I’ve asked my husband what makes a happy marriage.
His answer was “You should always know that (1) the wife is always right. (2) If the wife is wrong refer to number 1”.
That made me laugh. Indeed, a happy wife makes a happy life.
But what makes a happy wife, a happy life, a happy marriage?
We just celebrated our eight wedding anniversary. Every year I learn something very important about my husband, myself and our marriage.
I’m delighted to share my hard-earned learnings:
Learn how to communicate constructively, not critically.
Men tend to be very practical, objective and straight to the point. So my advice to women is to be very explicit in what you need or want from your husband. Don’t bottle up your frustration or anger. Don’t ever assume that he can read the signs. Mostly, he cannot. If you need his help with the dishes, tell him. If what he said offended you, tell him. If what he did irritated you, tell him. Tell it in a nice way.
Remember timing is everything. We have to wait for the right time to say the right message. I know we tend to be more critical when we are tired, when we’ve been with the children the whole day, when we had a very stressful day at work and we are pressed to cook dinner, when we barely had a moment to ourselves. Exhaustion shortens temper.
It is always wise not to start firing bullets on your husband the moment he enters your house after a long and stressful day of work. Let him settle first, have dinner, relax, feel love.
Your objective is to make him feel there is no place better than home, that it is your day’s highlight to see him back. Then you can start asking him nicely to help you with the kids or the dishes or the floor. For all you know, he doesn’t need to be asked anymore. He will help you without being asked.
Instead of yelling at him and telling him “You are always late!” “You never help me in the house”! You can tell him “I am really tired Honey, would you mind washing the dishes tonight” “I get upset when you leave me to take care of the children at the end of the day”. Don’t attack the person’s character or personality but focus on the specific behavior that bothers you.
If your husband hears criticism then he will have a harder time processing what you have to say. The immediate reaction will be to close himself and think of an excuse or a defense.
Know your husband’s love language.
My husband’s love language is definitely touch while mine is acts of service. He feels very much loved when you are physically affectionate to him like when I hug him a lot or kiss him or caress his hair or back. He likes staying close to me too whether I’m washing the dishes, brushing my teeth, writing my journals. A good massage gives him a really good time. There is a really good book about this “Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. After over 30 years of marriage counseling, Dr Chapman noticed a pattern: everyone he had ever counseled had a “love language”, a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. He also discovered that, for whatever reason, people are usually drawn to those who speak a different love language than their own.
These 5 love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
I suggest you learn what your husband’s love language is so you know how to best meet his needs and how to make him feel loved.
Make your husband know that he is the most important person in your life.
Prioritize your relationship over the children, over your career. Because if he is happy, you will be happy too. If your relationship with your husband is solid, the children will grow up secure and happy as well. The best gift you can give your children is a happy marriage.
Respect his decisions. Listen to his advice. Be always united to him before the children, the in-laws, and the entire nation.
Enkindle the romance.
If there is one thing we look forward to, it’s our Friday night date (Fridate). That is reserved just for the two of us. We also go out once in a while on a date during a weekday when we’ve tucked in all the children to bed. We love sneaking out of the house to spend a little bit of time with each other.
We also reserve the late evenings for each other. We can talk and tell about each other’s day.
Invest in your relationship. Fine dine. Book that weekend getaway for your anniversary. Open that bottle of wine. Watch a movie. Get lost in the city. A massage always goes a long way.
Leave no room for pride.
Having arguments is normal and healthy but you should try to not get emotions get the best of you. Try to settle it when you are both calm and in a better disposition. I usually initiate the apology even when I know that I was the right one. The moment I give in and Elmer feels that is genuine, he begins to open up and explain his point. Then it becomes clearer to me that I was really at fault and I understand why he behaved in a certain way or said certain things.
Listen, don’t interrupt. Don’t be disrespectful especially in front of the children. You are undermining his authority. When you don’t have anything good to say, it is best to keep quiet. Otherwise, your heated arguments will just ignite a bushfire.
Humility is imperative in marriage. Real love costs must hurt.
There was one good advice I got from a couple who have been married for close to 20 years. They said that if you can’t still settle your differences at the end of the day, at least make it a point to talk to each other in the evening before going to sleep. Say something like “common, it can’t be that bad that you can’t even give me a good night kiss”. Then with that, reconciliation begins.
I remember one time when we had one of those big fights, my husband whispered to me that we should not fight against each other but we should help each other to solve a problem. Your husband is on your side. He wants his wife to be proud of him, to be happy, to respect him.
Take care and treat yourself.
I realized that there is no affordable help here in Melbourne. The mum becomes the maid. Very much different from where I came from.
I am also aware that there are so many things to finish in a day. Too much, just thinking about them is tiring enough.
I’ve learned to take breathers during the day and during the week.
Take that coffee break. Read a chapter of a book. Take a nap. Listen to classical music. Call your friend. Grow herbs. Try a new recipe. Write a journal.
Put that make-up on please.
My husband often gives me Saturday afternoon time off. I go wherever I’d like to go minus the children, minus the household chores, minus the chaos.
It helps to put things in proper perspective. That time you took off gives you a chance to reinvigorate yourself, to appreciate your blessings, to be grateful to your saintly husband.
I’ve learned that the best way to refresh is to pray. We, mothers, are expected to constantly give and love. But we are finite beings, we get tired, we get mad, we get frustrated. At any given point, our self giving will dry out. So to be able to love, we must be sufficiently loved in the first place. You cannot give what you don’t have. Only in prayer will we realize how much we are loved, every day, every moment.
In prayer we are taking the focus out of us, our tiredness, our miseries, our ambitions and we are putting the spotlight back to God.
“How can I love my husband more? How can I make him happier? He said this and that about me. It hurt me. But I think he was right.”
We can solve all our problems in prayer.
I realized that the state of my mind has a significant effect on my husband and the children. When I’m relaxed, my husband is happier and calmer too. The family atmosphere becomes warm and loving.
Love is a continuous beginning.
Forgive and forget.
“It is not enough to be right. Love requires more. Love calls us to forgive. Love is a curative balm for our soul and our husbands. Hatred is a poison.” Love Refined: Letters to Young Bride by Alice von Hildebrand.
We have to love our husband with his defects because we also have defects, probably more and they too have to live with that.
We can’t always put the blame on our husbands. “If only he earned more, I can afford to stop working to be with the children”. “If only he stops watching TV instead of helping me. I would then stop nagging”. “If only he talks to me more than his mother, I will stop being jealous”.
Change has to start from us. To be less complaining, to be more patient, to be more cheerful.
More loving, less fighting.
There is an excellent book which will help you understand yours and your husband’s temperament (i.e. our personal tendencies to react to life in certain emotional ways) better. The title is “The Temperament God Gave You” by Art and Larraine Bennett.
Marriage is a sacrament.
Marriage = Wife + Husband + God.
If we take God out of the equation and rely on our own merits and strength, marriage becomes too much of a hard work, may become unbearable at times.
Christ instituted marriage as a sacrament to make saints out of us, to give us a constant source of grace. Marriage is a fountain of grace. These special help from God strengthens us to happily fulfill the duties and dignity of our married state.
“Husband and wife are called to sanctify their married life and to sanctify themselves in it. It would be a serious mistake if they were to exclude family life from their spiritual development. The marriage union, the care and education of children, the effort to provide for the needs of the family as well as for its security and development, the relationships with other persons who make up the community, all these are among the ordinary human situations that Christian couples are called upon to sanctify.”Christ is Passing By, St Josemaria Escriva
Choose a holy spiritual director or a wise marriage counselor. Most of us need someone to guide us through this journey. It always helps to be able to seek an advice from someone. Most of the time, we view ourselves subjectively. If you look too close to a mirror, it is very difficult to see your image. But if someone else looks at you and point out what is there objectively, then we realize what is really wrong and where our fault lies.
I remember my spiritual director impounding on me the lesson that I must always be united to my husband. Through thick and thin. In making decisions in life, in raising children, in facing in laws, in managing finances.
Learn to treat your husband as your other self.
Love him like you love yourself.
Children are fruits of love. We have to be open to life.
I cannot overemphasize enough the beauty of having more children. I used to be a banker and my husband is an engineer. Prior to getting married, my husband drove and owned a seven seater SUV. When he got married, he bought a 5-seater sedan. When our third child came, we had to sell the sedan and settle for a 2-seater motorcycle. We couldn’t afford to have a big car in Singapore even if both of us worked.
The point is, the more children you have, the more things you have to give up. And these things seem to be validly valuable and necessary. But the truth is they are not. The holidays, the big car, the fat paycheck are all good but not necessary to be happy. All we need to be happy is within us.
Our loving relationships enrich us, not things.
Having more children entail tremendous amount of sacrifice and self-giving. However, nothing can unite a couple more than if they suffer together. You have to love each other with the love of your youth.
Love doesn’t end when problem begins. True love endures everything.
Children, who are the fruits of the love between the husband and the wife, are the greatest blessing that a couple can receive from God. Children are the supreme gift of marriage and greatly contribute to our good. They give joy which is authentic. Seeing them grow, relate with each other and teaching them to love are some of the rewards of being a parent. To see them become responsible and good Christians is the ultimate goal for us.
The love we share with our husband will be their school of love. They will learn how to sacrifice, to love and to be generous through us.