01 May, 2017

The secrets to OUR happy marriage

Mr Bear and I will be the first ones to tell you that while we may have a happy marriage, it's hard work and it's not happy every single moment, but we spend the vast majority of our days and moments happy to be in each other's company.

Now, of course, every single marriage is unique and brilliant in its own way, and the things that work for us won't necessarily work for you. But with almost six years under our belt, we've navigated a few struggles that make us pretty solid sources of information. For one, besides a 6 month period, we have lived our entire marriage in a 400 sq ft room in the basement of my dad and stepmom's home, there is a kitchen upstairs but we don't have one down here. We also went through five years of college education for Josh, three of which I worked full time to support him. We've also stood side by side, dealing with the tremendous grief that comes from losing a loved one, in this case, Josh's younger brother. And finally we're navigating life learning to deal with my mental illnesses, and how they affect the various areas of my life and our life together. So while I understand six years isn't a long time, I would love to share with you some things that make us stronger. 

Secret No. 1 - Don't have any secrets, and I mean any - I know it may seem odd to some, but Josh and I literally have no secrets, at least not about important things or if a direct question is asked. We also have "code words" when we feel the other one is avoiding a topic and we want them to get to the point, this is mostly for me since when I'm feeling like telling Josh something will upset him, I'll just keep it to myself. We just don't have a topic that's "off limits", it wouldn't make sense. While yes I have girlfriends who might understand me better, they have their own lives, and they do understand me in ways Josh can't He, however, spends every single day with me, has to put up with my idiosyncrasies and why in the world would I keep something from my past, present or future thoughts from him. 
Now, this doesn't mean that I go through a detailed list of my everyday activities or that I tell him every errant thought that runs through my head, it just doesn't happen. 
We do share every password to our social media accounts, emails, etc as well as have a rule that the other can pick up the other's phone at any moment and go through it, no questions asked. I have no reason to hide anything on my phone and neither does Josh. 
So our motto for our marriage is open, honest, communication at all times!!

Secret No. 2 - Dedicated time away from the house to be together - Marriage is work, but of course, you know that (you're reading this article which means you're probably married). But just like a hobby, job or even a goal for life, if you want to see good things come out of it, you have to put in time and energy and nurture it. Every paycheck we go on a date, it usually includes a meal but it always involves getting out of the house. Why? Because that's for me, and I'll go into more on that later. We need the time away from the house, away from the dogs, computers and technology, and other distractions to just connect. We make the attempt to be away from our phones and put them on do not disturb, and focus on each other, and even make it a practice to avoid stressful topics, because it's a date and who wants to do that. 
Now dates don't have to be fancy and you don't have to spend money to do them. A day at the park with sandwiches from home, is still time together, especially if you throw in a hike. The bottom line to any bit of time together, away from distractions is a way for you both to connect and put energy back into your marriage. For Josh and I, it's almost non-negotiable at this point, but it's never the same. Some days we go out on weekdays and just for dinner. Today we spent most of the day out, shopping, going to a restaurant, then to a bakery. It's all about what you want to do together. 

Secret No. 3 - Time at home together that feeds both of your needs - Each person has different needs in a marriage, and before we were even married Josh and I learned about The Five Love Languages Book, which we both recommend. Once you take the test and figure out what you are, and what your spouse is, it makes it a lot easier to meet that person on their level when it comes to spending time with them. 
Josh is physical touch and words of affirmation, essentially he's happy to not leave the house, and just spend time together cuddling while I whisper sweet nothings in his ear. 
Mine is gifts and quality time. Essentially I want to be spoiled, by being bought things and having his undivided attention. This usually works best when he's away from his computer. 
So our two needs conflict, but we make time to accommodate them both because if I ignore his needs, he'll get frustrated, which in the end makes me frustrated. Sure the phrase is "Happy Wife, Happy Life" but it's also "Happy Spouse, Happy House", and my husband is named Mr Bear because he can be a right grumpy bear sometimes. 
So sometimes we spend time just talking about things he wants to talk about, or he gets time to be alone and sit and watch movies and play video games, completely uninterrupted. And sometimes I get to spend the day out of with him. It's all about balance, but you don't have to leave the house to make it happen. 

Secret No. 4 - Sex really is the barometer of your marriage*** - Now I need to bullet point the heck out of this because of this only works when there isn't anything else crazy going on. So let me first say that sometimes when I'm in the midst of a deep point with mental illness, or if someone is dealing with pregnancy symptoms, or even post-pregnancy and motherhood issues, sex isn't necessarily a tell. But for normal cases, sex can sometimes be the temperature gauge on your marriage. 
If you have a healthy sex life in general with your spouse, and you have a good solid, happy routine or lack of routine but it works for you, but suddenly it's not working, don't just look at sex as the issue, because that might not even be near the issue. 
I once heard during a discussion on marriage that having sex while dealing with stress in a marriage can be like bringing a suitcase of each piece of marital stress into the bed while you try to get it on. If you have too many underlying issues that you and your spouse aren't discussing, working out or dealing with, then the sex isn't going to happen. OR if your spouse is dealing with issues, or maybe NOT dealing with issues that can also be a sign of why the sex can suddenly take a dip. 
This isn't to negate naturally changing hormones, sex drives or even moods, but I know that when I'm especially peeved at my husband, sex isn't the first thing on my mind. Now if I let that stew, and stew, over time, I can't imagine how hard it would be to bring that giant suitcase full of bitterness into the bed. 

Secret No. 5 - Do not EVER mention the word divorce especially in a fight - I come from a broken home, so I know first hand how easy it is to just throw that word out and not even think about it. I did it a few times during a rough spot, early on in our marriage. I wasn't being serious, in fact, I was terrified that he would actually act on it, but I was so angry, so hurt that I couldn't think of anything else to say and I lashed out. I questioned how we could still be together if we should be together, all of that. Mind you this was years ago now, but I threw it out there like a gauntlet, waiting to see what he would do with it. And not once did my amazing, husband pick it up and do anything with that word other than stare at it.
It was in a discussion with a woman who was mentoring me at the time, when she said, "why even offer it if you don't really want it?" The truth was, there is no one else I could ever want besides Josh, and I know it seems cliche, and childish but he really is my perfect match. So throwing out that word both scared me and angered me, but it's where I thought the fight was heading, childishly. I talked to Josh about it, and he reiterated the same thing, "Why would I offer the word divorce if I didn't really want it."
From that day on, I have never once used the word divorce, never hinted towards it, because the truth is there is no fight too big, yet, that we haven't been able to work out.

Secret No. 6 - Marriage therapy is ALWAYS an option - Sometimes the problems are TOO big, and you just can't do it on your own. Josh and I were in such a place a few years ago. Between issues in our marriage, the death of his younger brother, and my own issues, we needed to see a therapist, and we have never once looked back. It was the greatest decision of our married lives, bar none. It taught us how to be better people, better spouses and a better team.
At any point either one of us can again call on the other and say "it's time to go back." and it's a no questions asked response of ok. Our marriage is too important to let pride get in the way.
Also thank you so much to Indiana Wesleyan University for their counselling programs and our wonderful therapists. If you're looking for affordable therapists in your area, consider looking into graduate counselling programs, because that's what ours was. Our therapists were soon to graduate with their masters but were supervised by a certified therapist, and because of all that, we received therapy for free and then at a discounted rate.

Secret No. 7 - Consider living or staying in close quarters for a time - I can't say if it's made a difference in our marriage, but Josh and I literally share the same 400 sq ft for almost 24 hours a day. Josh works from home, which means that the only time we're not sharing the space is when I leave to go shopping or run errands. We don't have another room in the house that is "ours" though we have others we can go to, just we spend the majority of our time in this room.
It means that on top of loving each other, we have learned to get along really well. Most of our day is spent close enough to hold hands, and with no walls dividing us at all, we can always see each other and hear each other. There are no secrets in this tiny space, you have to love each other to be able to put up with someone in such a small space for six years.

I hope that these tips helped, please let me know what tips you have for your marriage!!

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