I invited my friend Kristen Hogrefe to share some of her insights into marriage as she and her husband recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. (Learn more about Kristen’s talented writing and her award-winning novels at the end of this article.*)
In this two-part series, Kristen explains 12 choices that create extraordinary marriages.
Whether you are a newlywed or a seasoned spouse, practicing these guidelines will be a blessing in your home!
Last week, we saw six choices that can help make our first year of marriage—or any year, for that matter—extraordinary. Today, we’re going to look at six more. Whether you’re engaged, newly married, or married for decades, we can all start today, by God’s grace, to make our marriages the best they can be. (Read Part One HERE.)
#7. Be interested in what interests your spouse.
James tells me he’s read more books since meeting me than he has in the rest of his lifetime. That’s a credit to him for wanting to care about something that interests me. On the other hand, I’ve gotten into mountain biking because of him and really enjoy off-road biking now.
I’m not saying you have to change your interests because of your spouse. Instead, you should expand them so that you each spend more time with your spouse doing something important to him or her. The impact on your relationship will be the best return you can make on any time investment.
#8. Encourage time apart.
Some couples become so absorbed in each other that they completely lose their identity and their friend groups, which is entirely unhealthy. You are still two people. Even though you have mutual friends and are each other’s favorite person in the world, he needs some time with the guys, and you need girl time. James has been wonderful about encouraging me to take a night out with my friends, and I’ve encouraged him to do the same. We’re both better for it.
#9. Always give more and never keep score.
Try to “out give” each other. This is a challenge I’m striving to practice. It means buying the brand of Fig Newtons he likes (even though I don’t) or putting his favorite chocolate chip cookies in the oven “just because.” It means looking extra special just for him or finding a fun way to surprise him.
Secretly, I suspect James is practicing on me too. The other night, my stomach was upset, and even though we had both gone to bed, he offered to get up and get me some Tums and something to drink. (I didn’t want to get up, and I imagine he didn’t either.) But he did. Because loves cares about upset tummies.
A marriage of two givers is a beautiful thing.
#10. Shoot the little foxes before they reproduce.
“Catch us the foxes, The little foxes that spoil the vines, For our vines have tender grapes.” (Song of Solomon 2:15 NKJV)
Solomon used foxes as a metaphor for any subtle little thing that tries to drive a wedge in your marriage. He understood that “little foxes” can damage tender relationships. Even the biggest fires start with a little flame.
He said to catch the foxes. I say shoot them dead. I’m more convinced than ever that the Devil hates marriage and wants to stir up strife through any little thing he can get his hands on. She forgot to change out the toilet paper roll? So what. You’d have to replace it yourself if you were living alone. He forgot to take out the trash? Take it out yourself. Don’t let little things become big deals.
One practice that helps is by rehearsing all the kind things your spouse does. If I catch myself starting to complain about something, instead I remind myself, “He is such a good griller. He made me dinner last night.” Or, “I love that he helped me clean the house to get ready for my girlfriends.” Focusing on the positive puts any little annoyances in perspective.
#11. Be your best self.
One of the best gifts you can give your spouse is to take care of yourself physically and stay attractive. You’re doing yourself and your own sex drive a serious favor here too. There is no reason you should gain twenty pounds your first year of marriage, even if one of you is an exceptional cook. Don’t get “lazy” just because you no longer have to fit into a wedding dress.
I’m sorry/not sorry if I’m hurting any feelings here, because I feel so strongly about this point. As the Bible explains, your body isn’t your own any more. It’s your husband’s too (I Corinthians 7:4). He’s equally responsible for maintaining his body and health as well. No matter how you age or what changes your body goes through, never stop striving to be fit and healthy. That doesn’t mean you’ll be a super model, and please don’t even start comparing yourself to someone who looks like one. It just means you’ll be the best version of yourself.
If you find yourself making an excuse right now, put a pin in it and instead ask, “What CAN I do?” Maybe you can join a gym together or keep each other accountable to eat fewer sweets. We all can do something. The key is consistency and accountability.
#12. Have “an anointed adventure.”
When we were doing marriage counseling, the pastor spoke about the need for “an anointed adventure.” In other words, our marriages should be about something greater than ourselves. He challenged us to think about what that adventure might look like for us.
After talking and praying about it, James and I discovered ours. We want to love people well and have a home that feels like a haven or a welcoming place. Our dream is to one day live on a lake and create our own “retreat” environment. I’m not sure when that dream will be realized or what it will look like, but we’re practicing hospitality where we are right now.
Every couple’s anointed adventure will be different, so don’t compare yours to someone else’s. Remember that God gifts everyone in different ways. Also remember that you and your spouse can still minister separately as well, but choose at least one area where you can serve together.
Looking back over our first year together, I almost feel the need to pinch myself at how wonderful it’s been. I want this joy to be yours too, and I hope some of these ideas will help. Of course, difficult times and disappointments will come and probably already have, but let’s always remember how blessed we are to have our spouses. They are a gift. Let’s treat them that way.
What other choices and intentional investments have made a difference in your marriage? Please comment and share!
*Kristen Hogrefe is an award-winning author and lifelong learner who enjoys starting her day with Jesus and coffee. Kristen and her husband live in Florida, the perfect setting for their many outdoor adventures.
Connect with Kristen at www.KristenHogrefe.com, where she challenges young adults and the young at heart to think truthfully and live daringly.