Marriage Years Pixabay married-925455_1920Most of us know that “happily ever after” is the stuff of fairy tales. Still, we secretly want to think that it’s possible to enjoy happiness through the marriage years. And maybe it is —not in the “life-will-be-perfect-and-we’ll-never-have-problems” kind of way, but in the “hey-life-is-a-gift-and-we’re-going-to-make-the-most-of-it-together kind of way.”

After all, it’s up to us to make the most of the life and marriage we’ve been given. Here you’ll find insights from marriage experts and other couples who offer ideas for how to make the most of every phase of marriage.

The Honeymoon Phase

During the honeymoon phase, which can last from a few weeks to a few years, couples are thoroughly, giddily, sometimes maddeningly in love. They see only the good (OK, mostly the good) in each other.

The Joys and Challenges:

During this phase, the newness of every part of the relationship is exciting, and each partner’s habits and quirks are more cute than annoying. A couple’s friendship is blooming; and communication, while intense at times, is blossoming.

A couple is also establishing their identity as a nuclear family, learning to become united as “one” (Genesis 2:24). Scott Stanley, author of The Power of Commitment, says, “Such joining or cleaving is not for entrapping but for freeing the couple for intimacy.”

But to protect your primary relationship, it will be important to discuss boundaries, explains Don Harvey, marriage and family therapist and author of Love Decisions, “because decisions are now made by them as team. This is a time to establish each other as a priority above other activities and relationships, to know and to become known.”

How to Make the Most of It:

• Record your thoughts during this time in a journal, and take photos of your early married life. Through the years, you can reflect on these when the going gets tough.

• Ask an older couple with a strong marriage to mentor you. What makes them tick? Probe their minds for insights you can pull into your relationship.

• Go on frequent dates and make time for physical intimacy, even when you’re busy.

• Put up hedges of protection around your marriage. If in-laws (or others) want to control your schedule, give you frequent advice, or ask questions that make you uncomfortable, be polite but firm in setting limits.

• Establish friendships as a couple and also make time for individual friendships.

• Create a strong spiritual foundation. You’re building a new home together, so keep in mind the words of Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain.” Worship together, join a Bible study together, and make time to pray together.

• Begin to establish healthy communication habits. Talk openly about your expectations, and share your thoughts on the things you both want in the future and about your individual goals.

The Adjustment Phase Through Marriage Years

After the honeymoon phase, couples settle into “normal” life. Carol Barnier, married 19 years, says with a laugh, “In this phase, the honeymoon is definitely over, and picking up his underwear from off the floor has lost all its appeal.”

The Joys and Challenges:

For some, this transition can be a bit of a shock, but it can also be a chance to embrace the beauty of everyday life as most couples discover a new level of commitment and authenticity in their relationship.

Barnier says that couples can cultivate contentment by modeling Christ-like behavior. “Great joy came,” she says, “[when] I learned how to serve, how to love someone as they are, not as I wish them to be. In fact, I learned to love as Christ loved me — flaws and all.”

If a couple adds children to their family during this time, they’ll adjust to an entirely new way of life. They’ll also have to fight for “alone” time, notes David Arp, co-author with wife, Claudia, of The Connected Family. He also points to the importance of keeping a marriage relationship primary. “It’s easy to wake up one day and realize you don’t know your mate as a person anymore. You only know them as ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’ and that’s dangerous.”

How to Make the Most of It:

• Make weekly dates a priority.

• Plan regular getaways. A weekend trip every few months and a longer vacation at least every three years can help you refocus, away from everyday pressures.

• Learn to ask for help. If you have a series of ugly fights and don’t know how to change the pattern, a minister, mentor, or qualified Christian therapist can help. Don’t feel ashamed to ask — even couples in good marriages need assistance.

• Practice these nine words, suggest marriage experts Gary and Carrie Oliver in The Complete Marriage Book: I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.

• Set goals for your family. Talk about where you want to go and how to get there.

• Once a year, read a book about marriage or attend a marriage retreat together so you can learn skills like how to fight fair or talk about what you need from each other.

The Comfortably Committed Phase

This phase begins when couples settle into their roles and their lives together. They’ve grown as one through the years and feel truly at home with each other.

The Joys and Challenges:

“You cannot be perfect and neither can your mate,” Stanley writes, “but the totality of your acceptance and commitment teach each other, day by day, that this is OK. … The real power of marriage is in the ongoing, and growing, acceptance of one another that is founded in commitment.”

There is also a tendency, though, to become too comfortable and to take each other for granted. This is especially the case in the midst of stressful times. Pam Farrel, co-author with her husband, Bill, of Every Marriage Is a Fixer Upper, says something noteworthy. “It’s easy for couples to blame each other for life’s typical transitions. But playing the blame game just makes the stress worse.” She suggests, “Look at each other [in stressful times] and say, ‘It’s not you, and it’s not me. It’s just life!’”

How to Make the Most of It:

• Write down the reasons you’re still glad you said, “I do.” Start a list of the good things about your mate, and add to it regularly.

• Fan the flames of romance. Take turns planning a romantic evening for the two of you. • Shake things up a bit if you feel stuck in a rut. Embrace meaningful traditions, but don’t be afraid to start new ones. Try a new restaurant, hike a new trail, or find a new vacation spot together.

• Build the friendship that brought you together years before.

• Name a challenge and meet it together. Complete a triathlon, learn a new home repair skill, or read a book like War and Peace.

• Set aside time to dream together. Share your individual dreams and the dreams you have for your relationship.

• Never even utter the word divorce. Allison Bottke, founder of the “God allows U-Turns” project, married her husband later in life after they both experienced divorce. She explains that they were determined to break their past patterns. “Kevin and I have always said divorce is not an option. Period.”

• Continue to grow spiritually. Find a ministry that you both get excited about and serve together.

Created for Intimacy

“We are created for intimacy, and marriage is designed for us to discover this,” Harvey says. “It is an institution, but much more than that, it’s a relationship in which you will know and be known on a deeper level than in any other. The joy of each phase is in continuing to develop this relationship — becoming more intimate — amidst the challenges and changes of life.”

This article is shared with us courtesy of HomeLife. It was originally posted on the great resource web site of Lifeway.com. It is written by Dana Dyer (Denadyer.com) who is an author living in Granbury, Texas. This is where she and her husband are learning to make the most of their marriage.