1. Marriage is for life

We work hardest for the things we want. Many vows include "until death do us part." Right from the start, a long-term goal, "for life," has been set. This helps when you or your marriage is challenged. Because your marriage is for life, both partners, and the marriage, gain the strength needed to ride the bumps to reach your happily ever after.

I remember the first time I thought about, and relied on, my marriage goals. I was unexpectedly pregnant and had many questions.

What were we going to do? Not only was I pregnant, but I was pregnant with twins. We had three children and thought we were done. We didn't have any baby stuff left. My husband lost his job. I applied to work at an emergency clinic for animals, 11 p.m. - 7 a.m. would they still hire me?

I placed our ultrasound on my church leader's desk and told him, "Not only has God told us we aren't done having children he put two in there."

He laughed and asked about my husband's and my plans for a long marriage. We discussed how having this goal made it easier to get through life's challenges. Relying on my husband and our long-term marriage goal provided the stability we needed until the blessings kicked in.

I was hired and managed to work seven months, at which time I was put on bed rest. My husband DJ'd and taught automotive technology. Together, we earned enough to pay the insurance, rent and eat.

Friends and family provided all the baby needs and, about three months after the twin's births, my husband found a full-time job. He's been there ever since. The twins, born at 34 weeks, are now 15 years old. Looking back, after looking forward, I can see the leader was right. Our long-term marriage goals leveled the challenges and made us stronger than ever.

2. Include God in your marriage

Pray, worship and read the scriptures as a couple. Prayer as an individual, couple, family and for each other strengthens the bond between God, spouses, parents and children. When praying for each other, don't forget to express your love for them. My chest always warms when I thank God for my husband and our children.

The scriptures remind us Jesus showed his love through service. We should always be on the lookout for service opportunities, especially when rushed. Ask if there's something you can do. Service grows your love for those you serve and strengthens your marriage when you serve your spouse.

3. Accept differences of opinion

I've always looked at differences as a way to strengthen each of us. The world needs differences in order to appreciate all the good that exists and to accomplish the growth needed by each and every one of us. Marriage works even with differences. One does not always have to be right, but they do have to be loving to maintain harmony within a marriage and family. A loving couple respects their partner's differences and uses them to strengthen the marriage.

My love of animals and my husband's concern for mistreated, abandoned, lost animals has allowed us to adopt and rescue many throughout our marriage. Both our animal needs have been met. Together, we've been able to keep our passion within workable limits. And best of all, instead of compromise we communicate, respect each other's opinions and we don't tear each other down.

4. Continue to date

Do you remember dating? All the fun you had learning about each other, looking and acting your best? This shouldn't stop. At least once a week, usually Friday or Saturday, my husband and I spend date time together. We've seen so many marriages fall into a rut because he's doing something, she's doing something, but they're not doing it together.

Sure, I have my likes, he has his, and we have ours. At times, we still do separate things, but date night is our favorite activity. Many of our shared likes were developed on our date nights as we experienced each other's likes and discovered we liked them too, or at least, some part of them.

I love the outdoors, walking, hiking, four-wheeling and camping. He does too. In the beginning of our marriage, we didn't get to do these activities as often as we wanted. I hated getting ready, and his and my work schedules didn't allow for many outings.

Now we're out as often as the weekends allow. He gladly keeps the camping and hiking supplies ready, and I shop for our food and snack needs. Because of the eternal perspective, he didn't negate my love for the outdoors by criticizing my dislike for preparation. He gladly took on the responsibility. He likes to know everything is in its place, and all possible incidents are covered.

Marry for life and beyond. Love your spouse for whom they are and don't try to change them. You'll find your differences strengthen you, your marriage and your family bonds.Here are some more tips to strengthen your marriage.

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