Ten Habits of a Healthy Marriage
Dear New Bride,
Ten years ago, I was in your shoes. We were just back from our honeymoon, stepping into everyday life as husband and wife. We painted our walls and arranged our furniture (mostly bookshelves). We unpacked dishes and planted a tree (a red maple we’ve moved three times). And with each item I placed in my cupboards, each task I completed as a new bride, I felt deeply the significance of the fact that I was creating habits and forming patterns for the rest of our lives.
Looking back now, with the perspective of ten years, four children, and more than one life-threatening medical emergency, I’m so thankful for the relationship principles I had firmly set in my heart and mind. The melding of two lives into one is never easy: the marriage of two imperfect people is hard work. But I’m so grateful to those women who exemplified for me the power of high ideals blended with the beauty of grace.
If I could tell you one thing, new bride, it would be this: set about in these early days of marriage to establish the habits you want to maintain for your next fifty years. Then, when ten years have come and gone, and you look back on all the ways you know you could have done better, you’ll be thankful that you aimed high, and grateful for your husband’s grace when you fell short.
What habits am I glad I cultivated? What ideals am I still cherishing–and working towards? Here are ten of the habits I believe have helped make our marriage–imperfect though it is–a healthy one. These are the ideals that have kept me pressing on when I was tired. These are the habits that, as I’ve cultivated them, have made marriage sweeter each year.
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1. Meet him at the door with a smile and a kiss.
Two months into our marriage, a welding explosion nearly made me a widow. All I could think about on the way to the hospital was how I’d raced back across the parking lot to give him one more kiss that morning–and how easily that could have been our last. When you’re dating, goodnights and goodbyes are never easy, especially if you’re in a long-distance relationship. But when you’re married, daily goodbyes can become rushed and commonplace. Give your husband a goodbye kiss that lets him know how eager you are for him to come home.
These days, my baby girl’s enthusiastic cries of “Dah ah dah!” echo the excited yells of her big siblings as they race to the door to be the first to welcome him home. At the end of a busy day, as I’m racing to finish a task or in the middle of chopping dinner ingredients, it’s all too easy to let the children take over the welcoming committee. But instead, I aim to let my children be my gentle reminder not to let them out-do me in appreciation. I don’t want him to anticipate opening the door to an instant report on all the ways the day went wrong and everything he needs to fix. I want to meet him at the door with a smile and a kiss that says everything else can wait. Because when the children have moved out and he comes in from a long day, I don’t ever want him to doubt that I’m so glad he came home.
Resource: Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife by Barbara Rainey
2. Speak well of your husband.
When I was a girl, it seemed like every time I was with a large group of women they did nothing but criticize and complain about their husbands. In my youthful ignorance, I couldn’t help but wonder how their husbands would feel if they heard their wives talking like that. I purposed then and there that I would never be one of those wives; I would never speak ill of my husband, to his face or behind his back.
Your thought patterns color your feelings, attitudes, and actions. Marriage taught me that I needed to cultivate my thought life–about my husband. If I was going to avoid joining in the conversations when my own friends were complaining about their husbands, I was going to have to be careful not to mutter under my breath about my husband either. If I was going to keep from ranting about this annoying trait he had, I would have to cease to view it as annoying. I decided to figuratively put on rose-colored glasses when it came to my husband. Not to overlook sin, not to overlook real issues: there is a time for speaking out and speaking up and asking for help. But when I find something he forgot to pick up or to do? When I find myself tempted to be annoyed by some little thing? I say out loud, “I love that man.” Because I do. And I want that to be evident in my words. I want my words about my husband to speak life into our marriage–whether it’s in conversation with my friends, my mom, my husband, or with the world on social media.
Resources: The Best Advice About Love and Marriage, Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney
3. Give each other alone time.
When I was growing up, my daddy would come home from work and sit down and read the newspaper for awhile. That didn’t mean he was unavailable to help with the dishes or read bedtime stories later. He just needed that time to relax and ease out of “work” mode. It took me awhile into my marriage to realize that my new husband also needed that time to himself, to read a magazine or work in the shop.
When the exclusivity of a dating relationship gives way to the 24/7 of married life, both parties will likely crave personal space–whether or not they are introverts. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that giving my husband time “off” to listen to a ball game or scroll through Facebook is actually important, but it’s the same thing he does for me when I just want to curl up with a book or go shopping for no reason. And we both come back refreshed and more ready to focus on each other.
Resource: A Peek Into Your Personality
4. Prioritize your time together.
I’ve said “no” to a lot of social invitations because they would have meant giving up the precious few hours I would have with my husband that evening. And I’ve never regretted those choices. When I promised to put him before all others, I promised to prioritize our marriage above all other relationships. Some seasons make that more of a challenge, but even in a busy summer on the farm or after the birth of a new baby, I’m first and foremost his wife.
Sometimes guarding our time together is as simple as making the choice to go shopping together or stay home together. Other times it’s more of a day-to-day challenge: like ignoring the cell phones at meal times and staying off social media when we’re alone together. For us, a dinner date out is a special treat. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put the kids to bed early and enjoy ice cream in the hammock under the stars.
Resource: Becoming the Woman of His Dreams by Sharon Jaynes
5. Go to bed together.
I made a commitment when I was still single that I would always go to bed at the same time as my husband each night. It was easy to decide that then, when I was falling asleep alone each night. I couldn’t imagine I’d ever want to do anything else but soak up each moment with him, waking and sleeping. Now, I’m so thankful I made that decision that I never wanted us to be as ships passing in the night.
Yes, there are times when I have a project and a deadline and he understands and I stay up late. Many summer nights he is baling hay until the early hours of the dawn. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. There are also many times throughout my pregnancies that I’ve fallen into bed exhausted right after dinner and he’s stayed up to do the dishes and clean the house. But usually, when one of us finishes the dishes or a project, the other closes the book or the laptop and we make our way to bed–together. It might be to read books separately, together. It might be to listen to an audiobook together. It might be to fall asleep the moment our heads hit the pillow. But it’s together. And for us, that’s an important habit.
Resource: Hot Mama by Kathi Lipp and Erin MacPherson
6. Enjoy intimacy–frequently.
Sex is what sets the marriage relationship apart from any other relationship. And just like chocolate chips in cookies, there should be lots of sex in marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:5 makes that very clear–about sex, not chocolate chips.) Don’t let the honeymoon end. Make enjoying intimacy with your husband such a delightful part of your routine now that when children come along and life gets busier, you’ll still be enjoying sex–and lots of it.
Could your marriage survive without conversation? Neither could it thrive without sex. Ignore the stereotypes about who has the stronger sex drive and enjoy the best cure for headaches, the most delightful stress relief available to married couples. Shower together. Give each other back rubs. Stop and enjoy a two-minute kiss in the middle of the kitchen. And enjoy sex as a frequent part of your routine.
Resources: Intimate Truths, A Celebration of Sex for Newlyweds by Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau
7. Remember why you fell in love.
It comes in every marriage, more often and usually sooner than you’d imagine: that feeling of “What have I done? Why did I want to marry this man?” It may be when you discover some annoying habit that escaped your notice before marriage. It may be in the midst of your first big misunderstanding or argument. Whenever it comes, ask God to help you remember all the little things that made you fall in love with this person you are married to.
Look at your wedding pictures. Re-read some of your love letters (or IMs or emails or texts or whatever mode of communication you used in those days). Reminisce about how you got engaged. Play “your song”; make a playlist of the songs that provided the background music to your love story. Take the time to write your love story. Before you know it, you just might have forgotten what was annoying you in the first place.
Resource: 100 Ways to Love Your Husband by Lisa Jacobson and Marriage Wisdom for Her by Matthew and Lisa Jacobson
8. Serve each other in the little things.
When you’re falling in love, it’s all the little things that mean so much. Whether it’s that he remembers the anniversary of the day you met or picks up your favorite kind of chocolate, it’s the little things that can say “I love you” in all five love languages. When you get married, it’s the little things that can irritate you to no end–or provide the greatest opportunity for sacrificial love.
I learned long before we got married that two of my love’s biggest pet peeves were hair in the shower drain and dirty dishwater left in the sink. I fold my shirts in half and then in half again, but his sisters taught me that he likes his shirts to be folded under carefully at each shoulder so there isn’t a crease down the middle. Whether it’s pausing to clean the shower drain or the kitchen sink, or the extra effort I still put into folding his shirts, I’m serving my husband in little ways that mean a lot to him. All the little things add up–for good or for bad. Make an effort to please each other in all the little things.
Related: Building Blocks of a Happy Marriage, Hair in the Shower Drain & Other Lessons of Marriage
9. Pray together.
I heard the story at a funeral. Of how his nephew remembered seeing them every morning: at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, reading their Bibles, and praying together. I knew it was idyllic. But I knew it was the secret of their long, strong marriage.
In these seasons of babies and farming, our quiet mornings at the kitchen table together, just the two of us, are few and far between. We try to start or end the day together with prayer. We’re not consistent. But when we take the time, we are rewarded. There’s nothing more intimate, more humbling, and more healing than beseeching God together for wisdom and for guidance and for forgiveness.
Resources: War Room, Fervent by Priscilla Shirer
10. Seek Godly counsel.
I always appreciate being at weddings where the pastor exhorts not just the couple, but the wedding party and the congregation. The friends you asked to stand beside you on your wedding day? They are there not just to help you celebrate that day, but to support you in the years to come. The family and friends you invited to witness your vows? They are there to pray for you and encourage you to keep them in the coming years. Just as it’s not good for man to be alone, no couple should be a lone island. God places us in families and in churches for a reason (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22, Hebrews 10:25).
Invite others to invest in you and your marriage. Ask for prayer. Ask for support. Adopt a mentor couple. Go to a couple’s Bible study. Make it a habit to always be reading one book that will encourage you in your marriage. But do more than just read good books on marriage. Invite trusted advisers into your marriage now so that when tough times come, when you see a potential issue, when you need help, there is someone you can trust to ask the hard questions and give godly answers.
Resources: Marriage Counseling is for You, Books That Have Changed My Marriage, The Art of Marriage, Weekend to Remember®
You know about the importance of commitment and forgiveness. You’ll learn your husband’s preferences and priorities for food and money, fashion and home. But these habits are ones that you’ll never regret cultivating in your marriage.
With prayers that you will be as happy as we,
Photography: John Feldschau
Thank you for sharing these. I have been married now for about 3.5 years, and so far I have finally made some progress in humility. I have an amazing husband and need to remember more often all of the wonderful things he does for us.
We just celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary, but I still chose to print your wise words of wisdom! Some days it’s work, some days it is pure pleasure! Bless you for sharing these words of advice!
LOVE this wisdom, Gretchen! Every word rings true!
Thank you for all you’ve done through the years to encourage me in loving my husband! So grateful for your example and wisdom.
That is so beautiful. Thank you!
Gretchen, there is so much wisdom in this post for ALL married couples. Thanks for sharing these habits! I know I need to work on a couple of them.
Thank you, Emily! I’m right there with you working on some of these habits I need to become a bit more natural again.