30 Tips to Staying Married 30 Years

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 … Continue reading 30 Tips to Staying Married 30 Years

Authors: Todd and Joy Smith, Founders of Little Things Matter.

IMG_2060We 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.

How to Get Life’s Winds Blowing at Your Back

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to get all the breaks?  They have the perfect spouse, the rich parents, the ideal job or business, the big beautiful home, and the nice car. Everything seems to be going their way. 30 years ago when I married my wife Joy, she said one of the … Continue reading How to Get Life’s Winds Blowing at Your Back

Better Life TrailHave you ever wondered why some people seem to get all the breaks?  They have the perfect spouse, the rich parents, the ideal job or business, the big beautiful home, and the nice car. Everything seems to be going their way.

30 years ago when I married my wife Joy, she said one of the first things she was going to teach her children is that life is not fair. Like many children coming from broken homes, she grew up in an unhealthy environment and life wasn’t fair.

Why do some people get all the breaks?

On a recent trip, I was reading the manuscript for John Addison’s new book, Real Leadership. John shares his story of how he went from a young confused high school graduate working an entry-level position at a life insurance company to becoming the Co-CEO of Primerica, one of America’s top life insurance companies.

As he shared his story, he talked about how he never seemed to know what his future would look like. When he graduated high school, he had no idea what he would do for a living and still didn’t know after college. 

He said he just focused on being a better person every day, a lesson his mom taught him, and making good decisions.

Here’s exactly what he said.

“I believe one of the great keys to a successful life is incremental improvement. It’s not about going from where you are today to moving into a mansion with five swimming pools tomorrow. It’s not about “quantum leaps” or the big dramatic breakthrough. Those are great for Hollywood films, where the filmmaker has only two hours to get the hero from Point A to Point Z.

But back here in reality, where life’s major changes and plot points are measured in years rather than minutes, it’s about day-by-day personal improvement, finding your pathway, one step at a time, to where you want to go. Exciting? No. Dramatic? Hardly. But it does have the advantage of being “real”—and over time it can indeed lead to events both dramatic and exciting.

And there’s the rub: time.

Incremental improvement doesn’t happen automatically, and it sure doesn’t happen swiftly. You have to commit to it over a lengthy period of time, and that takes a certain amount of character and spine.

A lot of people try to short-circuit the process by jumping around, zigging and zagging through life. They’re too impatient, too unfocused, or too willing to follow the next shiny new idea that comes along. Tapping into the great power of incremental improvement takes patience, persistence, and faith. The payoff is well more than worth it.”

While reading John’s book, I began reflecting on my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of those who have life’s winds blowing at their backs. I realized there was one common thread woven through all these lives: they are lived by humble people who are trying to get better every day.

How to start getting all the breaks?

No matter what you’re going through or how bad things have been, today can mark the beginning of a new chapter in your life.

You don’t need to know where you are going or what your life will look like 10 years from now. All you need to do is commit to getting better every day.

Here’s who John Addison said gets the breaks.

“The shaping events in your life, those moments that in hindsight prove to be crucial turning points, are often events that just seem to happen, out of the blue, the chance confluence of unpredictable circumstances. But the truth is, they don’t “just happen.” Most times, they happen because you’re taking action in the direction of your why. You may not be able to plan the results, but that’s okay: If you keep moving forward, focusing on incremental improvement, you’ll put yourself in their path.

This is one of the most deceptively simple leadership secrets there is: keep moving forward. People won’t follow you if you’re sitting in the corner sucking your thumb and talking about how bad things are. They’ll only follow you if you’re going somewhere.”

The process begins with our decisions.

While there will always be exceptions, in large part our lives are a reflection of our decisions.  My mentor Jim Rohn said, “Success comes from a series of good decisions made over time, while failure comes from a series of poor decisions made over time.”

If we want to improve our lives, we must improve our decisions.  It’s really that simple. 

Every day we make hundreds of little decisions, each influencing one or more areas of our lives. The good news is you know the right answer to 99% of those decisions. The bad news is most of them don’t bring immediate pleasure or rewards.

When you start making decisions to eat the foods you should and avoid those you shouldn’t, you will become healthier.

When you start exercising regularly because you know you should, you will have more energy, lose weight, and feel better about yourself.

When you start bringing more value to your place of work than you are being paid, new doors of opportunity will open.

When you start doing the little things to be a better spouse, your marriage will grow.

When you start focusing on the ways you can become a better parent, your relationship with your children will blossom. 

When you start becoming a more responsible person, people’s respect for you will grow.

While I can’t guarantee many things, I can guarantee you this: if you focus on getting better EVERY day, life’s winds will begin blowing at your back. 

Like everyone, you will face rough seas as you navigate through life, but if you build your life on a foundation of humility, character, and personal growth, you will survive life’s storms a stronger person.

Start today

Let me challenge you to start being intentional about doing the little things each day that you know you should do, especially those you don’t want to do. 

Each time you do something you would not have done previously, pat yourself on the back.  Don’t look to others to congratulate you on your good decisions, instead congratulate yourself.  It’s your life!

As you continue to push yourself each day to get better, your self-confidence will begin to grow. As you start feeling better about the person you are becoming, you will be even more motivated to continue growing and getting better.

Life’s greatest rewards don’t go to those who are lucky. They go to those who have paid the price over many years.

Making Your Weaknesses Relevant

One on the most misunderstood statements today is this: “Focus on your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant.”  Every time I hear or read it, I cringe and think, “What if your weaknesses are relevant?”

Excuses for Weaknesses

Have you ever heard people make excuses for poor performance?  Then they followed it by an explanation like this: “That’s just the way I am; it’s part of my DNA.”  Or, “That is one of my weak points.” Or, “I’m just not good at that.”  Then they blow it off like it’s acceptable.

How much respect would you have for someone who is always late and says… read more

One on the most misunderstood statements today is this: “Focus on your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant.”  Every time I hear or read it, I cringe and think, “What if your weaknesses are relevant?”

Excuses for Weaknesses

Have you ever heard people make excuses for poor performance?  Then they followed it by an explanation like this: “That’s just the way I am; it’s part of my DNA.”  Or, “That is one of my weak points.” Or, “I’m just not good at that.”  Then they blow it off like it’s acceptable.

How much respect would you have for someone who is always late and says, “I’m sorry, but it’s awfully hard for me to be on time.”

How successful would a tennis player be who is exceptional at every part of his game, but can’t serve?

How far within your organization would a person get who does his or her job well, but can’t communicate effectively with co-workers?

Or, think about the young father who is a dedicated dad but has a real problem with his temper.  How do you think his relationship would be with his wife and children if he thought, “I’m so good at everything else, I‘m just not going to worry about my temper?  They will have to accept me the way I am”?

For most of us, our weaknesses are relevant and the worst thing we can do is to ignore them or discount their importance.

Deal With Your Weakness

Author Nathaniel S. Summers said, “The strength of a person is often weighed by how they deal with their weaknesses.” 

When I started my entrepreneurial career 31 years ago, my English was awful. (It had been my worst subject in school.)  It quickly became clear to me that if I wanted to be successful, I would have to focus on my written communications and make them a strength.  Today, I proof all my emails and consider the little things I can do to improve my messages, even if they’re casual emails going to my family and friends.

I am an extreme introvert but, because I consciously work on it, no one would ever know if I did not tell them.  I realized if I were going to be successful, I would have to push myself outside my comfort zone and work on my people skills and make them a strength.

How do you feel about your weaknesses?  Are you intentional about working on them or have you fallen into the trap of thinking they don’t matter?  Do you think or say, “That’s just the way I am.  I can’t help it.  Don’t expect me to change”?

If your co-workers sat in a conference room and made a list of your greatest weaknesses, what would be on the list?  As you consider the things they would discuss, how many of those things could you improve tomorrow, if you were intentional?

If your spouse or significant other were to make a list of the things you do that bug him or her, what would be put on the list?  As you think of the most likely answers, how hard would it be to stop doing those things, if you really tried?

Rewards for Turning Weaknesses into Strengths

What many people don’t realize is that their weaknesses are holding them back from enjoying more meaningful relationships, advancing their careers, improving their self-images and confidence, and living happier lives.

I am a firm believer that when you do the little things that you know you should do, without excuses, you feel better about yourself and the person you are becoming.  When you blow them off or discount them, your subconscious knows the truth.  When you repeatedly fail to do the things you know you should do, it’s impossible to feel good about yourself.

The fact is that 95% of the weaknesses I see holding people back are things they could change today, by simply being intentional.

My Three Challenges For You

1.  Change Your Attitude.

Never again allow yourself to think or believe that weaknesses are irrelevant.  You can change weaknesses into strengths.

Michael Jordan said, “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”

2.  Acknowledge your weaknesses.

The first step towards improving your weaknesses is to openly acknowledge them.

3. Be Intentional.

Choose one weakness and start today to work on it at home, at work, and in your social circles.

For most people, it’s not the lack of focus on their strengths that holds them back; it’s the lack of focus on their weaknesses!

10 Tips to Help You Achieve Your Goals

How would you like to increase the odds of achieving your goals?  Whether you desire to lose weight, create financial independence, build a healthy marriage, or raise responsible children, the formula for achieving any goal is the same.

Here are 10 tips in sequential order that will help you increase the odds of achieving your goals:  (Each link is one of my related lessons.)

1.  Identify what’s important to you!  The only goals you will succeed in reaching are those that are truly important to you…read more

How would you like to increase the odds of achieving your goals?  Whether you desire to lose weight, create financial independence, build a healthy marriage, or raise responsible children, the formula for achieving any goal is the same.

Here are 10 tips in sequential order that will help you increase the odds of achieving your goals:  (Each link is one of my related lessons.)

1.  Identify what’s important to you!  The only goals you will succeed in reaching are those that are truly important to you. If a goal is not meaningful or significant to you, you will quit when faced with obstacles. Take 30 minutes and make a list of the things that are truly essential in your life; those that you highly value. Then highlight the most important points on that list and set your goals.

2.  Learn from those who have already achieved “your” goals.  Once you are clear on what you truly want to achieve, your next step is to learn what you need to know. The best source of knowledge will come from those who have already reached goals similar to yours. Identify people you respect and admire, who have achieved the goals you desire, and learn as much as you can from them.

3.  Determine the person you need to become.  Far too often people focus on what they need to do to achieve their goals and fail to consider who they must become. To accomplish something you have never accomplished before, you must be willing to do what you’ve never done before; go where you’ve never been before; become someone you’ve never been before.

As you learn from those who have achieved “your” goals, pay as much attention to their personal attributes and characteristics as you do to what they did to realize their goals.

4.  Put together a plan.  After learning from and studying those who have been successful in reaching similar goals, your next step is to put together your plan. You need to clearly outline what you need to do and when, step-by-step, and then reduce those steps into daily activities. Knowing exactly what you need to do every day is critical to achieving any worthwhile goal.

5.  Ask, “Am I willing to pay the price required to achieve my goal?  After you complete your plan, be honest with yourself and determine if your goal is important enough to you that you will discipline yourself to do what’s required each day to achieve your goal. One of the biggest reasons people fail to reach their goals is because they are not willing to do what’s required over a sustained period of time.  How about you.

6.  Allocate the time required.  Your next step is to block out the time necessary each day to work your plan. If you are like most people (and that includes me), you will need to give something up that’s less important so you have the time to achieve what’s more important. Blocking out time each day to work your plan is vital.  Success comes from consistent daily action!

7.  Get started.  Once you have learned what you need to know, divided your plan into daily activities, and blocked out time each day to do the assigned tasks, it’s time to Work Your Plan. Start tomorrow! When the time you’ve blocked out arrives, push yourself to do what you know you should do without any further delay. It’s time for action. You could continue to study dozens of books, listen to CDs, and interview successful people (all helpful), but the greatest, most practical knowledge comes from implementing what you’ve learned.

8.  Make wise decisions.  Your odds of achieving your goals dramatically improve when you follow a logical process of making your decisions, both big and small. With each decision you make, consider all your options; write down the pros and cons of each option.  From there, the right decision is usually obvious.

9.  Refuse to allow excuses.  The No.1 reason people fail to achieve their goals is because they allow themselves to make excuses for not doing what they know they should do. One of the most crucial keys to success is doing what you know you should do, every day, even when you don’t feel like doing it.  This means NEVER allowing yourself to justify not doing what you know you should do. Make a commitment that you will not make excuses under any circumstances!

10.  Strive for excellence.  The No.1 key to my success over the last 31 years is that I have always strived (and I still strive) for excellence in whatever I do. I analyze everything I’ve done and consider how I can do it better. As you work your plan each day, evaluate everything you are doing and consider how you can refine what you are doing so that your results improve. The compounding effect of small daily improvements is powerful. The best of the best are those who strive for constant and never-ending improvement.

If you will take the time to study each of the above tips and the corresponding lesson highlighted in many of them, you will significantly increase your odds of achieving your goals. The reason many people fail to achieve their goals is because they are unwilling to do what is necessary over the required period of time. If you’re like most people (and that includes me), you will go through periods of discouragement and disappointment. That’s normal.

When you get down, remember “Quitters never win and Winners never quit.” Remind yourself that the reason you will achieve your goals is because you are a winner, not a quitter! Step out from the crowd and build a life for yourself that makes you proud!