When we asked for marriage advice for V6, some of our friends generously shared more than we could fit into the pages of the magazine. This is one of the many reasons we decided to bring their words to the blog each Sunday, where we could include everything we wanted, and today, we’re honored to have Natalie Norton here sharing her heart with us. Y’all get comfortable and soak up every wise word–her advice is truly inspiring!
1. Get together.
Talk about what you want out of your lives, both as individuals and as a family unit. Repeat this kind of open communication often. Consistently share your dreams, your fears, your joys, your sorrows, your successes.
When life throws you a curve ball, don’t just fly through by the seat of your pants. Pull together and make conscious, intentional decisions about where you’ll go from there.
We lost our three-month-old son, Gavin, in January 2010. This was clearly a time of intense pain and horror for our family. It was also a time of deep reflection. We knew the strain this type of loss would place on our marriage, so we did what we’ve always done. We came together. We spoke candidly about the challenges we were likely to face, and we discussed our desire for this experience to bring us closer together, rather than to tear us apart. We were very intentional in the way we chose to move forward through this horrific trial. In the end, as dark and painful as that loss has been, our marriage is stronger because of it. All because we intentionally chose to move forward, together.
We recently celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary, and as my wonderful husband reflected on the things that he felt contributed most significantly to our happiness as husband and wife, he wrote the following:
“We experience life together. We celebrate successes together. We suffer losses together. We share our dreams together. I don’t mean we are always physically together–what I mean is that we don’t lead separate (or secret) lives with separate dreams and separate goals. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have different lives, dreams, and goals. It means that we share in one another’s lives, dreams and goals, together.”
2. Let go. (Alternate title: Be a duck. Don’t be a cat.)
Now, I don’t know a lot about ducks (or cats for that matter), but I’ve been told that when water hits the feathers of a duck, it immediately beads and rolls away. Cats, on the other hand, have thick layers of fur which, when wet, trap the water against their skin (no wonder they dislike being wet so much). Whether or not my understanding of feline and fowl is anatomically correct, the lesson remains. Don’t hold on to things that simply don’t matter. Don’t be unnecessarily annoyed or reactive. When we relentlessly hold on to annoyance, frustration, or downright anger toward our spouse (even if and when we feel absolutely justified in feeling the way that we do), these emotions act as a poison within us. We become distant and unhappy, and our marriage will inevitably suffer as a result.
Take a deep breath, and learn to LET GO. As the late Richard Carlson said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”
3. Assume the best.
Why more couples aren’t akin to giving one another the benefit of the doubt is beyond me. Over our years together, Richie and I have observed, time and time again, partners who immediately assume the worst of their spouse. Note: these couples are collectively miserable.
My dad always reminds me, “Natalie, we judge ourselves by our intent, but we judge others by their observable behavior.” Think about that for a moment. When your spouse hurts or offends you, nine times out of an even ten, it was absolutely unintentional. Assume the best, and you’ll likely find that you receive it more often than not.
4. Offer praise.
Openly praise your spouse, in public and in private.
I’ll never forget an experience I had about a year into our marriage. We were living in married student housing near the university we both attended. At the time, Richie was taking a full school load as well as working full time as student body president. I had just given birth to our first son, and was admittedly feeling somewhat isolated and craving adult interaction. In an effort to make some friends and relieve my intense loneliness, I joined a group of newly married women who would get together every evening to exercise. Each night, the hour we spent walking around the neighborhood together was dedicated, in its entirety, to these women griping and groaning about their husbands. The complaints ranged from the messes their men left in the bathroom to the way they sounded when they chewed their cereal. I remember being absolutely dumbfounded, and thinking, “I would die if I knew my husband was saying these kinds of things about me!” It wasn’t long before one of the girls asked me, “So, what does your husband do that makes you insane?” I was filled with a burning sense of loyalty to my husband. I smiled and responded, “Nothing, I happen to be married to Prince Charming.” Despite their encouragement, I refused to volunteer any information about my husband that wasn’t absolutely respectful and filled with love.
That experience inspired me to sit down with my new husband and commit to him that I would always do my very best to honor and respect him, whether he was present or not. He made the same commitment to me. This commitment reminds us that we’re on the same team, it reminds us that we love each other too much to let silly things come between us, and it reminds us that we come first in each other’s lives.
5. Go to bed angry. (This is not a typo.)
This is counterintuitive for so many of us, but I’d be an outright liar if I didn’t admit that (outside of God and our integrity) this is probably the single most important contributing factor to the success of our marriage. When I’m angry, I’m irrational. When I’m angry, I’m defensive. When I’m angry, I’m quick to take offense.
My sweet Grandma Netton never got to meet my wonderful husband, which is a real shame, because I just know she would have adored him. However, before Grandma died, she offered me some of the most profound marital advice I have ever received. “Natalie,” she said, “never try to have a fight when you’re too tired, too hungry, or too angry.”
Richie and I have proven her theory time and time again. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve placed heated “discussions” on hold so that I could go and manage my blood sugar with a spoonful of peanut butter, or so that I could deal with my blatantly irrational behavior by taking a quick nap.
This isn’t to say you should avoid your problems. This isn’t to say that you should run from tough conversations. It’s a necessity that these kinds of challenges are discussed so that they can be resolved. Richie and I have simply found that if we can get a little distance from all the heat, and do whatever it takes to get our heads on straight, when we return to the conversation, it is a much more healthy and productive experience, and it serves to reinforce, rather than tear apart, our love and respect for one another as husband and wife.
Marriage is work. A happy marriage is hard work. But friends, it is absolutely worth it!
Richie, I love you! Here’s to forever, babe!