I’m huffing and puffing along the pavement, chasing his bicycle a short distance ahead. I finally got him to wear spandex, and I’m enjoying the view. He looks back to check on my progress and gives me a thumbs-up. I laugh. I’m sweaty and red-faced, but this moment belongs to us. Kids are watching a movie at home, and soon we’ll be back answering questions, getting daughter ready for soccer, teaching son to mow the lawn, ooh-ing and aah-ing over another child’s art project, and a myriad of other parenting activities. Our busy life includes a gaggle of little people, but this stretch of road is just for us today.
Twelve years ago when we wed, we told our families we wanted to wait three years before having children. *queue maniacal laughter* I’m not sure if God played a joke on us or if His ears misheard our request, because three years later, we didn’t get pregnant for the first time–instead, I delivered for the third time. So, yeah; not exactly the way I pictured it. A fourth baby came 18 months after that, and though my memories are foggy from the perpetual exhaustion of raising two preschoolers, a toddler and a newborn, I look back on those early years with vivid gratitude for the foundation it built in our marriage.
Before kids, I thought that we needed years of time to establish us before we could handle the responsibility of a family. What I discovered was that having children actually put us on a track of accelerated growth, and deeper commitment than we knew was possible when we had only ourselves to think about. Looking back, I think having kids early was the greatest catalyst to experiencing true partnership and intimacy in our relationship.
Certainly, having several children in your twenties is not for everybody, but perhaps there is a mom of littles out there that in the height of overwhelm, feels like she and her spouse have lost their spark. If you desire to reconnect with the one who fell for you before those babes were born of your love, here are a few secrets I’ve learned along the way that have served to enrich our marriage relationship.
Build Him Up
There’s a proverb that says, “an endless dripping on a rainy day and a nagging wife are alike” (Prov. 27:15). OUCH. But it’s true, right? A dripping faucet brings annoyance, and it can all-too-easily become a force that erodes the foundation and seeps into the finished basement.
I never set out to nag my husband on purpose. I wanted be constructive, communicate my needs, and just connect–but to my husband, it felt like I was distrustful, disrespectful, or disappointed in his leadership.
Conversely, when I focused on praising his good deeds, affirming his dreams, and showing appreciation for the many ways he sacrifices for the family–I was able to breathe life and courage into his heart. Over time, I noticed him looking for ways to bless me and invest into our family. As I demonstrated belief in him, he became an even greater version of the man I married.
Obviously, we still have arguments or miscommunications or conflict from time-to-time, but I’ve learned to save those moments for the big stuff, and I actively try not to nitpick over petty things that turn me from the love-struck adoring young maiden I was to a complaining, cranky old woman.
Most of the discontent I’ve experienced in my marriage has come from “me-thinking”. “If he really loved me, he would…” And just like that, I can go from experiencing mild disappointment to feeling unloved. Selfish thinking like this robs me of seeing and enjoying all the ways he does bless me.
It’s incredibly surprising how my attitude can do a complete 180 through the simple discipline of gratitude. When I feel disconnected or annoyed by my spouse, sometimes I’ll sit down and write down ten wonderful things about him. Then I ponder what it would be like if I didn’t have that wonderful guy in my life. Maybe I was feeling under-appreciated, or he said something insensitive, or he hasn’t been very romantic or communicative lately. He may not always project the “knight in shining armor” vibe, and he’s far from perfect–but he is mine, and that’s a pretty incredible gift.
Proverbs 17:22 says “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” In my own life and marriage, choosing a grateful spirit has been my pathway to true and lasting joy. According to this scripture, joy is a key component to healing. When my marriage felt broken or wounded, I started practicing gratitude, and it powerfully altered my perspective, ministered healing to those festering wounds, and fostered a joyful, hopeful spirit toward my husband.
We’ve all heard that it is “more blessed to give than receive”, but it’s not usually applied in the context of marriage. It’s TRUE. It’s like making regular deposits in a 401k, and even though we are only twelve years in, I’m encouraged at how that investment is already paying dividends. It might be taking the car in for an oil change, or giving him a full body massage after a hard day’s work, or encouraging him to get out with the guys to watch the game. I have tried to be creative to bless my unique man, but to get intimately personal, the best way I have invested in him is probably the most basic need for any guy out there: I’ve made our sex life a priority.
Sometimes it’s also the hardest investment to make when I’ve been physically worn to a frazzle by tiny people all day long. The exhaustion, the headache, the late hour, and the post-baby-belly-unsexy-feelings–it’s all tough to get past. Let’s be real: 20 minutes isn’t the greatest sacrifice the world has ever seen, but to a nursing mama, that 20 minutes is precious to give away! It can often take some serious mental gymnastics to choose love in those moments.
This is where real love happens: it’s not necessarily when I feel the most amorous, but when I sacrifice my personal preference for the delight of my beloved. And honestly? Sometimes the greatest pleasure can follow the hardest choices. Loving another tends to bring love right back. It’s a beautiful thing.
I firmly believe that choosing love in this particular area has the powerful, universal potential to unlock any husband’s heart, open up his communication, motivate him to service, and deepen his appreciation of his wife in general.
These are a few ideas that keep me chasing down spandex and laughing in the wind. These twelve years have been wrought with challenges, but it’s an exhilarating ride. I want fifty more.
Marilynn Song Harri is a happy wife, mom and homemaker in the small town of Walla Walla, Washington. While she keeps very busy raising and teaching five children at home, she pursues a life of simplicity, laughter and loving Jesus.