“Happy Anniversary!” I wished my dear friend Emily on her 20th wedding anniversary.     She responded with the same greeting, and reminded me that it was my anniversary too; as I met my husband at her wedding – back in 1998!   I have to admit, it was hard to believe Matt and I met half a lifetime ago.   How much life has changed!  As I thought about the past twenty years, I thought about how far we had come, and what we learned along the way.

In reflecting on marriage, I’ve asked several friends for their best tips or advice they’ve been given on married life to share with you. It is our prayer that these words inspire you and bless your marriages!

1) Pray for your spouse and WITH your spouse

Every time my husband and I run into the priest who prepared us for marriage, he always kindly greets us with “Oh look, it’s the young Love birds!” It makes us laugh, since have been married for over 18 years now, and certainly are much older (but hopefully wiser) than our twenty something selves that sat in his office, so very young and inexperienced, yet so happy and in love.  Although much time has passed, I will always remember the advice he gave us in our time together. “You have to pray together.”  He said.   “If you don’t, you can just forget it, it will never work.”   I was a little surprised at this statement, but we decided to try it out.  We started simply with a Prayerbook for Engaged Couples and read right from the book.   We then developed a more spontaneous prayer routine.   It was awkward at first, as prayer is such an intimate experience, but became easier with time.  Over the years, we’ve learned early on that marriage isn’t easy, but prayer is key for our marriage to grow and stay strong.

2) The source of every grace we need in marriage is Christ himself. 

(Chiara Finaldi, blogger at The Pearl Of Great Price

Christ is the fountain to which we must return over and over again to quench our thirst for love and forgiveness, to find renewal and inspiration. We can look for it in each other, but all too soon we will discover that as human beings we are limited, tired, irritable and selfish. Every married couple discovers that when an argument has gone on for longer than it should, when positions have hardened and no one is willing to budge one inch, then help is needed from the outside. In the Eucharist, we are loved and fed by Christ Himself, and having received that unconditional love and example, communion within the marriage can be healed and restored.  

Read more about this in Chiara’s post The Three Altars that Make Marriage Holy

3) Learn how to communicate with your husband.

(Mary Kate Sparrow, Marriage Presenter for the Diocese of Arlington Virginia)

After being married 16 years, a psychologist we presented at marriage conferences with gave the best marital advice I have ever heard. He said, “As a woman, if you want to talk to your husband, don’t force him to talk like a woman. When women talk, we sit across from each other, right? We meet at a coffee shop and we like to face each other.” He said, “Take a look at any man talking to another man.   As they are talking, they are looking at something besides each other; they’re looking at a game, a television or at a grill. They are standing side by side.  That’s how men are comfortable speaking.” He went on to share, “If you want to speak with your husband and have a good conversation, go for a walk or a drive in the car;  even laying in bed at night, just staring up at the ceiling,” As women, we can talk, talk, talk, but most men are not inclined to that. So if you want to have good conversations, don’t force a man to talk like a woman.” I found this so true in my marriage!  By figuring out how to communicate with my husband has helped us build a strong marriage.
Read and listen to the rest of this interview with Mary Kate in the podcast How to build a good Christian Marriage

4) Make date night a priority.  

(Ginny Kochis, blogger at Not So Formulaic)

Dating my husband has been one of the best things for our marriage, and most of the time we don’t even hire a babysitter.  We just wait until the kids are in bed and have a budget-friendly date night at home!  Spending this time together allows us to regroup, connect and communicate.   

Check out more ideas in Ginny’s post 33 Budget-Friendly, At-Home Date Nights You Can Try Out Tonight

5) Don’t play the comparison game. Your marriage, your circumstances are unique and unlike anyone else’s marriage and circumstances. 

(Bridget, Kristi & Rachel from the Hail Marry Blog)

Trust your wifely instincts, my fellow Catholic wives. You are perfectly suited to provide exactly what your husband needs.  Please don’t listen to the world. I mean, in reality, listening to the world is NEVER a good idea. We’ve been given a wonderful guidebook in the Bible and excellent examples in married saints (like St. Joseph, St. Monica, Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin, Sts. Priscilla and Aquila, and St. Gianna Beretta Molla, for example) and those celibate saints who had much to say on the topic of marriage (St. John Paul the Great, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Valentine (who witnessed to the beauty of marriage). If we’re listening to anyone other than ourselves on how we live out our marriages, let it be the saints.   

Read more about this topic from the Hail Marry Blog in their post The Heart Your Husband Needs

6) Don’t keep score.

(Danielle Bean, Brand Manager of Catholicmom.com)

Don’t keep track of who is always the first to apologize, who takes out the trash most often or who ALWAYS replaces the toilet paper on the roll. We all notice our own contributions more than others’ and tend to take others’ efforts for granted. Keeping score & always looking to have things “come out even” is a recipe for resentment. Instead, look for opportunities to grow in patience and generosity in your marriage. I promise there are plenty! It’s okay to talk about it if you are feeling taken for granted, but do your best to focus on making a continual gift of yourself to your spouse. Our Father, who sees all, will reward your efforts!

Read more on marriage from Danielle in her article What Lies Beneath

(seriously – read this one – its awesome!!)

7)  It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T

(Jessi Fearon, blogger at jessifearon.com)

Build up an open and honest flow of communication.  Truly loving someone does not mean that you agree with him or her about everything.  True love means loving them regardless and being able to still respect each other even if you don’t agree. 

Read Jessi’s story Marriage and Money: What to do when you’re fighting about money.

8)  Don’t put your marriage on the back burner when kids come along. 

(Hilary Thompson, blogger at Messy Buns & Latin Chant)

When you get married, you take a vow to love, honor, and respect your spouse and you enter into your primary vocation. When you become a mom, you enter into a secondary vocation. You gain so much responsibility, and you have a grave duty to fulfill those responsibilities, but that is not the same as your duty towards your spouse you took on when you made that vow. Over and over again, I keep seeing people become parents and then figure their spouse can take care of themselves. Sometimes it is conscious, sometimes it is not. Then the kids grow up, and parents are left feeling like they are living with a stranger, not with the person that twenty-five years ago, they were so excited to grow old with. Don’t put your marriage on the back burner when kids come along.  Find something that you and your spouse really truly enjoy together, then do it as often as you can. And don’t put your marriage on slow cooker mode. Keep working at it every day.

Read more from Hilary in her article Motherhood isn’t a Primary Vocation

9) Say the words “I’m sorry.”

(Kate Warner, author and blogger at Katewarner.com)

These words really do carry significant meaning, and often just hearing them lifts heaviness from the conflict, becoming that first crucial step toward reconciliation. One quote I love on forgiveness is from the Diary of St. Faustina, “He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God.   As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart.” (Diary of St. Faustina, 390)

Read more from Kate in her article Six Ways to Improve Conflict In Marriage

10) Love isn’t a feeling: it’s a decision

(Leslie Hunley Sholly, blogger at www.lifeineverylimb.com)

Just as God keeps us in existence each second by the strength of His will, we choose each day to keep our marriage in existence.  We lie down together each night, even after a bad day.  We each know that the person next to us in the bed has chosen to mirror God’s love for us by offering us unconditional love.

Read more from Leslie in her article Lifelong Marriage: Not for the Faint of Heart

11) Every marriage goes through phases of disillusionment. 

(Jennifer Lirette – surprisedbymarriage.com)

It doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed!  Work harder during those phrases to spend time together, pray together and ask God for all the graces He wants to give you through this great sacrament. Don’t believe the lie that you’re stuck in an unhappy marriage or that there’s no possible way to reach True Joy.

Read more in Jennifer’s post Disillusionment

12) Pray before sex

(Sara Estabrooks, blogger at ToJesusSincerely.com

Sex between husband and wife is the ultimate expression of their love. It’s a physical sign of the covenant between them. And it’s a beautiful reflection of God’s own love. God’s love in the Trinity is fruitful and alive. It’s perfect in its giving. And it’s so real it exists as a whole other person: the Holy Spirit. So when we say the prayer, “Holy Spirit fill us with Your love,” we’re asking to share in a  part of God’s divine love. We’re asking Him to give us His very love. His perfect, living, giving love. To help us love each other this same way. And to help us receive each other’s love fully. We’re asking God to pour out His infinite love to fill our finite mortal vessels at the very moment we offer ourselves in love to each other.

Read more in Sarah’s post The Prayer That Changed My (Sex) Life

13)  Even in great trials in marriage,  Christ is with us. 

(Maria Garabis Davis, writer at aleteia.org)

Life is unpredictable, however, and the call to the vocation of Christian marriage is not always easy.  Due to our sinfulness, sometimes our marital journey will be filled with crosses. We are never alone, even if our spouses choose to physically or emotionally abandon us.  Christ is with us.  He has, and will remain, an integral and ever present part of our marital union. We will never be separated from His touch, His love, and His influence. Know that with Christ comes hope. 

Read more from Maria in her post A “Season of Hate” in Marriage Will Pass, As Winter Falls to Spring