1. Ask each other out.

Just because you score the woman or man of your dreams, it doesn’t mean you stop dating them. Remember that first date? So much mystery to pursue. So many questions to ask. So many stories to tell and frontier to discover. You weren’t on your phones or distracted by the day’s responsibilities. It was just the two of you across the table from each other. What if we had “first date” enthusiasm on our fiftieth date? Be creative. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful. And discover new dimensions and levels of each other’s hearts you never knew were there!

2. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

The other day Lyndsay asked me to do something and I replied, “Sure. I can do it.” She then said, “Ugh. Don’t worry about it then. I can do it.” I replied, “What? I said I’ll do it!” Apparently she could smell my disgust for the job a mile away. Did you know communication is 93% non-verbal? Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way! When we communicate with each other, it’s essential that we say what we mean and mean what we say. It’s tone. It’s body language. It’s eye contact. And honesty is the best policy! (Except for when your wife asks you if her shirt makes her look fat.)

3. Happiness isn’t the goal.

I will ask couples, “So why do you want to get married?” And many will answer, “Because he (or she) makes me happy.” While I know what they mean, I encourage them to think beyond how the other person makes them feel. To quote the band Boston, “It’s more than a feeling.” Yes, my wife makes me happy. And I hope I make her happy, because a happy wife is a happy life! But since happiness is based on happenings, being happy comes and goes depending on how we feel on a given day. According to Ephesians 5:27, the goal of marriage is not to be happy, but rather holy. What are we doing to help each other not just be better, but to look more like Jesus everyday?

4. Desire don’t expect.

It’s fun to hear couples dream about the future. And as Aerosmith says so beautifully, “Dream on.” But there’s a difference between desiring and expecting. When we desire, we hold our plans loosely and when something changes, we take it in stride and trust there’s something better. When we expect, we hold our plans tightly and when things change, we freak out and release frustration on easy targets (i.e. our spouse). One thing I’ve learned to ask Lyndsay is simply, “Now, is this a desire or expectation?” Whether it has to do with finances, vacation, relationships, family, or jobs, distinguishing between the two helps us be “synced up” as we dream and plan for the future.

5. Saying “I love you” isn’t enough.

I remember when I first uttered those words to Lyndsay. She didn’t say, “Oh, that’s sweet” or even the dreaded, “Thank you.” She said, “I love you too.” While those words may have meant everything then, they seem to mean just something now.  1 John 3:18 says, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Ouch. Guilty as charged. Bob Goff says, “Love does.” I can tell Lyndsay I love her but when I do the dishes or fold the laundry without her asking, it gives my words a little more “umph,” if you will. If you don’t know what your spouse’s love language is, find out! How does he or she feel most loved? Maybe it’s acts of service, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts, or words of affirmation. Remember, it’s not that your spouse doubts you actually love them or that it’s conditional based on how clean the dishes are. All the “doing” is simply a natural overflow of your love for them. And it’s a way to encourage your kids and set an example for others to follow.

6. Fight for, not with, each other.

A few years into our marriage, my mentor Ben asked me, “So Heath, tell me about an argument you’ve had with Lyndsay and how you’re handling it.” I answered proudly, “Actually, we don’t really fight about anything.” He explained to me that fighting isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re fighting for each other. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. Engaging in honest, direct, and uncomfortable conversations is a sign of two people who care deeply about the relationship. Great marriages don’t just happen, they take hard work. When a couple glosses over “small” issues, sweeps them under the rug, and moves on, those issues don’t actually go away. Sadly, divorce is not a one time decision, it is the result of a series of decisions made overtime. So what if we fought for our spouse’s heart like we would fight for our reputation? On the other side we’ll discover a deeper level of intimacy and connection than before.

7. Engage in a bigger story.

Preparing for a wedding and establishing a life together is fun and exciting. But if we’re not careful our lives can be extremely self-focused. Yes, it’s important to be internally healthy, but it’s just as important to be externally driven. What if being married was bigger than the four walls of our house or just going to work everyday? I enjoy asking couples, “What breaks your heart? What makes you angry in a good kind of way?” Lyndsay and I developed sort of a mission statement for our marriage and how we wanted to use our gifts to serve others. Our goal is to live in such a way to put God on display. How can we use our time, treasure, and talents to bless others? And you know what’s funny? The bigger story we engage in, the less we find ourselves complaining about petty things and the more we find ourselves grateful for the main things.

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