencies (Gretchen Rubin)
- Boundaries (Henry Cloud & John Townsend)
- Boundaries in Marriage (Henry Cloud & John Townsend)
- Uninvited (Lysa TerKeurst)
- It’s Not Suppose to Be This Way (Lysa TerKeurst)
- Forgiving What You Can’t Forget (Lysa TerKeurst)
- The Bible (start with 1 Corinthians 13)
Pick one, dive in, and get ready to take notes (I have several binders filled with notes). Then… most importantly… TAKE ACTION!
I enjoy listening to these while cooking, walking, folding laundry, gardening, etc.
Related Blog Posts:
- Dream Weddings, Date Nights, and a Decade with Dave
- The Quest for “Fair” Can Ruin your Relationship
- An Attitude of Hospitality Towards Our Families
- Don’t Let Housework Hurt Your Relationship
- Our Favorite At-Home Date Nights (COVID-style!)
- Our Engagement Story (the only time he’s ever surprised me!)
- Laughter is the Best Medicine
If your relationship is filled with magical romance, enjoy it!
However, don’t let yourself think it’s necessary for a happy, healthy marriage.
After years of daily choosing kindness, letting the little things slide, working through the big things, always striving to learn and grow, giving more than we take, and seeking out small moments in the midst of the mundane — I’m confident that faithfully pursuing everyday love trumps Hollywood romance Every. Single. Time!
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13