This week my husband Daniel and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. I know we’re not coming up on our golden anniversary or anything but 12 years, 10 moves (2 cross country), and almost 4 kids (she’s due late July), have taught us a few things. And one thing that I’ve been reflecting on lately is that it’s the little things that really matter.
Last Friday I threw a surprise party for Daniel. His sister and niece showed up all the way from Florida and tons of friends brought food and drink to celebrate him. It was almost 5 months after his birthday so he did NOT see it coming and it was really special to offer a grand gesture to the person I love most in the world.
But grand gestures are out of the ordinary for us. Partly because they usually cost a lot and we got married at 20, started having kids at 22, and haven’t ever had a season when it’s been possible for both of us to work full-time jobs at once. Expendable income for grand gestures has never been our reality. But also, grand gestures are not the things that hold a marriage together. It’s the seemingly small things that nurture affection.
Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You”
I once heard common courtesy defined as extending the kindness you would naturally offer those closest to you to those outside of your family. Our concern for the happiness and well-being of those beyond our family is not as instinctual so the rules of common courtesy help us to remember to treat them with politeness so human interaction can be harmonious.
But that’s often not how we view courtesy, right? It’s easy to think of courtesy as what we give to those outside our family ONLY–that these rules and conventions are unnecessary with those we feel most comfortable with. But this is a mistake.
Hearing a kind “thank you” for the everydayish work you do in a home and family goes a long way to feeling appreciated and loved. Even if deep cleaning the kitchen is something that simply has to happen every week saying a “Thank you for deep cleaning the kitchen. It looks really great!” to the spouse who tackled the job is still important.
If your spouse does something kind that benefits your family, say thank you! Thanks for patching that tire, thanks for weeding the garden, thanks for driving the kids to their extracurriculars. Say thank you all the time. There’s nothing worse than feeling like your hard work and sacrifices are going completely unnoticed.
When I get a text from my husband saying, “The kids are doing so great with their reading thanks to your hard work! You’re doing a great job homeschooling while growing a new baby and feeling sick. I love you!” it absolutely makes my day. Encourage your spouse with thanks. Cultivate mutual appreciation.
And also related to common courtesy: say “please.” Don’t order your spouse around (obviously). I think the more comfortable we get with someone the easier it is to say, “grab some toilet paper on the way home” or “mow the lawn later, the grass is high.” We wouldn’t skip the “would you please run by the store for toilet paper? We’re out!” with anyone else, so don’t skip it with your spouse either!
These are just tiny things that show you respect the other person and that you notice their hard work and appreciate them. You are a TEAM. Treat your teammate with courtesy!
Let your spouse know that you see them and love them.
Expensive gifts are not necessary. Weekend trips to Paris are not necessary. Frequent kind acts are necessary. When Daniel takes on a trip to the grocery store with the kids so I can treat my third trimester self to a good nap and he returns with my favorite flavor of kombucha, it reminds me that I am DEEPLY IN LOVE WITH THIS MAN.
These seemingly small things demonstrate: “I know what you like and I thought about you when I was away” and they breed affection in a relationship. When Daniel says, “I set up a babysitter for Thursday night so we can go out to dinner” he communicates: “I will take steps to spend time with you and make you feel important.” And what a great opportunity to respond with a “thank you!” It’s the small things that build and build and build up love in a marriage.
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It’s not a competition. Make your spouse’s dreams and needs a priority.
I can’t tell you how many times in the past year Daniel has taken the kids somewhere so I could have a quiet house to work, picked up the slack when I’ve dropped the ball on household things, and made a point to encourage and support me while I wrote my book, The Grace of Enough.
Writing this book was important to me, so it was important to him. While the logistics may have been tricky and making my deadlines was sometimes stressful for the family, there were no resentful comments or sighs. I was never made to feel like this was JUST my project and boy was it cramping his style. It was our project. He made sacrifices to see it come to fruition.
My husband has his own interests and pursuits. We craft our schedule so that he has ample time to run each week (and he runs a lot–like 50 miles a week) and go to races. This is important to him, makes him feel healthy and whole, and gives his introvert brain some time to recover from a job of constant interactions with people and a household of sweet but very LOUD children. Making sure he gets the exercise and self-care he needs is important to our family life! Be on the same team with your spouse, not competing for time and resources.
(I actually wrote a whole ebook about pursuing your dreams together as a couple if you’re interested.)
Marriage, especially if kids are in the picture, takes the hard work of showing up everyday to love your spouse with your words and actions. No grand gesture can make up for failing in the small things.
The past year hasn’t been an easy one for us. I have been very sick during this pregnancy–so sick I could barely get out of bed for months. Daniel had a job change that required him working TWO full-time jobs for a couple of months (while he kept the household afloat due to my sickness). We had unexpected medical bills for our accident prone child. And all of this on top of homeschooling three kids and writing a book!
As I said, it hasn’t been a walk in the park. But thanks to mutual encouragement and sacrifice, it was one of the best years for our marriage. I’m exceedingly lucky to have Daniel by my side and excited to see what year 13 will hold for us!