Growing up I don’t remember seeing my parents fighting, in conflict or showing that there is any issue with their marriage. Dad never yelled at mum, she never hurled insults, they always smiled did stuff together and gave each other endless stories of their day. Other than Full House and Family Matters, this was in contrast with the marriages that I would see on TV where husband and wife were in constant conflict. I must thank them deeply for showing me that marriage is fun and happy.
Here’s the trouble with this scenario. I grew up knowing that marriage is nothing but fun and happy because that was my reality. I think I pulled out all the stops for my first girl. I bade her good riddance eventually after the relationship “just died”. Like most, I had no idea how to deal with conflict, different interests or a break-up. When I met the next girl, I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend at that time, but we hang out anyway.
I think this is what worked because we became friends, did stuff together, and slowly grew on each other. At the strike of year two, a mutual friend (who had been dating two years) came to us with his girlfriend at a party and told us that we would break-up because statistics indicated that the lifestyle of a dating relationship was 18-24months. He broke up with his girl a few months later but for us, after five years of fun, drama, fights, break-ups and make-ups in our dating relationship we got married.
All the while we have been married we have purposed to be friends at all times. During the good and the bad, our friendship has kept us going. Now, we are parents, not married for too long but I count it all joy walking in this journey with my best friend. I can say that I am a proud man, husband and father (in that order). Why? You ask… well for one simple reason. I write my own story. The prelude to this story is as friends, WE define how WE want our marriage to be, WE set the tone, and WE determine the pace.
This is not the friendship that tells your partner “I like you, lets hang out and talk about the weather” no… it is the friendship that tells you, “I have good news and you’re the first person I want to tell” or “I’m having a tough day, just hold me for a little while” or even “How do I fit into your dreams and plans for the future? How can I help you achieve them“.
Dating and Marriage is a two way street in all aspects, dreams, ambitions, communication, conflict resolution etc. You must decide within yourself to be friends, best friends with your partner. This is a foundation that cannot be questioned. This foundation is the key to making your relationship work.
Consider with me for a little while your car (present or future). Cars require work. Washing, service, fuel, polish, repairs, buy spare parts etc., and generally the more work you put in, the better it runs, the more people admire it. So is it with relationships, there’s things that must be done to keep the relationship alive, things that are core, the main fuel of the relationship. I cannot really say that there is an existing formula on how to ensure a marriage continues to run smoothly, but here are a few things that have worked for us.
Friends have time and space to love, have fun, forgive, be in each other’s space, give each other space and respect that neither is perfect. A great mistake we made as time went on in our marriage, is having high expectations of our partners and forgetting at some point that we were first friends. See as friends, we would check up on each other and tell each other things that were bothering us and also things that made us happy. As friends there was room for forgiveness and understanding when marriage has hit the rocks, we understood that we were not perfect and sometimes we would let each other down. But we took that for granted and expected to be understood always. Then the conflicts started hurting more and occurring more often we got snappy with each other and pushed each other to the limit. It took divine intervention to understand that back then, as friends, we forgave, we understood, we worked together rather than against each other.
2. Husbands, You’re the head, be the constant
A successful business man/husband/father once told me “women are empty cans just waiting to be filled, if you don’t do it, then she will find another source to fill herself”. Before the ladies go blowing their hats off, this one is for the guys. Out of my own experience, many times in our conflicts, I have had to listen keenly to what my wife is saying and more importantly what she is not saying so that I can have the full picture. I found that it is important to base all my decisions on a personal value system. These are my core beliefs and attributes that make up my character. This way, with time she comes to understand how I operate, how I think and whenever there is conflict, she can predict my stand on various issues.
This is essential because the woman will also build her foundation in the relationship based on this core system. This will definitely speak into your leadership values as a man, as a husband and as a father. To be able to set an example for those around you and most of all for your children. This I find to be lacking in some relationships especially where the lady is a strong character in the marriage, this notwithstanding, in many relationships, the husbands need to step up to the plate.
3. Husbands, love your wives
In a Christian setting, husbands are told to love their wives and wives are told to respect their husbands. I was a little confused one day when my wife told me that she didn’t feel like she loved me that day, and this took me on a long journey of self-discovery. I realised that I had taken for granted several things summarised below.
(a) She can’t do without affection (b) she needs to be able to trust me totally (c) she needs me to talk to her
It was simple, I forgotten to put work into my marriage just like I used to when we were dating. The little things, buy her a rose on my way home, a packet of chocolate, a daily good morning message to tell her that I love her, make her feel special and unique. See, as men we think and operate in compartments and I fell into it quick. And for me, after we got married, the project get-a-girl-and-wife-her was over. Time taught me a hard lesson because when I didn’t do these things, she didn’t feel special, she wasn’t hearing my heart, and she didn’t feel like she was loved. This introduced feelings of insecurity and lack of trust.
I would encourage gents, not to forget the little things. They count. When I got back to doing them, it was like magic, the old love was rekindled.
4. Wives respect your husbands.
The same bible that tells husbands to love their wives speaks to the wives and tells them to respect their husbands. Women easily reciprocate what is given to them, if you love her, she will reciprocate that love back and add adoration to that love, if you give her crap, she will give it back.
(a) I needed her to be proud of me (b) I missed domestic support (c) She needed to get into my world
I found that as a result of my neglecting my wife’s needs, the floor at home suddenly had eggshells that were not meant to be cracked. Home didn’t feel like home, we weren’t connecting for some reason. She didn’t know what was going on with me, I wasn’t doing the things in 3 above, she didn’t know how to rejoice with me when I had a work promotion because she didn’t know how much I had put into it, she wasn’t in my world to see how much work I was doing, she was not able to support me well. The book of Proverbs in the Bible says “A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike” I find this likening rather harsh and I am glad that we didn’t get there.
As a result I let her into my world, and here is an amazing thing for ladies, once you get into his world you fulfil needs of a man that you didn’t know existed. Take for example if he loves fishing or even watching sports. The moment you sit with him and show an interest in his “thing” you take the role of his “boy”. And when he is in this relaxed boy mode he has a playmate, he becomes like that playful child laughing with you and opening up to you. He will share his innermost feelings, he is vulnerable. All he needs is for you to listen, and above all else, tell him that you love and support him no matter what.
5. Be creative
If there’s something 12 years being friends has taught me, is that creativity is key. Creativity in all aspects. It could be fun to schedule date nights, schedule sex nights, schedule everything to have a well-oiled machine, but here’s where my sanguine self and sanguine wife want to see creativity in doing stuff. This is not particularly a special role for anyone but creativity will keep spontaneity alive in the relationship much like it was when dating.