Over 20 years ago, my husband, Todd, and I entered the world of parenthood when our daughter was born. Two years later, we had our son. I set aside a full-time job and was blessed to be able to stay home with our kids. Todd was hired at a church in Michigan to pastor part-time and continued to work 30 hours a week for his dad’s machine shop.
Over the next few years, his schedule, the demands on me to hold down the fort, and the bills piling up all pushed us to where we found ourselves becoming more and more annoyed with one other. Eventually, it turned into occasional bouts of anger and frustration.
I’ll never be sure how he found the courage, but one day, a college student at our church approached Todd and said, “You and Kim don’t even act like you like each other.” At the time, Todd was offended, but as he processed the truth in that statement, his eyes became open to what our marriage had become. We truly loved each other, but we were having a really hard time liking each other. It wasn’t overnight, but we slowly began to cultivate three core values that changed how we parented and strengthened our marriage.
Value #1 is COMMUNICATION. One of the most damaging things we had begun doing was communicating in a negative manner with each other. It can be easy to be hasty in our answers instead of giving grace first. Communication takes time. Even when there isn’t any. We have to take a deep breath. Pause. Be gracious. Slow down our tasks and reactions. Think first before we speak. Communication also MUST include PRAISE. You have to encourage and see the best in your partner, even when it’s hard. It feels unnatural in the beginning if you have gotten on the negative path we had but DO IT ANYWAY. Our tongues have the power to encourage and lift up, and in the same moment rip someone apart. Use your words to communicate your love for your spouse.
With positive communication comes value #2, which is CONNECTION. When your kids are little, it’s natural to put them first, but studies have shown that if children see good relationships modeled, they gain security. When you take time together, you grow together. One of the simplest ways to connect is beginning with warm welcomes when your spouse comes home. Let your spouse know how special they are to you. Another easy way to connect is to create “20 minute reconnects” such as short walks, doing chores side by side, or even driving together to one of your kid’s events. If it’s been longer than two weeks since your last date, calendar your next date. Pay the babysitter and go walk around the mall if you are short on cash. If finding a babysitter is a challenge, put the kids to bed a little early, rent a movie, light a few candles and spend time cuddling. Pull out your wedding video and relive your special day. However, you do it, make ways to spend time together and connect.
The most important value in a marriage, I believe, is value #3, COMMITMENT. In this day and age, it’s very easy to walk away from commitments. It’s nothing for couples to sign prenuptial agreements or make plans “just in case.” Before Todd and I were even married, we made the commitment to never use the word “divorce.” I want to challenge you to change your vocabulary too. Don’t give yourselves an easy out. Marriage and parenthood are both hard, but one doesn’t have to rule out the other. You don’t have to choose between a happy marriage and happy, secure kids. If you have the first, the second will certainly follow. Remember that there are many stages of marriage, and this one is only temporary! If you neglect your commitment to each other, when the kids are in college or moving out, you will have already drifted far apart. I’ve never run a marathon, but those who have say that you have to commit to training. Training is not always fun, and you don’t always want to do it. It can be painful, and it can be long, but if you are going to run the entire race, you have to do it. Marriage is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Its rewards are far greater than a ribbon at the finish line. Promise to finish the race TOGETHER.
This Valentine’s Day, I want to encourage you to not just focus on the romance, but choose to improve your COMMUNICATION, find ways to CONNECT, and reaffirm your COMMITMENT to each other. If you create a strong relationship between you and your spouse, your kids will thank you later!