This is a little something different than I normally share, so please forgive me if I feel a little vulnerable.
Chris and I have been married for 10 years today, and while our relationship may seem perfect through social media... it's not. We don't fight a lot now, but we used to. We struggled though a very hectic first year of marriage. In this first year we moved from Louisiana to Tennessee, we lived with his precious grandmother for a while, bought a dog, moved into an apartment, started new jobs in a new state, then bought a house, bought another dog and then Chris went off to Iraq for an entire year. In our 10 years together we have said goodbye to people we love, brought a beautiful baby boy into this world, laughed, cried, and fought hard to stay together through it all. Marriage isn't what I thought it would be. Chris and I were both children of divorced parents. We never knew what a REAL marriage was supposed to be. I say real, because I had always watched these movies with "love stories" that I longed for. I am a romantic. I love love. But over the years my view on, and definition of, love has changed so dramatically. Now, I would define love as the little things you do each day to show you care. It's doing things for another even when you don't feel like it. It's loving someone through pain, loneliness, and ill health. Love isn't pretty sometimes. Love is being a cheerleader, being there to watch someone grow, a shoulder to cry on, and giving hope in disparaging moments. Love is all of these things.
Why am I writing this? I want to help couples grow a strong and happier marriage through our story and experiences. If I can help just one struggling couple, that would make all of my feelings of vulnerability worth it.
Marriage is a journey. It's not something that just happens when the officiant says," You are now Husband and Wife". That's just the beginning.
Here are ten things, that I have thought long and hard about, to cultivate a stronger and happier marriage:
- Realize that you are on the same team. I don't know about you, but when I think about being on a team, I think about fighting hard to win. Practicing. Giving it all I've got. Marriage is a team of two people. Fight hard to grow your relationship. Form an unbreakable bond. Practice loving each other. Practice dating. Set goals for your team in the areas of finance, careers, family, and fun. Yes, make a goal to have fun! Here is some real talk, I love to set goals; Chris does not. How do we compromise? I set goals, let him know what I've come up with, and he gives his opinions and suggestions and we are off running the same race.
- Spoil each other. I don't mean roses and chocolates everyday... although that would be nice (wink, wink). What I mean is, go out of your way (often, very often) to do things for your spouse that they will love. Chris makes me coffee, starts my car in the mornings when it's cold, gives Wyatt a bath on his nights off and brings me home scratch off lottery tickets randomly. I try to make him coffee often, make him a warm meal when he has to work, keep the house clean, and bring home Marie Calendar's Chicken Pot Pies every once in a while. These aren't things that we necessarily love to do, but all of these things makes the OTHER person happy and feel loved.
- Brag about your spouse in public and most importantly, in front of them. They may blush or shrug it off, but deep down inside they will feel very loved. Chris and I, very often, tell our son (Wyatt) things we love about each other in front of one another. We use words like: integrity, hardworking, honest, and smart. We brag about the other's parenting skills. We aren't perfect people, but we strive to be all of these things. We want our son to hear these great things and want to be just like us. We want him to grow up with a knowledge of what a happy, strong, respectful, loving marriage looks like.
- Fight better. Fighting is inevitable when you are in it for the long haul. The rule that Chris and I have established is that no matter what we feel, we will respect each other. No name calling, no hateful words, no accusing each other. It's so hard when I'm am angry to suppress my words, and on the other hand, it's so hard for Chris not to shut down and walk away. We are complete opposites in personality. What works for us is to have a cool down period, then come together. Each person lets the other know how they are feeling without accusing, and then try to come to a compromise.
- That brings me to the next one: Listen and compromise. This tip came straight from Chris. Listen to each other, listen to their feelings, don't interrupt. Being a feisty Cajun, it's easy for me to be so head strong and unbending. Let me tell you, that doesn't work in a marriage. Compromising means that you can't be right all the time. You may have to suck up your pride. You may have to do something you don't completely want to do. Doing all of this, though, with the knowledge that it will only make your marriage stronger, is the key.
- Pray for your spouse. Pray that they prosper in their career, that they will do things that are fulfilling to them and to other people. Pray that they are loving, teaching, and active parents to your children. Pray that they find the peace that only God can give when they lose a loved one. Pray that you two form a bond that no man can separate. Pray that they simply have a good day. Pray that they will have safe travels to work. Just pray.
- Be a cheerleader! Encourage your spouse to live their dreams, to reach for something more, and be insanely excited for them when they do something that they have worked hard for. I am a dreamer. Chris is, as he calls it, a grunt. He works everyday, never wants to be anything more or less than what he is. You see, he has always known that he wanted to be a Marine and then a police officer, and that is exactly what he is. I, on the other hand, crave something more. I feel a calling to do things that help people and to express my creative side through photography. We are each other's cheerleaders. I cheer Chris on when he goes to work sick, because his work ethic tells him that he can't stay home. Chris cheers me on when I get these crazy ideas and want to change the world. He always tells me that he supports me, and that means the world to me.
- Laugh together. Find ways to laugh together. Go do something that you have both never done, play a game, watch a funny movie, reminisce about something. Do anything that will make your time together light and fun. We all need that every once in a while. Chris is the funniest guy I have ever met. He makes me laugh everyday and now, so does Wyatt. So, our house is full of laughter on a daily basis.
- Touch each other. Hold hands, kiss, flirt, hug, dance, make love. Touch is so important and such a basic need. Make it a point to touch your spouse often. If Chris and I are sitting on the couch, I will reach for his hand. If I am in the kitchen, Chris will come up and hug me. Don't over look this simple display of affection. It is so very important.
- And last, but probably most importantly, Decide. Decide everyday that you are going to make your spouse a priority. Decide everyday that you are going to fight to keep your team strong. Decide that you two will work through whatever comes your way. Decide that this is the most important thing that you will do in your life. On your death bed, you won't be thinking about your career or your hobbies or your money. You will be asking yourself if you loved hard enough. If the person you loved the most knew it or not. If you showed your love to them. Relationships are what is going to matter most. So, decide that your marriage is most important and align everything in your life with that priority in mind.
If this helps you or you feel strongly about something I said or you have something to add, please comment below or email me at info (at) brittanyconnerphoto.com.
Also, stay tuned for a personal project that I and several other people are working on this year. We will be diving into relationships of some incredible couples, and they will share their stories of love, marriage, hard times, and doing the work that it takes to stay together. These sessions will be called #TheRealLoveSessions . I can't not wait to share them with you!
P.S. Here are a few pictures from our 10 year journey...
Photo Credits: Photo 1,2,3 DNResults (Louisiana), Photo 4 Hope Photography, Photo 5 Wendy Kovac
Photos by Abby Malone of Abby Elizabeth Photography