Do you ever feel frustrated trying to arrange your flowers in a vase? My mom had a knack for it. She could take these imperfect flowers, care for them, and create this beautiful display. I always hoped her botanical skills would rub off on me. Well they didn’t. Instead I fell prey to their deceiving appearance. Their tall and firm stems stood so confidently – until they cracked in half while I shoved them down the vase. I learned the hard way how rough handling and missed feedings can quickly lead to wilting.
Every couple of weeks, Husband buys me a new bouquet of flowers. Walking in the door with a smile, he hands them to me, then we stand side by side in a ritualistic care of our new blooms. No longer do I shove flowers down the vase because over time I developed a more gentle approach. Together, we clip the ends of the stems, place them in water, and feed them with that magical, white powder. As we snip and splash, readying the flowers for the vase, I can’t help but think of how these blooms represent our marriage. Like the individual flowers, no relationship is without imperfection. And sure, our marriage goes through dry and droopy periods. But when the correct form of attention is given, our relationship is revived and becomes beautiful again. As a result, we’ve developed and maintained a healthy and happy marriage.
Husband and I have been together for fifteen years. We were college sweethearts who knew we were meant to be. What I didn’t know was just how hard the “being” part really is. Our success as a couple wasn’t handed to us on our first date. Oh no. We’ve worked hard to get through our issues, insecurities, and hurts. And while not easy, our commitment to working together helped the process. As we grew more mature together and gained more experience under our belts, we found our own magical powder that keeps us happy – genuinely happy (and no, it’s not that magical white powder). The magic for us lies in four practices: communication, appreciation, fighting well, and attention. As difficult as it is to sum everything up in four categories, I think they best express the foundation that keeps us standing bright. It’s important to note these practices aren’t effective if only leveraged once a year (I’m looking at you, Valentine’s Day). Instead we make a conscious effort to implement these practices everyday. So instead of letting Hallmark dictate when we should show our love, I guess you can say this is how we celebrate our love all yearlong.
I don’t know about you, but I talk to my flowers. Whether it’s my orchids that live on my dining room table, or a new bouquet, I communicate with them. Similarly, the health of my marriage is intrinsically linked to how much we talk to each other. As I told some girlfriends the other day, “I talk my husband to death.” As a former mental health counselor, I know the importance of communication, especially in marriage. Every day Husband and I talk. Whether it’s why the librarian pissed me off, why he’s stressed at work, or how he hurt my feelings, I talk about it with him. The ability to not let things fester, or even worse, turn into resentments, has been instrumental in our happiness.
Telling my husband, “You’re a great provider,” or hearing him say ,”Thanks for everything you did around the house today,” are simple sentences that go a long way. When you’re genuinely appreciative of your partner’s efforts, it isn’t hard to express. We like feeling that our efforts are acknowledged and appreciated, no matter how big or small they may seem to the other person.
If you’re a man of few words, as many men are, then surprising your partner with special “me time” is another way to show your appreciation. For example, I’ll surprise Husband with a hot shave at a men’s grooming lounge to thank him for all the hard work he does to provide for our family. He’ll send me out to a nice spa for massage in gratitude for keeping the house together. We learned not to assume the other person knows we are appreciative.
I’d be lying if I said we didn’t fight anymore. Over the years our fights became less frequent, partly because we’ve become really good at it. By that I mean we stepped into a lot of the pitfalls most couples do early in the relationship, and we learned from them. Now we know how to handle the issue (and each other) and move on. I believe fights, if handled appropriately, can be very therapeutic. It’s an opportunity to shine light on an unaddressed need, or change something that’s not working. As long as they aren’t brushed under the rug or handled disrespectfully, fights can be constructive conversations that strengthen your relationship.
People need different forms of attention. Some people need to feel heard. Others have to sense physical affection (e.g., holding hands, hugs). And one thing we’ve learned is that the amount and type of attention may change depending on what your partner needs at that time. As a parent, I know how hard it is to refocus attention on the marriage. For this reason, we implemented a date night in-house every Friday. After the kids go to bed, we get take-out and have a quiet dinner together. This allows us to focus our attention on each other and really get in that much needed “eye time” (seriously, making eye contact is such a simple and often overlooked way to give your partner’s attention). It took time after we had kids, but we finally realized how critical of a role attention plays in letting the other person know: I’m present, I care, and “I love you.”