Posted in: Ten Things We Do, to thee I wed
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Ten Things We Do
Time flies. Even more so when things happen in whirlwind succession!
In view that Cliff and I will be celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary in just about a week’s time, I thought to pen down some lessons we learnt along the way. Here’s starting a “Ten Things” Series from lessons learnt from our time together. I remember I once had a negative view of marriage, thinking it would fall apart like sand, given time. But from various books, courses, and pearls of wisdom from wonderful couples, we are so grateful to have found some key things that have nurtured and continue to grow our relationship, to be deeper in love with each other every day.
We’re no relationship gurus (we fight and make up all the time), and we certainly don’t have a sixty-year marriage on our resume to boast of, but here’s sharing some tips that we have found to build a strong foundation for us, in spite of the many stresses, challenges and transitions we have had to face, emotional, physical and financial, which we hope may bless you in your own journey.
10 Things We Do
1. Start and End the Day with Sweetness
We learnt, there’s nothing like starting and ending each day on a loving note.
I’m not sure where Cliff learnt this from, but all I can say is that waking up to someone to hear them say, “You’re so beautiful” or “I love waking up next to you” gives an incredible boost to my day. We pray together, first in bed when we first awake, then say a prayer for each other just before we leave home. This routine has made huge emotional deposits into our love tanks, ensuring we start the day with blessings from each other.
At night, we make it a point to read the bible, a devotional scripture and pray again before we close our eyes. If we’ve fought or are angry at each other, we never go to bed. This does mean a couple of terrible nights which stretch into the wee hours of the morning talking things out, but we have learnt (from books and other resources), that there is truth in not letting the sun set in one’s anger. Anger can burn and dig its bitter roots deep, even while you’re sleeping. The matter can remain unresolved, and both can agree to resolve it at a later time, but the key is to end the night in love. If the matter is put on hold because of its complexity (and sometimes, it can be really hard to think when both parties are tired), then there must be mutual consent and an agreed time to talk about it. We find it impossible to go through our routine of bible reading and prayer while staying mad at each other.
So start and end with something Sweet. Prayer is the sweetest seal on Love.
2. Go Crazy on Surprises.
Seriously. There’re never too many you can think of! In fact, I’ve read somewhere that surprises kick-start brain chemicals similar to those released during that giddy phase of falling in love.
As you might already know, Cliff is fantastic at this. You can get some crazy ideas from him here.
Whether its decorating the whole living room with cotton wool and self-folded origami forest animals for a Christmas Eve surprise, going over-the-top with balloons and flowers and popcorn and a home-rented movie for Valentine’s Day, or as simple as slipping a little “surprise pack” into my bag for me to discover at work on a normal weekday or coming home to a vase of flowers when I’m feeling blue… Cliff’s endless antics show me that I am being thought of and cared for like a new girlfriend.
I love slipping a card or note into the breakfast I pack for him once in a while, a little treat which he loves ( a bar of dark chocolate or peanut snack does the trick), or sometimes, doing up a fancily-cooked and dressed up dinner for him on an ordinary weekday or sneakily baking his favourite dessert can make the evening extra special. I remember for his birthday, we celebrated it repeatedly over a week with myself organizing surprises from 5 different groups of friends. Go crazy- if there’s one thing to go over-the-top for, it’s planning surprises for your spouse.
3. Create Memories to Keep
Keeping a bank of special memories fills truckloads of love into your love tanks, especially if they’re new, spontaneous or creative.
It’s hard to forget the times where Cliff and I spontaneously decided to bike to the end of the beach, roll out a mat and have a morning picnic, the time where we tried a new hiking route together and he insisted on carrying me in his arms for a crazy photograph, or the time we woke up one morning and simply decided to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be fancy- but try to break out of the rhythm of routine ever so often. It could be easy as trying a new running route, a new café or visiting a national place of attraction and playing to be tourists! To be extra sure, I always take pictures or keep souvenirs of times like these- however mundane they may seem at the time, or however certain you are that you will remember that moment for life, there is nothing like a good photograph or a movie ticket that jolts the memory and sends the waterfall of love rushing in.
What happens if you have bad memories? Throw them out.
4. Forgive… and Laugh About It!
Okay, okay- sometimes, you might think it impossible to forget “un-erasable” memories. In times like that, turn them around! Here’s sharing a story with you which happened to us.
Just two days ago as we were rushing from one appointment to another, we both got mad at each other:
“Cliff, why did we walk all the way to this bus stop? There’s no Bus 67 here.”
“Yes, but we can take Bus 65.”
“No! It doesn’t stop at the same stop. We are at the wrong place,” I said in irritation, under the hot sun. I was clearly upset. It had been a rough morning, rushing about all day. I huffed off. “Can we pleeaasase go to the RIGHT bus-stop? And can I show the way?” There was haughtiness and exasperation in my voice.
When we finally did, it was then that a hot flush of humiliation exploded into my cheeks under the sweltering sun, when I discovered through my phone’s transport App that Cliff was… right. Both routes were actually correct, and I discovered that though my route was slightly cheaper, Cliff’s route would have been faster, more comfortable and would save us the discomfort of trudging in hot, humid weather. It was undeniably rude of me to speak to him in that tone and over-ride his decision in my own self-righteousness and presumptuousness.
“I am so so sorry, Cliff… I really am… for behaving the way I did!”
To which he only took a moment to reply with a big grin on his face, “It’s Okay, you’re forgiven! Anyways, we get a good workout and Vitamin D in this sun, and better still, we get to stop by and eat ICE-KACHANG (a famous local dessert of ice-shavings drenched in syrup and crushed peanuts) on this route!!”
In times like these where an incident had the potential to ruin an entire afternoon, an early apology, a humourous perspective and ready forgiveness brings healing, restoration and love to any relationship at once.
When we recollect incidents and blunders like these, at least we know we can laugh it off instead of keeping score. You may not be able to forget, but remember, don’t keep score.
5. Be Each Other’s Best Cheerleader
Let’s face it. If you’re not your husband’s or wife’s biggest cheerleader, you can be sure that another friend or colleague will be. Whenever I see Cliff at the front row of an auditorium to give me moral support during a talk or conference, I am filled with confidence and love. His presence there tells me he took time off from work to cheer me on. In the same way, I try to do the same to be present for him too. It may not seem like much, but your presence can be the equivalent of sending an all-out cheerleading squad. It is that powerful.
There are times where this may not be practical. I learnt in early marriage that one way Cliff needed me to show him support was simply to be more generous in saying an excited “YES!” This could mean responding enthusiastically to his idea for a project, his desire to take a new course, or even a suggestion for a place for dinner. This hardly comes naturally to an obsessive planner like myself, who examines the pros and cons of every situation meticulously before committing to something. This is not to say that I now learn to say a contrived and over-enthusiastic “YES!” all the time, but I have now learnt the significance of my response to him, instead of always pointing out all the negatives. I have learnt that I can always let go a little, commit to a more enthusiastic and positive response out of love, respect and support for him, and then later share my concerns, if I have any.
I notice how enthusiastic Cliff is whenever I share with him a new love I’ve found or a new course I’m interested in taking, and what a boost to my self-esteem it gives me. It is his way of showing me love, assuring me that he is committed to being my biggest fan.
Be more excited than your spouse when he shares something that excites him with you; Slip him a note of encouragement when he has a big presentation or talk to present that day; Show your support when he wants to engage in a healthy hobby. In doing so, you are their Best Cheerleader.
6. Clear Your Accounts
I simply cannot imagine how couples can go through day after day without clearing their emotional bank accounts. Let’s face it- no one is benevolent and magnanimous 100% of the time to avoid feeling angry, frustrated, petty, ashamed or irritated. If a couple never talks things out, my suspicion would be that things are swept under the carpet.
Every weekend, Cliff and I set aside at least an hour a week to do “The Talk”. Using the Speaker-Listener Technique, we talk about hot-button issues which really get our goats. It could be as simple as how we feel about how the chores are allocated, or finding out more about how to love each other better, or as intense as how irked we are by another’s habits or debriefing after a volcano eruption earlier in the week. Whatever it is, enforcing this habit will work wonders for your relationship. I cannot tell you how much “The Talks” have saved us from destructive outcomes. Having the assurance that we will have this weekly “emotional clearance” also gives us the confidence that when an unexpected fight or conflict crops up during a date, we don’t have to ruin the evening. All we need to do is say, “There’s an issue here we are both upset about. Let’s talk about it during The Talk this weekend. But for now, let’s try to enjoy the dinner and go for the movie instead of heading home.”
Sometimes, though, these talks can really be intense, especially if, out of hot emotion, anger or hurt boils over and scalds the other when either doesn’t strictly follow the rules of the Speaker-Listener Technique. Because of how intense both our personalities are, this happens often, but with more practice week after week, we’ve been getting better at this. We are not perfect, and we’ve learnt, that’s OK!
7. Really Listen.
“But I am listening!”
How many of us have heard that one before? Well, while one party might feel he or she was listening, the other might have feel un-heard. How does this bizarre situation happen?
We both realized, that body language is so important when sharing or listening to your spouse. You may think you’re listening, but your laptop/phone/electronic device in front of you, a diverted gaze or just disinterested body posture can be really disheartening to a loved one pouring out something deeply personal to him/her.
I am guilty of this. One thing that has helped is for me not to check or answer emails or text messages after a certain time in the night when Cliff and I share about how each of our days went. For Cliff, he’s learnt that I’ve grown up understanding that speaking to someone with your sunglasses on is deemed as discourteous, and so takes them off when we’re talking.
Giving undivided eye contact, a touch on the hand and leaning forwards speaks volumes about your commitment to listen, more than any fierce proclamation of “But I am listening!”
8. Choose to Be Angry Properly.
It was recently that Cliff told me, “You’ve changed a lot since we got married.”
What he meant was while I still got angry at times, I no longer acted out the intensity of my emotions by leaving the house anymore. It was a behaviour pattern I noticed in myself in the early months of marriage, picked up from my own parents during my childhood. Whenever an argument got out of control, one would simply huff out of the house, leaving the situation seething hot still, and the rest of the family to deal with the brunt of the anger.
After going through marriage courses and books, we learnt how detrimental this can be to a marriage, because when one walks out, the other can feel rejected, humiliated or abandoned. Now when we are angry, we call for a Talk using the Speaker-Listener Technique. In intense situations, we ask for permission for a time-out and offer a time that we both agree on to revert to the issue.
But walking out is no longer an option for either of us anymore. We’ve learnt, that we can choose to be angry properly and resolve the issue together. We are a team even when we’re mad at each other.
After talking things out, Cliff always initiates a hug, kiss and prayer to make up.
9. Have Marriage Mentors.
I only know a handful of couples who have marriage mentors. But I cannot stress enough how important this is. Friends, parents or colleagues just don’t suffice when you’re navigating through the rocky waters of early marriage, feeling frustrated and alone at times when things don’t work out. One feels the impact of this during the first big fight when both are down in the dumps after a magical wedding and romantic honeymoon.
Marriage mentors, a healthy married couple who knows you both relatively well (or desire to know you more), can bring insight, guidance and encouragement to you in such times. They are not just friends who give you advice on an ad-hoc basis, but a couple who can set an example for you, guide you in your times of distress and are committed to journeying with you for the rest of your life. Not all of us have parents who can be marriage mentors, especially if they have separated. But investing time and prayer to look for a trustworthy, solid couple who can mentor and walk with you will reap dividends for your future together.
Sounds impossible to find? Pray. Whether you are engaged, just married or married for some time, it’s never too late or too silly to look for a mentoring couple for inspiration. And when you receive the benefits, bless another younger couple too.
10. Pray Together Every Day.
You’re right, I’ve put the most important key to having a happy marriage as the first and final point. The fact is, there is no substitute for this. When a couple prays together, they stay together. After all, when your hearts are both set before God, it is impossible to bear destructive, angry and hurtful thoughts about the other person for long.
When we first got married, I made the mistake of only praying together, and forgoing my previous personal time with God. This is not advisable. In time, I grew irritable and saw the importance of each of us maintaining our personal time of prayer with God. For Cliff and I, we aside a time of solitude with God before we leave home for work every day.
Lastly, it touched me so much one day to hear Cliff say, “I think any God-loving husband who loves his wife dearly will do bible study with her regularly.” I want to try and do that with you more deliberately.” It hasn’t been easy in our hectic schedules, and sometimes we do miss out. But when we do, we find that this special time together studying God’s word builds our character and draws us closer, not only to God but to each other as well.
We hope you’ve been blessed by what we’ve found to be helpful for us.
That’s all for the “Ten Things We Do” this week!