This was my engagement ring, which is now attached to my wedding ring.
I always marveled at how sparkly and shiny it was. But after washing my hands with soap daily, cooking, cleaning, etc. it gets a little dull. Just like silver tarnishes and fades and loses its luster.
But I have found that a quick cleaning with a toothbrush, little bit of soap, lots of water and a little spritz of Windex afterwards, shines it up like new. I do this every week to keep it looking sparkly and new.
Have you ever polished silver and been amazed how it gleams? Have you ever taken a piece of jewelry and dropped it in jewelry cleaner? The difference is amazing.
I kind of feel like marriage is the same way. We've read about how those love chemicals wear off and you know I believe a strong marriage is the best parenting tool you can have.
And marriage does take time, care and effort to keep it shiny. Someone told me recently, "If you have to try, then it won't work." But I don't believe that. With the busy-ness of life, the stress and strife and human failings, it is easy to forget to try. I'm by no means an expert, having been divorced, but - like weight loss - it's best to learn from the past, and then look only forward.
Here are some things I feel like are helpful for me:
1) The triangle of marriage. When we were engaged, a very sweet neighbor put her two thumbs together and two pointer fingers together to form a triangle. "That's the two of you at the bottom," she said, "and that's God at the top." If you keep Him at the forefront, it will guide everything you do and lead to a more fulfilling marriage. I've heard marriage retreats are awesome, and hope we can do one someday.
2) Hold hands when you argue. You just won't believe the difference it makes. I have a hard time remembering to do this, but when we do it diffuses things quickly and brings us calmly back together to solve the problem.
3) Have sweet little routines. Jason and I work together, so we often drive the 45 minutes to work together. He reads the paper to me and I just love it. I bring him lunch every day. We sit down together most nights once Brady is in bed and watch the news and talk about what's going on or watch a movie. Sometimes we cook together. When we're apart, we check in with each other often by cell phone (neither of us texts, hearing that voice is so personal for us). As our marriage lengthens, I hope to keep these little rituals. They keep us close and connected and are very comforting. Too often people lose those as the years go by. It takes work - trying - to keep those in place.
4) Share the load. Jase and I have specific chores. I do the grocery shopping, most of the cooking, laundry, homework help and dishes. He does all the outside stuff like mowing and painting, the finances, vacuuming, making the bed, dusting. Then we share things: taking care of the animals, parenting Brady, taking out the trash, etc. Neither feels unduly put-upon.
5) Be a "team." I think marriage is very hard if you aren't working together toward some goal. Maybe that's raising the kids, reaching for retirement, saving to travel or buy a house. If you're working together toward a common goal and see each other as team players, things are better, I think.
6) Talk nice to teach other. I see way way too many people "jokingly" put each other down. Or talk bad about each other when the other isn't there. In the Bible it says, "The mouth speaks what the heart is full of." The more you down each other, the more you begin to see each other that way. Those harsh words, whether "joking" or not, undermine the relationship's foundation. They hurt feelings. I believe that with all my heart. Speak nicely of him or her, and you will feel nicely towards them.
7) DATE NIGHT! Make time for it, or you risk losing your connection. We're lucky to work together and be self-employed. We have more time together than most. But we still make time for date nights outside of working. I think every couple should do this, even if it's as simple as having grandma come over and the two of you take a stroll around the neighborhood. Even without the finances to pay for a date night, you can find creative ways to have special, couple, alone time.
8) What does your spouse need? I don't remember where I got this idea, but if you work every day to put your spouse before yourself, to think of what they need, both you and him or her will likely feel better. They feel loved. You feel generous. And if both of you are doing that, wow is it cool. Taking the focus off of you and on to them does wonderful things. Now, it won't always happen, but again, if you try, you'll do it more often than not.
9) Cut each other some slack. Something I've noticed lately, hubby and I try to counteract each other's bad moods. If he comes home grumpy, I try to stay calm, figure out what the root problem is and help him. If I get my feelings hurt or get upset, he stays calm and tries to help me out of it. We try to remember each of us is human, fallible, prone to emotional response, and if the calm one can stay calm, it helps the upset one a lot and prevents a lot of arguments.
10) Build each other up. In the early days it's easy to remember to say beautiful things and pour compliments out. I read somewhere that the number of compliments dwindles significantly by 3 years in. How sad! Every day tell your spouse something you admire about them. They're attractive, smart, diligent, a good person, a good parent, a hard worker, talented. Encourage their hobbies and expressions of who they are as an individual. What drew you to them? If you remember to tell them, you'll also remember yourself why you're with them.
11) Communicate. If you have a concern, do NOT let it sit and fester. Consider the root of the problem, then tell your spouse. The quickest way to resenting someone is being hurt or disappointed and then not telling them. If you're a team, discuss the problem and how to solve it. It's best to stay calm when doing so though, :) He or she cannot know your needs if you don't express them. It's impossible. While we work toward putting the other's needs first, we're still just human. We get self involved. We can't read minds. We need guidance. I try hard not to feel that my husband should know what I need. He doesn't and I'm humble enough and invested enough in our marriage to tell him.
12) Laugh a lot! Laughter is so good for the mind and body, and good for a marriage too. Be goofy together. Do silly things. Joke around (but nicely!). We laugh all the time and it helps balance the tough times. At silly people, funny things in the world, funny things we say, times we mess up. Yesterday I accidentally stepped on Jase's foot and then moments later whacked him in the head with the door! After apologizing profusely, we both totally cracked up.
13) Have each other's back. There's nothing more powerful than a spouse who looks out for you, defends you, encourages you, supports you, is there for you. Protect each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Help each other to grow as people.
14) Treat each other special. Jase makes the coffee and gets my coffee cup ready each day. This small thoughtful gesture means so much to me and I miss it when he's out of town. At the store, I make sure to stock up on all his favorite treats and make his favorite meal often (potato soup!). One day out of the blue he fixed a drawer on my dresser that was wobbly and I was so pleasantly surprised. The other day I bought him a brand-new pillow just because he needed one. Expressions of love can be small but powerful, not just on holidays. See what little sweet things you can do for each other every day.
15) Celebrate the small things. Make a point to cheer each person's daily achievements and accomplishments whether at work, spiritually, health wise. Notice when they are working hard and doing good things. Take time each day to thank God for the good things in your life, big or small, and the things your spouse has achieved. Gratitude and celebration goes a long way toward happiness.
16) And shine up that ring often! It's a tangible reminder of what you are working towards in your marriage.