"Do you have any marriage advice for us?" they asked. And we told our story. Of hair in the shower drain. And other lessons of marriage.

Hair in the Shower Drain & Other Lessons of Marriage

It was an early-morning double date with my husband’s cousin and her fiance, whom we’d just met and wanted to get to know better.  Coffees and Chai tea in hand, we found a nook with two couches, and facing each other, we couples settled in for a long chat in our local coffee shop early last summer. We swapped stories of siblings, our dad’s occupations, and how we met.

Then the question came from the soon-to-be-groom: “Do you have any marriage advice for us?”

I’m used to giving relationship advice. But it was different, face to face with the couple, my husband sitting beside me. I looked at him and listened, contributing from time to time, but mostly making mental notes for things I could be doing better in our marriage. Not that he was preaching at me. But as he said over and over, we are far from perfect—these are the things we are learning and trying to improve on.

"Do you have any marriage advice for us?" they asked. And we told our story. Of hair in the shower drain. And other lessons of marriage.

Never take each other for granted.

We thought we had this one down, having spent nearly ten years apart before we got married.  But when my husband nearly lost his leg and his life two short months into our marriage, we realized how close we’d come to losing each other, and vowed never to take each other for granted.

Never think “it” can’t happen to you.

By the time we’d been married two years, we’d watched two of the four marriages we’d witnessed together crumble to pieces.  As the years went on and we watched more marriages fall apart, precious few others come miraculously back from the brink of divorce, we’ve learned by heart the truth that you have to fight every day to keep your marriage safe.

The little things will still annoy you after you get married.

Don’t get married expecting to fix someone.  The little things that annoyed you about them before you got married will really annoy you after you get married and live with them day in, day out.  My husband still leaves his laundry on the floor (just as his sisters had warned me).  But it goes back to never taking each other for granted—because when I only had one shoe, one sock to pick up for months, I was so very thankful I still had a husband to pick up after.

Talk about the little things before they become big things.

Marriage is for learning and growing together.  It may be appropriate to talk about something that perpetually annoys you, letting your spouse know about it when you are calm and collected.  Don’t let it continue to grate on your nerves until you explode into a ball of rage or a pile of tears right before you leave for church.

Make an effort to please your loved one in the little things.

I knew before we got married that the two things that annoyed my husband most were sinks full of cold, dirty, greasy dishwater and hair left in the shower drain.  The first time I forgot to clean my hair out of the drain, I found “I (heart) U” written in my curly red hair on the shower stall.  As our marriage has gone on, I’ve learned that he probably won’t want to go to bed until the floor is clean and the dishes are done.  If I have them done before he gets home, that means we not only get to bed sooner, but I get a grateful smile.

Make allowances for the little things.

Some things are hard to change.  Like the way one has always squeezed toothpaste.  I’m sure many marriages could be saved by using separate tubes of toothpaste.  But my husband’s loving compromise in this area has been to meticulously roll up the toothpaste tube and clamp it at the bottom every time I squeeze it out of shape.

Practice common courtesy.

Too often, we’re more polite and considerate of the stranger on the street or the customer across the counter than we are of the one we claim to love the most.  But it we don’t really live our love at home, where it really matters, then are we really loving?

Focus on the interests that bring you together.

Before we were married, my husband was an avid mountain biker.  We rode our bikes together a few times in the months after his accident, but I am not exactly the most athletic person.  He gave up one of his favorite hobbies in order to pursue things we both like and can enjoy together—like books.

Enter and appreciate the other’s world of work.

The idea that each must pursue their own hobbies and interests independently for a happy marriage is a lie out of our me-centered culture.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t make allowances for special hobbies or try to actively participate in the other’s work.  My husband comes alive when explaining how an engine runs: I listen in rapt, admiring attention, trying to nod at the right places.  I thrive on the written word and love to tinker with HTML and computers: he is my biggest fan, even if he doesn’t read everything I write.

Jealously guard your time together.

There are enough things in our daily lives that can not be done together, that we are vigilant about protecting our schedule and saying no to the activities that aren’t for couples.

Defy negativity.

Before we were married, everyone told us we were too young to get married (at age 22) and that the honeymoon feeling wouldn’t last.  The first years of our marriage we were constantly asked if we’d fought yet.  Now it’s the negative comments about children and turning into a boring old married couple.  Don’t listen to the negativity—defy it.  Don’t read the books that are filled with marriage problems and solutions—read the ones filled with practical positive advice.  And don’t buy into the lie that a happy marriage has to be filled with fighting and arguing—it is perpetuated by the personality types that thrive on discord and want an excuse for it.

Inspire old married people to act like lovers again.

We made it our goal to not only have the kind of marriage that defied all the negativity, but inspired “old married people” to fall in love all over again.  We still hold hands and kiss in public.  He still pulls me onto his lap when I least expect it.  And when he catches me for a kiss in the middle of the kitchen and my parents happen to be around, they usually get busy kissing, too.

Aim high.

A good marriage doesn’t just happen.  Learn and observe other marriages.  Spend much time making plans and goals for your own marriage, and then putting them into action.  Pattern your thinking in such a way as to aim for the happiest, most thriving marriage.  You won’t hit higher than you aim.

Invest all you have.

Growing a happy marriage takes all you have, and then some.  It takes purposeful actions and the investment of time.  It takes daily laying down of your own desires and putting the other person’s wishes before your own.

Ask for wisdom from the Creator of love.

Many marriages have survived and even thrived without God at the center.  They have known eros, and maybe even phileo.  But without God, the Creator of love, at the center of a marriage, a couple can not know true agape love.  Your marriage will grow strongest and sweetest when you rely daily on the Creator of love, for the wisdom and strength to love each other as He first loved us.

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  1. I really like this article. I think it’s ridiculous for someone to say 22 is too young to get married! We gals can only have babies so many years and it’s best to have them young. And it is a guard to the temptation of our souls to get married and love our spouse.

    I love your focus on being positive with each other. Of course, it helps to start with a strong foundation of faith and communication and of course not all couples have this. But for those who have good “raw material,” it is still easy to start becoming negative over little things. It is easy to take each other for granted. It is a good reminder to prize and honor the relationship that God has given us.

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing. It’s very encouraging for someone who isn’t married yet and who hears a lot of negatives and hard things about marriage. You wrote about a nice balance of hard work and high points.

  3. Thank you so much for this wildly funny, down-to-earth, achingly sincere encouragement and advice! I admire you and your husband’s committment! Blessings upon you both!

  4. Defying negativity is key in our culture. Difficulty doesn’t have to equal misery. For example, children are difficult to care for sometimes, but the Bible calls them blessings! I am amazed how many Christian moms I know who speak negatively all the time about their kids, and only want one or two because they “want their lives back”.

    I guess we all need to be reminded of what is impossible for God – nothing!!! Even you trials can bring you closer to each other and to God, because “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.

  5. What lovely, down-to-earth, honest advice. I am not married myself, but I intend to guard this close to my heart so that, when I do get married, I don’t make these mistakes.
    May you and your husband be truely blessed and may you continue to share Godly wisdom with us

  6. Defying negativity is one reason I’ve returned to YLCF over and over the past few years. I’m refreshed to read the positive, yet motivating stories of real people. Without this positivity I might be convinced (by the incredible amount of negative comments about marriage I get from others) that I’m much better off single–forever.

    Also, I think the part about not thinking it can happen to you, can be applied to any believer’s life. Over the last year or so, when I’ve seen Christians fall and have felt temptation myself, I realized that its our false feelings of being invincible that cause us to be off guard when the devil attacks. We ourselves, are not invincible. Only Christ.

    Great post– can be applied in some ways to young and old, married or single. Thanks Gretchen.

  7. Gretchen, thank you for your transparency as you share your vision & pursuit of a Christ-centered marriage. Your faith blesses me.

  8. I am not married yet but find this very encouraging. I plan to save it to re-read before and after I am married. Thanks for sharing!

  9. OOOO! Awesome! There IS someone besides ourselves that don’t think that arguing is a necessary element to growing closer together! I have heard SO many people tell me over and over again that if you don’t fight, you don’t have a chance to grow closer together or you just have a “shallow” relationship. I’m so glad someone finally has the guts to tell the truth about it! My husband and I are very close, but we’ve never ‘fought’. When people comment about it, then I tell them that we just have enough love and respect for each other to sit down and talk our disagreements through rather than selfishly exploding all over each other.
    Thank you for the encouraging post! It makes me smile to know we’re not the only ones that’s been freed from false expectations.
    Much Love

  10. I think one of the the most common “pitfalls” is entering a marriage thinking that you can “fix” your spouse’s problems/issues etc… I know of so many women who did this and it just didn’t “work out”.
    I’ve never been in a relationship so I have no experience but that is probably the #1 thing that couples have shared with me.

  11. Love this, Gretchen! My older sis (39) has been married only two years and still acts like a newly wed with her awesome hubby. Even with baby #2 on the way, they still have date night and cuddle like lovebirds! I have printed your marriage lessons for the future. 馃檪

  12. Thank you for this thought-provoking post! It’s great how many important points you assembled here. I think the crucial one is and remains: don’t take your husband for granted. A great reminder to be thankful every day. Thank you, Gretchen!

  13. I loved this! As a single girl, it held a lot of advice for the future; advice I’ll tuck away but there are also things I can work on now!

  14. Hi Gretchen,

    thanks for a great post. I loved the link over to A Holy Experience as well….her posts invariably end up with me sobbing 馃檪

    loved your ‘sparking’ post as well…inspiration 馃槈

  15. Thanks for the post, Gretchen. I needed the inspiration to think deeply about matters related to marriage!

    Here’s a question for any married women: Have you ever struggled to have time with your husband to “Talk about the little things before they become big things” ? I am the kind of person who needs regular discussion with my husband, or else those little problems quickly become huge walls that I can’t forget and forgive for a LONG time. However, my husband is a workaholic type who is happiest when working dawn to dusk, only spending time around the house to eat and sleep. So I literally have next to no time for deep talk. There are things I want to talk about with him–not only to prevent little annoyances from becoming marriage-breaking issues, but things like how we want to raise our children, our life goals, new interests I might have, ways to improve our relationship, etc. After 4 years of marriage, I’m beginning to feel like I’m dying inside, because I have no place to mend wounds or grow new ideas. I’ve attempted to suggest ways to spend more time talking, but I get the feeling that my husband interprets it as me “trying to fix” him, which is NOT my intention! I’m sorry if I’m venting here, but if any wives have experienced relationships like this, and can offer advice for mending and improving the situation, please speak up! Thank you.

    1. I find this really hard as well, as my husband works pretty long hours. I often find our best conversations come up spontaneously, and often at about 11pm! We’ve been married about the same length as you, and there were times when I really felt absolutely no respect for my husband because I felt like he wasn’t taking the lead in these discussions. I even wondered if I’d made a huge mistake getting married (hence my love of the Holy Experience post Gretchen linked to!). But slowly slowly God has changed my heart. He has shown me that He has everything under control.

      For example, the thing about raising kids is a big one 馃檪 which I totally get, but part of what God has shown me was that I don’t have to have everything figured out right now. Our parenting philosophy is to teach them the Bible, and deal with issues as they come up. My husband doesn’t have time to read as much as I do, but I quite often will tell him about an article or something I’ve read and ask what he thinks of it. And like i said, that’s often when we go to bed.

      One other thing I’ve found hard is to listen at least as much as I talk (if not more 馃檪 ). If our husbands are to truly lead us, we have to listen to the things that are important to them, rather than always pushing to raise our concerns. Make his concerns yours! But also let him know how much you appreciate it when he listens to you.

      1. Sometimes we get to talking after we go to bed, and then all of a sudden realize it’s nearly midnight. It’s so fun, but we’ve decided we’re getting too old to do that every night like we once did (whether via phone or letter or during our visits), though! 馃檪

    2. oooh I just remembered something I read not long after we were married. Can’t remember who the article was by, but this lady suggested that you don’t have to talk to your husband about *everything*. Not meaning that you should keep secrets from your husband, but for example if you are really interested in interior design but your husband is not, don’t go on about it all the time. Find a girlfriend you can chat to in depth about wallpaper or where to get bargain vases etc, and only from time to time discuss something of particular interest with your husband.

      1. Excellent point. Perhaps this is why we blog? 馃槈 But seriously, if we are to get time to talk to our husbands about the really important topics, we will probably have to eliminate some of the “chatter” that we could talk to them about.

    3. “M”–have you read For Women Only or Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands? As I recall, they both deal a lot with a woman’s need for conversation vs. a man’s need.

      Perhaps you can hearken back and recall how you best communicated during your days of courtship, and try to revisit that method?

      1. Thanks for the discussion, ladies! Some good things for me to think about. The link to “Revive our Hearts” was great! I read ‘The proper care and feeding of husbands” long ago–I should re-read it so I know what it’s about! I’m not a talkative person, so I don’t *think* I have problems chattering about irrelevant stuff :-). Mostly it’s just so few and far between times that we connect about our relationship, kids, household, etc. that I begin to wonder if there’s really anything between us to keep our relationship going.

        During our “courtship” we certainly spent more time together (which I’d love to do again!), but our communication was probably even worse! I can laugh about this now, but as an example, just before we got married he said I was a true country girl (I was raised in the city), and to me that was the greatest compliment ever. Then about 2 months into our marriage, he mentioned that I would never be anything but a city girl, and I was so heartbroken because I felt I’d been doing just what he wanted as a country wife (my frustration hit the ceiling when I found out he’d been telling all his family and friends I was a failure living in the country). Really, I think it’s funny now, but if we could have had time to talk frequently, I could have known my country living skills needed improvement, or more calmly accepted I’d never be a country girl!

        How do you ladies get your husbands to talk at bedtime? 馃檪 Mine is so dog-tired he’s asleep the minute he goes to bed. Oh well….

        We do talk frequently, but it’s usually a 5-minute phone call at lunch, or a 10-minute drive, and it’s hard to bring up deep thoughts in that kind of time!

        Back to the “chattering” issue–how do we balance our chatter and his? If we happily listen to him go on and on about the cost of some building materials we don’t have a clue about, or explaining the details of a machine in which we have no interest, can’t we expect him to listen to our interests also? Or should we mutually agree to not waste time on subjects the other person doesn’t care about? What think you?

  16. I had to laugh in understanding as I read the part about engines…my husband is a car/airplane/mechanic guy, and I’ve learned more about engines and airplanes in the past 9 months of marriage than I had in my entire life! And like you, Chris loves my writing and is always encouraging me in it (even if he doesn’t read it all.)

  17. Thank you so much for this post. For some reason it is encouraging to know that even the best of marriages face conflict.

    My favorite parts were “And don鈥檛 buy into the lie that a happy marriage has to be filled with fighting and arguing鈥攊t is perpetuated by the personality types that thrive on discord and want an excuse for it” and “Pattern your thinking in such a way as to aim for the happiest, most thriving marriage.” Pattern your THINKING, not just each other’s actions.