Authors: Todd and Joy Smith, Founders of Little Things Matter.
We recently celebrated our 30th anniversary on a 10-day Mediterranean cruise. It was a real special time for us to enjoy each other and celebrate our life together.
Of the more than 225 lessons on this blog, the most popular of them all was the post we wrote together five years ago titled 25 tips to staying married 25 years.
We hope you find our updated list just as valuable.
The following points are not listed in any specific order. It is our hope that these tips will help you enjoy a more rewarding marriage.
1. Marry the right person. There is only one way you will know if the person you are dating is the right person to marry and that is by spending time together. We recommend dating at least one year before getting engaged. We dated for four years before getting married. Once we got married, there were no surprises.
2. Make your marriage your top priority. If you are married, there is nothing that should take precedence over your marriage, and that includes your children, hobbies, friends, and career.
3. Understand it takes hard work. Building a marriage of 30 years is not easy. We have had some very difficult periods. We have even had to go to marriage counseling to work through some issues. Know there will be challenging times and when they occur, work through them with a genuine desire to improve your marriage.
4. NEVER say the word divorce. If you are committed to building a long-term healthy marriage, make a vow to each other that you will never say the word divorce or anything else that would leave the other person to believe you are not 100% committed to your marriage.
5. Avoid emotional relationships outside your marriage. Don’t allow yourself to go outside your relationship with your spouse, with the opposite sex, for your emotional needs. Our spouse cannot meet all our needs, but when there is a lack of connection with our spouse and we look elsewhere for our needs to be met, we are likely headed for danger. If you are lacking a connection with your spouse, figure out what is going on, get to the bottom of it and reconnect. It could save your marriage.
6. Don’t use absolutes. This means not saying things like, “You always…” and “You Never…”. We said these types of things early in our marriage and found them destructive. We then made an agreement to never use any of those types of phrases again and neither of us has since.
7. Find at least one 30-minute block of time to spend together each day. It could be in the morning before work or in the evening. During this designated time, discuss what’s going on in each of your lives. We all have a lot going on, but if your marriage is a priority, spending time together should take precedence over all other activities. During this time, avoid distractions by putting your mobile device in the other room.
8. Communicate. Effective communication is critical for any marriage to last. This is especially important during difficult periods. Learn your spouse’s communication style and the way he or she needs to hear what you have to say. If something is really bothering you, make sure you discuss it. If you are the one listening, let your spouse talk without interrupting. Seek to understand his/her position. If you argue, try to defend yourself, or say something negative, your spouse will be less likely to communicate his/her feelings in the future.
9. Don’t argue over petty things. When we first got married we argued over every little ridiculous thing. It made our lives miserable. We then made the decision that we would no longer argue about meaningless things. We now live our lives knowing we don’t need to prove a meaningless point or be right about something that doesn’t matter.
10. Avoid holding grudges. After you work through an issue, move on and don’t harbor ill feelings. We also strongly encourage you to not bring up past challenges. The past is the past. It’s been years since either of us has brought up a negative issue from the past.
11. Serve one another. Be intentional. We are both very thoughtful about the little things we do to serve each other. This is about putting the other person’s needs before your own. The more you serve and meet the needs of your spouse, the more your spouse will serve and meet your needs. Serving your spouse needs to be part of who you are, not something you do when you want something in return.
12. Be considerate. This means everything from cleaning up your mess to avoiding doing or saying things that you know bug or irritate your spouse. If you know something bothers your spouse, be extra intentional and avoid doing it. Don’t even justify doing it occasionally.
13. Be encouraging. When your spouse is going through a difficult period, starting a new endeavor, or working on an important project, be there to encourage and support him or her. You should be your spouse’s number one fan.
14. Show your appreciation. In a marriage, it’s easy to take things for granted. Tell your spouse how much you appreciate the little things he or she does for you. Cleaning the house, picking up the dry cleaning, doing the laundry, cooking dinner for the family, and fixing the leaky faucet are just a few examples. Don’t let one good deed go unnoticed.
15. Be honest with each other. Once trust is lost, it is difficult to regain. This adage is especially true in marriage. Being honest also includes being honest with your feelings.
16. Always show respect to each other. This includes the way you communicate to each other, they way you talk about your spouse to others, and the way you treat your spouse.
17. Be an attractive mate. This includes everything from your physical appearance to the clothes you wear. Put as much effort into being an attractive partner now as you did when you were dating.
18. Love your spouse according to his or love language. Read Joy’s post titled, Loving People the Way They Need to be Loved to learn more about the significance of love languages.
19. Be playful. It may be sending a cute little sexy text message, saying or doing something seductive, or inviting your spouse to join you in the shower. Add a little spontaneity and spice to your marriage and make it fun! Now that we are empty nesters, it’s become part of our daily lives.
20. Make a weekly date a priority. This is HUGE! Dress up, get out of the house, and enjoy a special time together. During these times together show an interest in the things that are important to each other and avoid talking about subjects that could create tension. Whatever you do, DO NOT look at your mobile device unless your babysitter is texting you. Make your time together your priority. Everything else in life can wait.
21. Freedom in intimacy. Part of our date night isn’t just a night on the town. Even if we aren’t feeling connected on a particular date night, we still enjoy an intimate evening together. Having at least one intimate time together weekly has been our priority for 30 years. If we are feeling disconnected, it connects us!
22. Take get-a-way trips. While we try to connect during our time together each day and on date night, nothing has helped us connect more than taking short trips together. Often times it’s just a long weekend. These trips don’t need to cost a lot of money. On our last trip we went camping and had an amazing time. Like all the times when you are together, set boundaries on the use of electronic devices.
23. Make family and parenting decisions together. We are a team and we make all family related decisions as a team. We are also intentional in our parenting. Your spouse’s love and respect for you will grow when he or she sees you loving and parenting to the best of your ability.
24. Leave your work at work. When you come home from work, resist the temptation to talk about work, unless your spouse wants to hear about it. Instead, focus your time together on subjects of interest to everyone. If your career requires you to respond to text and email messages when you are home, find blocks of time that don’t interfere with your family time.
25. Give your spouse freedom. We give each other the freedom to do things that give us pleasure independently. Of course, we don’t take advantage of it, but giving your spouse the opportunity to do the things he or she enjoys is important.
26. Don’t let little things bother you. Just as you’re not perfect, your spouse isn’t perfect either. When your spouse does something that bothers you, let it go, unless it’s something so important that you feel it should be discussed. If you choose to discuss it, avoid discussing it when you are upset or when you’ve had alcohol to drink. Also, keep in mind that each time you are critical of your partner, you are driving a little wedge in your relationship. Choose your “times to criticize” wisely.
27. Pursue your own healing. Any time you take two people coming from two different backgrounds and families you are going to have differences. But when you react or respond to a situation in a way that seems irrational or exaggerated you are probably being triggered from a past experience.
If you find yourself responding to a situation in an irrational or exaggerated way, go seek some counseling and get the healing you need. It is our responsibility to pursue our own healing and to understand it’s an ongoing process. Being healed from negative experiences of the past will not only help you, but it will also help improve all your relationships.
28. Stay out of debt. Financial stress is the number one cause of divorce. Sit down together and create a budget that you will both stay committed to and don’t allow yourselves to justify spending more money than you make.
29. Your spouse cannot meet all your needs. I remember when I was a young married woman with little children. When my husband would come home I was so hungry for adult conversation, he probably felt swarmed when he walked in the door. We all need to pursue a life and relationships outside our marriages. Not for a lack of connection with our spouse, but because our spouses can’t meet all our needs.
30. Continue growing as people. We are both committed to learning, growing and achieving our personal best. This includes growing as a spouse, parent and individual. As one of us gets better, it helps the other person get better, just as iron sharpens iron. The more you grow as a person, the more you will experience life’s winds blowing at your back.
For those of you who are married, we want to encourage you to review this list with your spouse and discuss the steps you can both take to make to improve your marriage.
If you are not yet married, we strongly recommend pre-marital counseling. We suggested this to both of our married children and their spouses and they will readily tell you that it was valuable, enlightening, and set the foundation for the marriage they now enjoy.
How long have you been married? Do you have some tips you can share with the LTM community? Please tell us in the comment section below this post.
You can enjoy an amazing marriage, if you will focus on the little things that go into building a successful marriage.