Once upon a time, I was sitting in my psychology class in college, and the professor was talking about the halo effect, the perfection-perception one feels about his or her new loved one, how they as a couple can never fail, hurt each other, do anything wrong. Yes, all the couples around them have fights and problem, but they won’t. Ever. “And then, you know what happens?” asked the professor. “Yeah,” the resigned voice of an older student cut the air from behind me, “reality sets in.”
Everybody laughed because we all want to love and be loved “happily ever after,” but know few do.
We laugh about it when it’s not us. When we are not the ones hurting from a broken relationship, when we have to look into the eyes of our children and tell them that mom and dad, their heroes, their world, are no longer one soul, but two broken vessels, floating about in a ocean of pain and regrets.
Then it sucks.
And we realize that the guy behind me is right; sooner or later, reality does set in.
But can we avoid it? Can we have a happy, lifelong marriage? A marriage that blesses us, our children, and the people around us?
Yes, but like everything in life, it takes two things: knowing the rules, and applying them.
So here they are: the ten commandments for a happy marriage.
1. Thou shalt love sacrificially
What is love? Is it the butterflies in our stomach when we see our beautiful, young spouse? The fluttering emotions we feel when walking with her by the beach at sunset?
Most of the times it’s doing things for her or for your children when you don’t feel like it, when you are tired, when your back hurts and your 2-month old is fussy at 2 a.m., yet you still hold him because your wife is exhausted. Have a servant’s spirit. Consider the needs of your wife and family before your own. Don’t wait to feel love. Act it. The feeling will come.
Don’t take. Give.
2. Thou shalt not point fingers
You look at your dating pictures and marvel at how you thought how adorable your now-wife was when she did one of her goofy things because, somewhere along the way, they were not goofy anymore; they have become an excuse to point out her failures, how she can’t grocery-shop wisely or boil eggs right.
Don’t do that. If you can’t say anything nicely, don’t say it. Leave the room, go out in the cool air, and reflect on this, “there is more than one way to do things right. My ways are not perfect either.”
Now go back in and praise your wife for what she’s doing right.
If you do have to correct her, praise her first, then tell her that if she could do this or that for you, it would mean the world to you, then close by telling her how much you love her.
As an added benefit, when you build her up, she will in turn build you up with family, friends, even strangers. (but that’s not why you do it; it’s the cherry on the cake)
3. Thou shalt be romantic
Remember that surprise candlelight dinner you made for her when you were dating? How many did you cook for her after you got married? When was the last one? What about all those sunset walks by the beach (or lake or park), holding hands, as you had promised her before the wedding? Make it a priority to do something romantic for her at least once a month. Once a week is better. Do something awesome for her. She gave you her life and her trust.
4. Thou shalt respect her
If she’s upstairs folding (your) laundry, and you’re downstairs watching Grey’s Anatomy and suddenly realize you need something. Don’t do what you are thinking; don’t yell at her out of laziness to do something for you. She’s not your dog. She’s your wife, the queen of your kingdom. Treat her a such. Get your royal self up and go ask her nicely and with a sense of gratitude. Make sure she knows you are grateful. If you realize you can do something for her on your way back down, do it. Even taking the trash out is more important in context than a show where everybody sleeps with everybody else or than a bunch of guys in shorts running after a stupid ball.
5. Thou shalt not name names
This is a major no-no. Watch your thoughts and your mouth. She’s not stubborn or stupid or impossible, or hard to deal with. Reserve those epithets for yourself. If you must call her names, use something like “love, cutie pie, darling, amore.” They are more accurate and will get you farther.
6. Thou shalt never argue in front of the kids
This is probably the biggest no-no. Children need safety. They need to know their parents love them and each other. Nothing rocks the world of a child more than the sense of uncertainty that comes from seeing their parents fight. Don’t be an idiot. No argument is so important as to hurt your children. Be smart. Come up with a code word that you and your wife know it means “Not with the kids here!” Use it.
Remember, we all make mistakes. And, no matter how hard we try, none of us can change the past. It’s over, it’s done. It’s a lesson for the present and for the future. Work on the present.
7. Thou shalt reconcile publicly
If you are stupid enough to break the above commandment, at least be sensible to also reconcile with your wife in front of your kids. Do it every single time. This not only reassures your kids that everything is back all right with the world, but it also models the correct way of handling disagreements in front them. It’s a lesson they will use in their social life.
8. Thou shalt kiss your wife often
Remember the frequent, passionate kisses you would give your future wife that prompted your friends to encourage you to get a room? Where did they go? Well, go back to the future. Start kissing her every day, even when you don’t feel like it. The feeling will come. Kiss her in the morning when she wakes up. Kiss her at night when she goes to bed. Kiss her when she fixes you a meal. Kiss her when you leave for work. Kiss her when the kids are around. Remember the saying, a marriage without kisses is like a sky without stars. Not only is it boring, you can’t tell where you’re going.
9. Thou shalt never stop having fun with your wife
Spending weekends at home watching reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond?” Will you even remember that in a month? Get out of the house. Make it a point to not stay home two weekends in a row. Go out with your wife and kids and build awesome memories that will last a lifetime. As an added benefit, these family outings will help cement your marriage.
10. Thou shalt remember the sabbath
Your wife needs a break. Even (especially) if she is a full-time housewife, she needs time off from the kids and house chores, where she spends over 90 hours a week. Give her a day of rest, where she can go make herself pretty, spend time with her girlfriends, relax one day out of the week. She’ll be forever thankful.
Most likely, you already know these commandments. In fact, knowing them is only half the way. We all must internalize them so that we use them when we are tired, frustrated, or when emotions run high.
This is the time to stop and think and apply wisdom. This is the time to be the most loving and caring you can. Keep asking yourself: “What can I do right now to bless my wife and kids?” or “what is the one thing that she really needs from me right now?”
You go through your life with this attitude, and you’ll have a happy, lifelong marriage.