Ten years. Ten years of falling deeper in love and learning to fight harder for love — ten years of the two becoming one.
For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health — we’ve lived our wedding vows. After ten years, clear lessons about what has helped and hindered our marriage have emerged.
Whether you’re getting married after graduation this spring or hope to get married one day these lessons will bring you focus on God’s joyful plan for marriage and help you prepare yourself for participating in this amazing vocation!
Daily prayer together is foundational and is so powerful because when we’re thanking God for our many blessings and contemplating His mercy through our failings, we gain a greater perspective on the little things we’ve let divide us.
However, praying together can be awkward — it was for us. Push through it. If you’ve never prayed together, start by saying The Lord’s Prayer each day, slowly, thinking about each phrase. Do that for a year if necessary.
2. Say “Thank You” and “I Love You”
There are many menial tasks in marriage, especially when kids come and there are diapers to be changed, rides to be given, and laundry to be washed. Say thank you for these little things, as doing so creates an atmosphere of gratitude.
And say I love you, especially when you don’t want to. Say it before ending a call when you’ve been fighting, or when you want to go to bed angry. It will remind you that love is a choice — you choose to love your spouse no matter how you feel in any moment.
3. Keep Dreaming
It’s easy to get lost in life’s day-to-day tasks, but make your passions and dreams a priority and share in each other’s dreams! Every year, we take a “Dream Inventory.” We look at our dreams from the past year and the progress we’ve made. We look at our dreams for our family, careers and ministries for the next year, the next five years, even the next twenty years. We plan out concrete steps to achieve our dreams and look at how we can support each other’s dreams.
4. Keep Falling in Love Again
But what about when you wake up and realize you’ve forgotten who your spouse is and how to talk to him or her about anything besides kids and tasks? We’ve been there. Dry patches where our times alone were like business meetings for Family Inc. Fight through the awkwardness! Go on a date, even if it feels like a blind date where you have nothing to talk about. Bring conversation starters if you need to. Fight for your marriage and fall in love again!
5. Develop Intentional Friendships
Marriage can be tough at times. You need deep, vulnerable friendships with people who will check in on your marriage and where you’re struggling; friends who will remind you of your vows and keep you accountable to them. If marriage is a longer way off, spend time now deepening intentional friendships with people who will keep you accountable. These friends will be invaluable, especially for your marriage.
6. NFP and TOB
Without going into too much detail, while Natural Family Planning (NFP) can be a cross to bear at times, it has blessed our marriage incredibly. However, we didn’t understand this blessing until we learned more about Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB). No matter if marriage is soon or a long way off, buy an introductory book (Christopher West is a great resource); it will give a glimmer of God’s amazing plan for marriage and how NFP fits seamlessly within that plan. And regardless if you’re married or single, these teachings show us how we can love as God loves.
7. Funny Money
Surveys consistently show that money is a main source of disagreement in marriages. This was (and continues to be) true for us, especially when we were first married and had limited income. One of the invaluable lessons we learned is the utility of “Funny Money”: a small amount of our budget that each of us can spend on whatever we want, without question. It avoids fights about shoes, golf, and just how many trips to Starbucks are necessary in a week. If marriage is further off for you, learn how to budget and stick to a budget now. It will remove a great source of tension when you get married.
8. Be a Student of Your Spouse
Remember when you were trying to win your spouse’s affection? You studied everything about him or her. Well, your wedding day is not a graduation — it’s just the beginning of a life-long education. If you want to understand why your spouse responds like he or she does, you need to study. Figure out your spouse’s love language, how he or she gives and receives love. Get to know your spouse’s parents and listen to stories about their marriage and your spouse as a child. Become the world’s leading expert on your spouse.
9. Be Present
This is a big struggle for both of us, especially with all of the screens and devices that take our attention away from each other. Indeed, on many a phone call, Jessica has remarked, “You’re looking at ESPN aren’t you.” Multi-tasking when you should be communicating can be incredibly damaging. Whenever you’re trying to have a conversation, put down the devices and turn off the screens. In addition, have designated screen-free times so you can give your spouse your undivided attention. This is something you can start practicing right now if you aren’t close to marriage!
10. Have Fun
Finally, remember to laugh and don’t take yourselves too seriously! Do random SHMILY (See How Much I Love You!) things for each other. Go on dates often, kiss in the rain, and tackle each other in the snow. Remember that marriage is a blessing from God to help us understand His infinite love for the church and to participate in that eternal, joyous love.
(Written together by Stephen Ng and his wife, Jessica Ng.)