Our life has been far from perfect. In fact, when Mike and I envisioned our future 18 years ago as wide-eyed barely 20-year-olds, it looked nothing like the one we have created except for one thing, we promised to love each other through it all. That we have done. And somehow, that love made all those hard things seem pretty bearable as we walked through them together.
Loving unconditionally like that didn’t come easily to me, but it did to Mike, and so he taught me how to love through his example. He is still better at it, but I am learning. We have our ups and downs, the weeks we just don’t connect, and issues we can’t seem to see eye to eye on, but they seem short-lived and peripheral. I feel grateful for my marriage every day. When people ask how we keep it strong, my answer is always the same, “Mike.” This is why:
1. He is humble. Every month or so, he asks me, “So, how am I doing as a husband and a father?” He has asked me this question since the very beginning. Not only does he ask, but he really wants an answer. When I tell him the ways I feel he is falling short, he asks how he can change them, and he really tries to change. It is incredible. Wish I dared to ask a little more often for a real answer.
2. He looks past the little things. Mike was born clean and organized. I was not. He wouldn’t dream of not hanging up his clothes after he takes them off or leaving a room without closing drawers and cupboards. I think hanging up my clothes means placing them nicely in a pile to take care of when I have time, and I don’t even notice if drawers and cupboards are open. His car looks like a rental car all the time … mine looks a bit like a bomb. When I asked him why he never harps on me or how I can’t drive him completely crazy, he said, “I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to let little things get in the way.”
3. He prioritizes time with me. He is serious about having alone time with me, and he values it. It doesn’t have to be fancy or especially planned, but he likes to leave the kids with a sitter and take me out. Each time we have had a baby, my mom has come to stay and help for about 10 days. Mike always plans one short date night when we leave the little one and take an hour just for us. This has done wonders for our marriage even if, at times, I have gone reluctantly. … It shows I am important to him, and I am ever so grateful for that.
4. He notices me. I don’t care who you are, a woman likes to be noticed and complimented. It has to be real, but I hear often how he feels about the way I look, act and do things. It builds me up and gives me confidence.
5. He says, “I’m sorry.” We don’t fight a whole lot, neither one of us enjoys contention, but when we do fight, he almost always apologizes first. I am not proud of this fact, but it is true. Sometimes it is not at all his fault, but he still says he is sorry, and it is sincere because he is sorry about what the situation has become. From there, I usually break and we talk things out. Life is too short to be mad at each other for long.
6. He doesn’t keep score. I love to keep score. When we had babies and toddlers I was the scoring queen. I knew exactly how many minutes he got to sleep in, the nights he was away, the fun things he got to do, and the diapers he changed. But he never kept score for me and still doesn’t. He doesn’t mind being the early riser or doing bedtime most nights. He doesn’t need a guy’s trip for every girl’s trip or a new electronic gadget for every outfit I purchase. As our kids got older, I realized I wasted way too much time keeping tabs, especially since the odds were always skewed in my favor since I was seeing the world through my own eyes, failing to see things from his perspective. I try my best not to do that any more.
7. He appreciates me staying at home. Mike has never, once, acted like my role as a stay at home mom is any less than his role as a provider. In fact, he is constantly and expressively grateful for all I do at home. He is thankful for the meals I make, my efforts to keep things clean, the work I do with the boys, and the way I take care of and love everyone. He consistently tells me what a great job I do at home and how the family would be lost without me. He has never wondered “what I do all day.”
Because of this, I try to also be grateful for his willingness to work hard and provide for us. We try to thank him for the sacrifices he makes so I can stay home. I also try to do my job well by taking care of everything I possibly can on the home front. I would not want him to work a 10- or 11-hour day, then have to come home and work full time here. Don’t get me wrong, with four boys, there is always work to do, and some days are better than others, but I try to take care of all I can during the day so we can enjoy our times together in the evening as a family. Even if enjoying means quizzing spelling words, holding toddlers or running someone to practice.
8. He wants me to be fulfilled. I stay home and love what I do, but there have been times when I have felt unfulfilled. He helps me work through these feelings and search out ways to use my talents or add interest to my life. He is completely supportive of all of my ideas and desires and shows me by helping to make them happen. If I am ever in an intellectual, emotional or spiritual rut, he is the first one I confide in, and he helps me work through it. He forces me out of my comfort zone to help me discover more of who I am supposed to be.
9. He takes me away. One of the best things we do for our marriage is get away at least once a year. It is our favorite way to remember why we fell in love and we get the chance to let go of the mundane. Some years we have only been able to steal away for one night, other years we have taken a full week. It doesn’t really matter where or how long (though, in my opinion, at least two nights is best), it makes such a difference in our marriage.
10. He keeps things positive. He doesn’t use me as the butt of jokes or throw me under the bus with the kids. He is on my side. I am never worried about what he might be saying about me or if he is undercutting my parenting when I am gone; I trust him completely.
11. He treats me like a lady. He makes an effort to hold doors, carry heavy items and treat me with respect. He is always helping and filling needs at home and is more than happy to clean up a mess, throw in a load of laundry, pick a few things up at the store or haul the boys around all day on a Saturday so I can get things done. He teaches our boys that seeing needs and filling them is a great way to show you love and care about someone and encourages them to treat me well at all times.
12. He uses his words. This might sound simple, but it is so easy to get caught up in everyday life that we stop noticing each other. He is vocal about how he feels about me and our marriage. It reminds me to do the same and notice the positives in him.
13. He is honest with me. He keeps me in the loop about our finances, and includes me in our plans for the future. He tells me how he feels about issues that are important to the world and important to our family. He treats me like a partner, and I feel informed and educated about what is going on in our life. I try to do the same with him in the areas I am in charge of. A few years ago, as we made lots of serious, life-changing decisions, I was just as much a part of them as he was.
14. He sacrifices for us. When we had little ones, Mike played on a soccer and football team. It was just too much for me to be with the kids all day and then not have him home at night, so he stopped doing those things. Now, I wish I would have made a bigger effort to let him keep those outlets, but he understood that we needed him at home. He has found a way to make time with me and the kids his “downtime” and “fun time,” which has been so critical since he is gone so often for work and other church and community responsibilities.
15. He keeps marriage fun. Perhaps this is the most important one. I don’t want it to sound like we have never had problems or difficult things happen, because there have been many, many situations that I thought I would never be in and a few years when I didn’t know how things would ever work out. I have spent countless nights on my knees, in tears because of one problem or another, but I have always been grateful that not only could my marriage weather the storms, but that those storms bound us even closer together. Mike is not perfect and our marriage is not perfect, but he has always acted like our marriage is a gift to him and he has treated it that way from the very beginning, which keeps it fun and exciting for both of us.
Brooke Romney is a freelance writer and author of the blog Brooke Romney Writes.