My husband, David, and I had been married about a year. One day, as we were discussing the joys of married life, we concluded that things had gone so smoothly for us during our first year that we should write a book. We were obviously experts!
Well, after 15 years of marriage, my perspective has changed - a lot. Family life and marriage are hard, and I've had plenty of chances to remember that book idea with embarrassment and laughter.
Far from expert advice, here are 15 simple things I've learned after 15 years of marriage:
Let your spouse enjoy hobbies - without guilt
Few things cause as much contention as resenting your spouse's hobbies. If you try to make your spouse feel guilty about his time spent doing what he enjoys, you'll both be miserable. Come to a mutual agreement. Allot time for both you and your spouse to spend enjoying your hobbies, and stick to your plan without anger or resentment. Your spouse will be happier which, in turn, brings you greater happiness.
Be excited about what your spouse is excited about
If possible, become involved in what your spouse loves. I like football, but my husband, whose brain is a perfectly crafted catalogue of sports facts, loves everything about the game. Over time, he has taught me a lot about the many rules and nuances of football, and I've arrived at a place where I truly love taking in a game with him. We also spend time together enjoying one of my hobbies - researching and visiting historical homes. Give your spouse's hobbies and passions a chance, and he or she will be willing to return the favor.
Care about what you look like
Make an effort to take care of yourself. This has been one of my goals recently, and although I have a long way to go, I have noticed that my mood improves when I have spent just a few extra minutes on my appearance. We all know that our improved moods change the vibes in our homes for the better.
Don't care about what you look like
Take care of yourself, but don't stress too much about your "sweats-and-T-shirt" days. Your spouse loves you and is attracted to you. Be confident in that.
"Quantity time" is just as important as "quality time."
You have to put in the time to have a good marriage and family life. Quantity counts! Be present and involved - day in and day out.
Cook for your family
Over the years, I've gone from cooking every night for financial reasons to really relishing cooking. Some nights are fish stick nights (embrace it), but there is something uniquely satisfying about making real food with real ingredients for the people you love.
Let the kids play on your bed
I'm not from the "The kids are never allowed on our bed" camp. We all love to hang out together on our bed, reading, talking and laughing as a family every night. It is often the best part of my day and is a great way to feel unified.
Kiss hello and goodbye
Despite our kids' occasional protests to our kisses, it is important for them to see that my husband and I love each other. Kissing hello and goodbye are two simple ways to tell your spouse, "You are important to me."
Say "I love you."
Just as there are those who aren't big on physical displays of affection, some people aren't motivated by verbal affirmations. However, for Dave and me, it works. It anchors my life when he tells me he loves me. Take this a step further and tell your spouse exactly why you love him or her.
Say "I'm sorry."
Keeping pride in check is a struggle. During those times that Dave and I aren't getting along very well, I often realize that it's because we haven't been willing to admit we made mistakes. Be vigilant about apologizing when it is appropriate and necessary.
Public criticism is the quickest way to hurt your relationship
Avoid putting down your spouse in front of others. If there are real issues in your marriage and you need advice, get help from someone you trust, but if you find yourself complaining to others, stop. So what if he forgot to take out the trash? You have flaws too, and you both deserve to be forgiven of them.
Criticism of people he loves is the second quickest way to hurt your relationship
The reality is, you're not going to feel compatible with everyone in your spouse's life. Take the high road during these times. Avoiding criticism of people in your spouse's life helps build trust between you.
Dating is just as important now as it was 15 years ago
Dave and I dated for a year and a half before we got married. It was miserable being apart during that time. We have found that things haven't changed much. We still love to be around each other. Going on dates is a crucial way to push that much-needed "reset button."
Stay committed during tough times
Whether it's due to internal family issues or external stressors, there are times when life is just hard. Illness, money, employment and problems with children all take a toll on marriages. During those times, it's helpful to have a long-term view and to simply keep plugging along. Crises will change and things will eventually get better.
Good, deep belly laughs heal a lot of pain. Sometimes family life is hilarious. Run with it. Try to find at least one thing to laugh about together each day.