10 Things I wish I'd Known or Done Differently Early in Marriage

I love lists. I’m a lists guy. I like USA Today because they use lists. I watch Letterman mainly for the “Top Ten List” and then I fall asleep. Some of my favorite lists are: “Top 10 Things I Would Do Differently if I Were to Start Over in Ministry” and “Top 10 Reasons We Don’t Forgive”. You get the picture. I’ll share these lists from time to time and today is one of those times.

Every few months Julie and I host a marriage retreat along with our good friends Jim and Christi Jacobus. It’s a great couple of days of sharing, building new relationships, and restoring old ones. One of the lists we like to share at these retreats is the “10 Things I Wish I’d Known or Done Different in Marriage.” Some of these may be pretty straight forward, and others you may have never thought of. Through the next few weeks I am going to examine each of these more, but I wanted to introduce you to the list today. I hope they allow you to focus your attention on some areas of your marriage were you have been successful and others areas where work needs to be done.

10 Things I Wish I’d Known or Done Different Early in Marriage:

1) Relax and don’t sweat the small stuff. I realize now that some things I thought were big things were only small things and some things I thought were small things were in fact the “big” things. I guess it takes maturity to know the difference. A friend said, “If it can be solved with money, it’s not a problem.” The things that can’t be solved with money are the big problems. Pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

2)Take care of the marriage first, the kids second. I heard a TV marriage therapist say recently “the biggest problem today in the American marriage is the child centered home.” The principle is simple and can be likened to the instructions a flight attendant gives prior to takeoff when they tell us to put our own oxygen masks first then take care of our kids. Devoted parents run the risk of not being devoted spouses. Our kids have a greater need to see us “in love” than they have a need to see us meet their every perceived need.

3)Take more time to understand family of origin issues. The address we grew up at and our genetic makeup is a huge influence on the way we will relate as adults. We all think we know that, but we all minimize and underestimate the profound effect it has on us and how difficult it is to change the patterns in our lives that are the result of these things. Look at your family of origin and determine ASAP the patterns you want to replicate in your kid’s lives and the patterns you want to arrest and eradicate in their lives. An unreflective life is not worth living so assess early and do the hard work of making changes.

4)Examine your place in your family. This is about your birth order. Were you the baby, only child, middle, oldest child? Learning about these tendencies will increase your self-awareness in very helpful ways for a healthy marriage. I was a baby and I married an oldest child. Made for great misunderstanding early in marriage.

5)Understand relational needs. God made us relational beings and we all have bonafide needs which cannot be ignored. Our relational needs fall into the following categories: attention, appreciation, acceptance, encouragement, security, affection, approval, comfort or empathy, respect and support. There will be two or three of these that are far more compelling to us than the rest of them. The sooner we learn what our spouses’ top three needs are and how to effectively meet those needs, the healthier our marriages will be in profound ways.

6)Resist the temptation to live beyond our means. This is pure Dave Ramsey teaching. So many young couples and not so young couples fail to control their need to spend what they haven’t earned yet. The sooner this discipline is exercised in marriage the sooner you experience the benefit of less stress and conflict. We know it now but it would’ve served us well to learn it much sooner.

7)Seek to understand personality differences. This goes a little with the birth order and family of origin kind of stuff. We all have nuances in our personality which may cause any number of emotions and perceived ways of approaching the world around us. Learn much and learn it soon. Read and then read some more. Become a self-taught expert on the things that will enable you to be more effective in loving the things in your spouse’s personality that are different from yours.

8)Temper your anger. Anger almost always is a secondary emotion to hurt. We all like to express our anger but we are much less prone to admit, process, or work through our hurt feelings. Anger also goes hand-in-hand with grief. Small loss results in a little anger but profound losses result in much greater anger. We all need to learn anger management skills for ourselves and the next generation.

9)Cut up and laugh more. Simply means that we need to take ourselves much less serious.

10)Learn to resolve conflict. Most experts say an essential ingredient to a healthy marriage is the ability to resolve conflict. Don’t mistake that for a conflict free marriage but it’s the ability to resolve the conflict in effective ways. Again, read and learn. Go to seminars/workshops. Get counseling. Ask for help from someone who’s become effective at this. We’ve been married 31 years and I bet we’ve only done this well the last 10 years. Aaaagh! Should have learned a lot sooner! Still learning…

Have a great day. I welcome your comments. God bless, Matt.

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