1. Take Care of Yourself (or TCOY):
This one initially felt so backwards. How could I possibly spend time taking care of myself when there already isn’t enough of me to go around? We have spent up until recent years giving to each other, our children, and others around us without seeking to be filled first. One of the best gifts we can give our spouse is to spend time each day doing those things that help us to stay balanced spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We can tell the difference from when we are giving from an empty bucket and when we have consistently made sure to find a way for holistic self-care.
2. Being self-less:
We thought we had this one figured out, but in recent years realized we actually had it backwards too. We had heard over and over that marriage requires you to be self-less, so we jumped in feet first by giving our all to each other. In all actuality, we have learned that the self-less part comes in what we give to God. Marriage requires complete willingness to give up your whole heart and selfish pride. It requires being willing to shed everything and hold nothing back. As we give our whole selves to God, He in return transforms us into a better spouse. As we seek to be filled by Him every day, we have our needs met and we are able to give to our spouse.
3. A Strong Marriage is Made up of Two Strong Individuals:
In our attempts to build a strong marriage, we were so focused on strengthening one another that we didn't realize we were neglecting to be strengthened ourselves. We were so focused on helping each other and the relationship that we weren't taking time to TCOY and focus on our personal relationship with Heavenly Father. Couple and family scripture study and prayer are important...but so are personal! We have also learned that our marriage is stronger when our primary focus is on fulfilling our own roles and responsibilities, rather than primarily on helping each other. Yes, there have been times and seasons where we have needed to help each other more heavily, but in every day life, we have a stronger marriage as I am strong in my roles and he in his.
4. Talk Every Day:
This isn’t just coordinating schedules and kids. This is really talking. Even if for just a short amount of time, making it a quality conversation. Tell each other about your day. Be sure to give each other the opportunity to express feelings without judgment or criticism. We have found that skipping a day or more leads to “emotional build-up.” We often have emotions escape side-ways (for example: anger coming out at spouse or children when I am not even angry at them, but a situation or someone else).
5. Date Night Every Week:
We have learned how easy it can be to let date night slide down on the priority list. Between hectic schedules, needing childcare, and tight budgets, it can be easy to justify that it is “too hard” to make it happen. We have learned from personal experience that a weekly date night takes less time and money than marriage counseling. We PROMISE! Plus the benefit emotionally of consistent date night. Although sometimes tricky to make date night happen short-term, it’s so worth it to the relationship long-term.
Here are the rules:
~It must be at least 1 hr (more the better)
~Quality time where you can be together physically and emotionally (football games don’t count, plays don’t count, movies don’t count…unless you follow those activities with dinner or icecream or another opportunity to talk).
~You don’t get to use date night to talk about the kids or finances or any other topic that may be “touchy” for you as a couple.
~And since you can’t talk about the kids on a date, if you have a child with you, it isn’t date night!
~The sillier the better!
A few suggestions from our experience:
For us, my husband’s work schedule has been tricky. He works 2 jobs M-F and also Saturday late afternoon-night. Most of our dates are what we call “at-home” dates. By the time he is home from work, the kids are already in bed. We have date night together at home when he gets off work.
Also, talk about a budget together. There have been times when we have needed to do completely free date nights. There are plenty of things you can do for free. The free dates have actually been our favorite because they tend to take more planning and creativity to put together. As far as childcare, either do date night at home or find a way for free child care by bribe, swap, beg…
We take turns planning date night (not required, but what works for us). Every other week we are in charge.
Right now, date night is Saturday night. We have found having a set-aside, communicated-ahead-of-time, firm and never canceled/only re-scheduled for impossible to work around commitments day of the week keeps it happening. It is an expectation, not “oops, we forgot date night this week.”
For us date night has become an opportunity to be light-hearted and laugh together. With the hectic pace of work and kids and everyday living plus additional passing stresses on our marriage, it has been important for us to just have fun together. Some of our favorite dates have been playing board games, creating cross-word puzzles or word searches online, scavenger hunts, etc. One hilarious date was to create a book together. The rules were that we would take turns writing and illustrating one page; however, we couldn’t look at what the other wrote until the book was all finished. We were laughing to tears when we read the finished book together. We also created a music video by taking small movie clips and putting it all together with music. There are no limits on creativity. Have fun with it!
It doesn’t have to be spectacular all the time. If creativity is intimidating, focus on setting aside time to be together doing something simple or even that you need to get done. Just last week our date night was wrapping presents together. It gave us an opportunity to talk and be together plus getting the chore done. We have refinished furniture, painted, crafted, and cooked together. All have been fulfilling date nights for us.
Why eternal marriage?
It is true that we can get pretty far as we focus on our relationship with Heavenly Father. However, in order to inherit all He has, eternal marriage is required. This has been on our minds lately and something we have discussed frequently as we are putting more and more of the pieces together. Sometimes it may feel like it would be easier to go through life on our own. There would be no need to communicate with a spouse or coordinate, nobody else to count on for needs to be met or commitments kept. Why does the requirement of eternal marriage set an individual apart? We believe there are many reasons, but want to focus on just one right now.
We have had glimpses of what obtaining an eternal marriage means. It has required our willingness to look into the mirror our spouse holds up, to look squarely at the short-comings that such a relationship bares so vulnerably. To keep our marriage covenants requires our willingness to look at those weakness and faults and be willing to shed and give it all away. The atonement makes this possible. It is the only way for lasting change and He carries us every step of the way. We are living witnesses that it is possible to be changed.
Perhaps it is because eternal marriage is an opportunity to learn to apply the atonement in such a unique way. The atonement carries us as we walk through some of the hottest refining fires of our mortal lives created by this relationship. We do this for our love of Heavenly Father and our love of our spouse. The covenants we enter into give us the perspective and literally the strength to be able to do so.
In THIS brief clip, Elder Bednar speaks of understanding the DOCTRINE of marriage. I would invite you to study and search and seek. Here is one idea that may be helpful to consider. Mark & I met with our bishop one last time as a couple. We were concerned that we knew how to NOT build a marriage...we knew what we didn't want/what doesn't work, but we were worried we didn't know how to pattern our marriage moving forward. We had gone to extensive work over the course of several years to break down the lies and unhealthy patterns. We felt like we were finally in a more neutral place. Open, but unsure of where to go. Now what? Our bishop encouraged us to study. We did. We would read a portion of this manual every day together. We had read most of it in our eternal marriage class while at BYU-Idaho during our engagement, but this time we were hungry for it and ready to really understand. If I recall correctly, we reviewed it cover to cover. Just like so many other things, this manual wasn't a quick fix. But I believe our efforts, and especially those focused efforts over time, to study and understand, little by little, helped us to begin to rebuild a strong foundation... one founded upon sure doctrines and principles. We had a wonderful blessing a few years after that as we were invited to participate in the Marriage and Family Relations course during the Sunday School hour by an incredible couple. It was a blessing to study deeper and use as a "check point" in our understanding and application. If we come with questions and we seek, we will find answers.
Your challenge is to take a serious look at it. If this manual isn't the best fit for you as a couple, then find some other way, but take the time to learn (or review) the doctrine of marriage and the supporting principles that surround it. There is so much available right at our finger tips with the gospel library app! (Or better, yet, PRAY about it. God will help some awesome resources or people to cross your path.) How does a covenant marriage differ from a contractual marriage? (Eternal marriage vs. "'til death do we part" marriage) Study and find out WHY and WHAT and ask God to help you apply HOW to do these things in your own individual marriage. And just because it's available, here is the teacher's version of the manual too.