And they lived happily ever after… That’s the last line to most of the fairytales we read as children. It seemed so convincing. The prince had worked tirelessly to either rescue the princess or to win her affection. Because all the conflict was so obvious upfront in the story, it seemed only right that once the prince won and they were wed, all their troubles would forever be behind them…and they’d live happily ever after.
The Fairytale of Happily Ever After
As little girls, most of us grew up dreaming for the fairytale – the fairytale wedding and relationship. Did we ever stop to wonder what the guys were dreaming about when we were dreaming about this? I mean, we ladies may have been watching Snow White and Cinderella, but the guys may have been watching Bugs Bunny & Friends or The Flintstones. Or in more recent years, boys might have watched Power Rangers or Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, or one of the Marvel comics with their superheroes. But no matter how boy entertainment modernizes…girls are still being fed the same story of the princess and the fairytale. I sense a little incongruency here. I’m just saying.
I too wanted the fairytale; and my assumption was that my husband would give it to me. He’d be my Prince Charming. But let me tell you this…DISNEY LIED! Disney only presented a very SHORT part of the “story.”
A STORY presents us with characters, a setting, plot, conflict, and a resolution. In the fairytale stories, all the final credits end the same way…”and they lived happily ever after.” The conclusion? The conflict was resolved. They fell in love. The End.
Misconception of Happily Ever After
But there is a misconception about that closing phrase… “and they lived happily ever after.” The focus is on the HAPPILY…and not on the “LIVED.” For if we focused on the LIVED, we would know and expect that “living” does not come without tests and trials. We don’t give merit to the fact that as one story ends…another story begins.
Living Happily Ever After
Here recently my husband and I celebrated 18 years of marriage. I must say that this year was the best year yet. It wasn’t without conflict (remember that element is forever part of a story); but it seemed as though we were better stewards of our conflicts this year. We finally had a better handle on navigating through some of the issues that constantly present themselves. I don’t know about anybody else, but my husband and I are not forever going through new things that surprisingly present themselves. I mean we do…but most of the time the basis behind anything that we deal with remains the same: misunderstandings, unexpressed expectations, displaced aggression, and assumptions. But this year was different. What made it work?
Aside from our intentional reverence in prayer regarding our marriage and relationship, I think it was 1 of 6 things that helped us this year. Along with prayer, being intentional about these six aspects within our relationship is what kept and keeps us to living into to the next phase of our story. Maybe you can relate to them, or maybe even use them. Here’s what helped us through Year 18:
1. Honored Each Other’s Love Languages
My and my husband’s love languages are distinctly different. If you are familiar with the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, they are:
Words of Affirmation – saying intentional words of encouragement, appreciation, and support
Acts of Service – Fulfilling or completing needed or helpful tasks
Receiving Gifts – Gifts given to say I thought about you
Quality Time – Intentional time spent together
Physical Touch – Sharing close physical space or touching as a display of affection
My husband and I took the assessment some years ago. Initially, he was convinced they were all made up and weren’t true influences to cultivating a good relationship. I beg to differ. In my opinion, there is a lot of validity in the love language theory. The difficulty for us is that ours are starkly different and I am not moved as much by the one’s he expresses; BUT…I do respect them.
Our Love Language
Now, I believe that everyone has and requires the love language of words of affirmation. It’s good to hear that you are loved, needed, and supported every now and then. The other languages will vary from person to person.
As you may be able to guess, I am the touchy-feely emotional one; so, my love languages are quality time and physical touch. My husband…not so much.
For my husband, his languages are acts of service and receiving gifts. He’s not necessarily big on receiving gifts, but he is definitely a gift-giver. However, he is very appreciative of acts of service and reciprocates that language to others. So, I try to always be mindful of that when he gets up every morning, goes to work, and is diligent about providing certain luxuries or accommodations to our home and family. Whether I want them or not…this is a part of his love language.
In return, I try to do the same. When he comes back from work, I try to welcome him back into a clutter-free space with food prepared. Now, let’s be clear… This doesn’t mean that I necessarily have cooked his food; but, he will eat. Don’t mistake me, I enjoy cooking. However, the pandemic threw me off and overworked me, and made my hobby become my job; so, I’m on a sabbatical. But I try to accommodate my husband and take care of any tasks he may have so that his time at home can be stress-free, and he can focus on other things. (Other things like our children…who sometimes seem they could care less about our stress levels. LOL!)
Lessons in Love
As I’ve said, my husband’s love language is not the language I thrive in. I crave affection. Though I will share the language space of my husband, I need him to meet me at my language address from time to time. He used to try to overload me on gifts to substitute my need for affection. I’ll take the gifts, but yeah…Imma need something else. I do understand that gifts and acts of services are outward signs of love and affection, but my need is for intimacy.
So, what I learned to do is to express to my husband when my intimacy tank is running low. When I bring this to his attention, he has learned to create time to fulfill this need for me. It might be a date night, shopping with me, or a Netflix night with cuddles on the sofa. It really doesn’t have to be big, as long as it’s the two of us together with no distractions, to include children.
I understand now that my husband can’t occupy this space all the time, and I’m better about it than I used to be. I’m good, as long as when I ask him to meet this need he makes concessions to provide it. It’s always extra special, too, when he does it before I ask; and this actually seems to happen more often now. It’s true when they say, “You learn as you grow.”
*If you haven’t already, consider taking the Love Language Quiz online. Knowing your love language, as well as understanding the language of your spouse can have a noticeable impact on the relationship.
2. Allowed Each Other Space to Grow
Though my husband is ALWAYS looking to have his space (since he’s the introvert between us), I too have times where I need autonomy. This comes especially during my creative times. Once my thoughts get to going, I need no interruptions. Normally, I try to give everyone a warning that I’m in my creative zone, but yeah…sometimes they just walk into being ignored or cut off. Because I no longer work outside of the home, I don’t have that time away to physically disconnect, so now I have to disconnect emotionally and mentally for a period of time to create this needed space for myself. My husband does good with understanding this need and supports it.
I try to do the same for him when he’s preparing his lessons for Bible Study or Sunday Service. I struggle sometimes, though, because he also gets his time away while at work. So, at times, I feel like his preparation time and my love language time have schedule conflicts. But I try my best to respect the space needed for his unique assignment and calling; and I don’t try to compete with it, or ask him to choose.
Our times of space give us opportunities to grow as individuals in our unique gifts, and skills. This not only influences our children by encouraging them to pursue and set goals; but it also helps to advance and mature our individual and collective purposes.
3. Understand Better How to Support Each Other
Early in my marriage, I didn’t quite understand the need to verbally affirm my husband’s efforts. This, I believe, is a disconnect that comes in navigating over from the once role of daughter or sister, later into being someone’s wife. We imagine the roles as outspokenly different; but, at times, they actually have parallels. I’ll try to explain.
Sisters typically don’t coddle their brothers. They usually take on the more responsible role, more of the chores, and keep everyone in line. Daughters usually don’t have to encourage their fathers. Their fathers show up, love, provide for, and protect them. It’s believed that’s what dads naturally do for their children. But who actually knows what Mom had to do or say to make sure that dad showed up everyday to be what he needed to be for his family and the universe; especially after he was tired, beat up on by life circumstances, and discouraged? This effort is probably only done in private and never discussed or really taught.
How Will We Know?
How then, is a girl to know what it takes to emotionally support her husband? When gender roles are considered (having children, cooking and cleaning) there’s nothing that specifies how to emotionally support your spouse. Love… and emotional support… they are two different things. No, I don’t think that factual advice is actually given to brides-to-be on how to support their husbands. Mothering may be a quick natural evolution. Wife-ing…not so much.
It has taken some time for my husband and I to learn how to support each other emotionally. For us, a lot lies within the love languages of words of affirmations and acts of service; but even more so in just physical presence – showing up and/or stepping in. Interestingly, in many ways, emotional support bears a resemblance to acting towards each other more like siblings or parents versus husband and wife.
Inside the home we may not always be on one accord, but when we present ourselves publicly, we’re a united front. My husband…that’s like my brother and I’m like his sister. The secrets I know, I protect. I have his back and he has mine. At times, I’m like a mother to my husband; when I need to emotionally support his inner wounds that others don’t see. I get to kiss it and make it better. He reciprocates that by making me feel secure and protected; like a father, in times where I’m most vulnerable.
4. Recognize Our Shortcomings as Tendencies vs. Flaws
Neither I nor my husband is perfect, and we can’t expect each other to be; but we’ve learned to look at each other’s shortcomings as tendencies, rather than flaws. Flaws are an imperfection or weakness; especially one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness. This doesn’t describe me or my husband.
No, we’re not flawed; but we may at times have the tendency to act or respond in a certain manner due to stress. However, we’ve been together long enough now to know what triggers affect those tendencies, and how to respond to them to remain productive versus being setback. Now let me be honest… We used to visit the Town of Setback every year; so, please don’t be impressed. There is a story behind the glory. But now, when we have our heated moments, we know how to give each other space and time to process or cool down. Sometimes, one of us may need to just have a moment away; because continually trying to address whatever the matter is will only escalate emotions, and lead to inappropriate or unhealthy responses. Now that we know this, we avoid this at all cost. The health, sanity, and SANCTITY of our relationship is more important than proving a point or being right.
5. We Listen to Each Other’s Battle Cries
My husband and I do our best to hear the things we don’t say. We try to read each other’s body language and non-verbal expressions, in order to address underlying issues so they can be resolved. When I can tell my husband is isolating himself or being very dismissive, I try to give him time to decompress and process his own thoughts first. I understand how difficult it is sometimes to be asked to talk about something that you yourself have not fully processed through. Before I invite and accept the conversations and opinions of others, I try to at least know where I stand mentally and emotionally, and how to set boundaries within the conversation. I try to be mindful of this for my husband as well.
Once I feel that I’ve given my husband adequate time, I ask to share space and time with him; making him aware that I have noticed his distance and that it is affecting the energy or the home or our relationship. This time is for me to listen only, with no judgement or response. He usually first tells me that it’s nothing, but I decline to just take him at his word and leave. I’ll usually linger for a while more and try to create other conversation. Eventually, the root of the issue is exposed and can be resolved; or, I understand a way to better support what he may be dealing with.
6. When Battle Cries Are Not Heard, We Use Our Voices.
So, I am usually a bit better at hearing my husband’s battle cries than he is at hearing mine. However, when I don’t feel my battle cry is heard, I “use my words.” I believe knowing how and when to use our words is so important. I am not a fan of passive aggressiveness and displaced aggression. If you have something to say…say it. Don’t go around moping, slamming doors, and rolling eyes. I don’t manage well emotionally in that space. Tell people what you need or what they did or didn’t do. Don’t assume someone knows what’s wrong with you.
When I want or need something from my husband, I tell him. He’ll never have to guess, “What does Dawn really want from me?” Dawn wants X Y Z. Period. I’ve never been one to really mix words. I’m not mean or abruptly direct…but I am HONEST. If I want or need X Y Z, you will not think or be under the assumption that I want A B C and a ½. Clear communication (using my voice) can usually help avoid unnecessary disappointments and misunderstandings.
Our Happily Ever After
So, this is how my husband and I were able to LIVE and make it to the happily ever after story of Year 18. Our marriage may not be a fairytale, but it’s definitely a sequence of fulfilling stories. You see, the “HAPPILY” only comes after you’ve “LIVED.” Once the characters and settings have overcome the conflicts that resolved….that’s when “HAPPILY” comes. Between the last story and the next one. “Happily” is surviving…enduring through trials.
In this next year, I’m pretty sure most the characters will be the same, give or take. There may be some setting changes. But my Prince Charming will be present. Together we’ll do some good deeds, as well as face and slay a few dragons. Hey! we’re married, so we work as a team through it all.
What should you take away from this? And they LIVED…
To be continued…
Hey Sunshine! Thank you for reading my words and my thoughts. Did you find any of the tools my husband and I used this year helpful to consider in your relationship? I sure do hope so. (LIKE)
What are some pointers that have helped you in your own relationship that might be helpful to others? (COMMENT)
Let’s look to share our experiences and strive to restore and cultivate Godly relationships for ourselves and others. (SHARE) Hey! Iron sharpens iron. My hope is that all marriage relationships would be a reflection of God’s love toward us.
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