Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we all dream that one day we will meet the love of our life. The Romeo to our Juliet, the Healthcliff to our Catherine, the Mickey to our Minnie’s; you get the gist.

The part that no one prepares us for and thus we cannot portray accurately in our dreams is that sometimes even after meeting “the love of your life” you have doubts. You struggle, you fight, you may even come to hate each other.

And all too quickly the thought crosses our minds once again “the love of my life is still out there”. Because if it isn’t easy with the one you thought was it, then surely the right one must be out there right?

Not so fast…

I met the love of my life, the man who gave me butterflies and giggles, when I was 18. Fresh out of high school, barely old enough to serve alcohol or even understand adult language! We got pregnant, got married, had another baby, he joined the military, we moved away, etc…

11 years later and I still have his last name. In those 11 years we’ve seen dozens of states, had three children with a fourth on the way, saw him promote in the Army a few times, baptized our boys and said the word “divorce” probably 200 times.

How did we do it? How are we still doing it? What worked?

Patience

Sweet Lord how I wish I’d learned this earlier in our relationship. It would have saved  us countless arguments, tears, stress, and frustration.

But you see, that’s the hardest part about being in a relationship- especially a marriage- a solid marriage takes time! It’s like building a sandcastle on the beach. You can’t expect the end result to be Windsor Castle if you spent three minutes on it and didn’t put all of your time and attention into it.

Where patience comes into play is knowing from the beginning that neither of you are perfect. Sure, we all imagine them to be in the beginning. But then we start to see their faults, their flaws, their not-so-adorable sides. Patience is what you’ll need to call on when you begin to see this in the other person.

Listen to them instead of talking over them. Let them have their say and then you get your turn. It seems like an elementary concept, however, very few people actually practice this.

Understand that when you suggest they work on something, whether it be their attitude, their cooking, their cleaning habits- that it will take time for them to work on it.

Patience in all you do, every single day of your relationship, is what will make or break your perseverance.

Be Committed

Every day I’m sure each of you reading this takes the time to check your social media. Without fail, healthy or sick, happy or mad, good day or bad day, you are committed to maintaining your presence on those sites.

Maintaining your presence in your marriage should be the priority, yet countless times marriages fail because one or both parties couldn’t stay committed.

I don’t mean committed to each other necessarily, though that’s obviously a vital factor. Committed to making it work. Saying: “let’s work this out” instead of: “I don’t have to deal with this, I want a divorce”. Forget that anyone else outside of your marriage exists. Because the truth is no matter what relationship you get into there will always be areas for the relationship to grow.

Be committed to overcoming the challenges of everyday life together. Add in the patience you’ll need to get through those days when you just don’t want to have to deal with another struggle. You may have to fight every second of every day to make it work. It’s that decision to stay committed that will help you make it to the end of each day still successfully together.

Be Selfless 

Of all the pieces of advice I have received in the last decade, this is profoundly the most vital!

Being young I could not fathom this concept. I haven’t necessarily ever been a selfish person. I always volunteer, think of others constantly, put myself in their shoes etc… Yet, in my marriage I was the most selfish person I knew.

Recognizing how selfish you’re being is the first major milestone to becoming selfless in your relationship. Most of us don’t think we’re doing anything wrong or we start blaming the other person. “Well I’m trying but they’re not”. Are you though?

Do you drop what you’re doing when your spouse comes home just to greet them at the door and give them a hug? Regardless of how exhausting your day was, do you even consider how trying of a day they’ve had?

Marriage shouldn’t be a constant tit-for-tat. Well my day was harder because I stayed home with a screaming baby pulling my hair. Oh, really? Well try getting up at 4:30 and marching in the Georgia heat for 12 miles. It can go on and on and on.

Acknowledge each other’s struggles just as you do their triumphs! You have got to meet in the middle but someone has to take the first step. So put that pride aside and initiate selfless acts. Ephesians 5:25 teaches us: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”

Be Best Friends 

It wasn’t until I reached my mid twenties that this expression began to ever make sense to me.

What do you mean make my husband my best friend? I can’t make it happen. I have best friends.

How do you become best friends? Talk to each other. Turn to each other about anything that’s bothering you. Where I used to run to my best friend or my sister about something that hurt me or troubled me, I now call my husband first.

Lean on them like you would your best friend. If you’re exhausted and just need a hug, go to your spouse. Family feuds and need to vent? Go to your spouse. This also helps protect you because you’re not putting all of your dirty laundry out there for the public to see/hear and keeping it within the confines of your home.

Buy each other “just because gifts”. I used to do this all the time for my friends in nursing school. I’d wake up and text someone “want a coffee?” Once I began practicing this same method within my marriage the positive return I got back from my husband was outstanding!

Ephesians 5:31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become on flesh.”  You are ONE flesh. You are a team. Be united in all things in your marriage.

Put Each Other First

Have you ever received a message from a friend saying “Hey! Can’t make it tonight. Gonna spend time with the hubs/wife” ? When you received that message did you look at it as if it were written in Latin and you couldn’t decipher a word of it? Well, I used to be that way.

What do you mean you’re putting them before our girls/guys night? Don’t you see them all the time?

Or worse, get this response if you sent that message “man you need to cut that ball off your chain”. Or some other vulgar analogy?

Putting your spouse first, even before your work/hobbies and children is essential to a solid foundation. As the saying goes: “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Just as we should focus on self growth and nourishment, so too should we focus on growing as a couple.

My best advice I have given, to date, is this: you have to grow individually and then you have to grow as a team and then you have to grow as parents.

By putting your spouse before you and your needs and desires this in turn will help them put you first.

Turn to Them For Your Needs & Don’t Make a Habit of Talking About Them

So you’re telling me it’s not okay to bash my spouse to my buddies? I thought everyone spent their free time talking about their significant other…

Heavens, no! First of all, I do not advise ever consistently complaining about your spouse to anyone. Sure! They’re gonna get on your ever lasting nerve more than a few times and it’s nice to vent to someone. But complaining and bashing them is a completely different ball game that should never begin it’s first inning.

Take it from someone who did this for years to anyone and everyone I thought I could trust and would listen. Not only are you making yourself potentially look bad and putting that person in an awkward position of having to listen to it but you’re harping on the negative instead of the positive.

Yes, I acknowledge it is far easier to list the cons (especially when we’re worked up) than it is to list the pros. However, go back to the patience. Take a deep breath and start to change your mindset. Don’t make a bad moment or a bad day into a bad lifetime by focusing on it and multiplying its effect by talking about it.

I made the mistake of keeping things from my husband, thinking “Oh he won’t care, he’s a guy”. No falser words were ever dreamt up in my mind. He does care! And in fact, he used to get extremely upset if he found out from someone else or after the fact that I was so upset and I didn’t tell him. Please, do not begin this habit! It took years to break and can lead to other disastrous thoughts like trust not being there. Not to mention the negative feedback you are introducing into your marriage.

Ephesians chapter 5 instructs us to not listen to deceitful and empty promises.

Put God First In All Things

Faith has always been a source of comfort and solitude for me, waxing and waning in and out of my life for the better part of 20 years. However, the day I truly learned what it means to put God first in all things was the same day that I was able to listen to the advice I had been receiving for years.

Instead of making excuses for why that piece of advice didn’t fit my situation, I began to look within and see just how much I’d been closed off to making my marriage work.

I wasn’t being selfless, I wasn’t putting Him first (both of them), we weren’t working as a team, and I almost cherished the moments I could blow off steam to someone about him.

The words began to make sense. It was like a warm hand had wound it’s way around my heart and all of the words of wisdom I’d ever received were the key to unlocking an imaginary gate I’d put up.

Use the Bible as your weapon against the criticism for how you focus on your marriage first, silence the doubts and shame for past mistakes and elate in the fact that you are moving forward in His light.

Pray together as a couple. Pray separately. Read the Bible and highlight areas that you can relate to a situation you’re experiencing and discuss it.

Every day there are an abundance of opportunities to bring the Lord into the conversation. Use the materials set in front of you and the ones I have helped provide for you. Realize that your marriage is going to be an ongoing construction zone.

Some days will be sunny and smooth while others will be thunderstorms and all uphill climbs. In those times turn to each other. Rejoice and repent. Forgive and do all things in love.

Tell me your best piece of advice you’ve ever been given. What have you found works in your relationship?