by Stacey Jutila

Recently I wrote to some friends and family and asked them to share insights on living more deeply into their marriage or partnership. It was amazing to discover all of the great messages that filled my inbox. Now I share this advice with you and I also invite you to turn to people in your own life about their insights on relationships.

Maybe your friends and family joined with you on your wedding day or at your commitment ceremony and promised to support you in your marriage. Asking for their advice can be one way that they continue to offer support to you and your partner. Here is some of the wisdom that my friends and family shared with me.

One of the hardest but most important things is to find a balance between developing ourselves as individuals and building a strong shared life. One of the greatest gifts of being a couple is having a different perspectives on life. We each need our individual friends, hobbies, and passions.

  • Eating dinner together is crucial.
  • Say “I love you” often.
  • In the long run it is better to be able to laugh about something than to be right. Bonus points if you can both laugh.
  • Take time to sit side by side at night and talk about what you need to pray for and then pray. It’s a good discipline to follow especially in the busyness of your days.
  • In long-term relationships, we also enter into the life of another family. It is important to be a part of each others’ extended family traditions, but it is also important to start your own traditions and rhythms for holidays, rites of passage, and daily living.
  • A spouse’s family is off-limits for criticism. It’s OK to comment on frustrations with your own family, but not for our spouse to agree and add to the critique.
  • Schedule a date night. It does not require an expensive dinner out, but it should be time away from the normal routines of life. Intentional time to be together as a couple is important. A regular date gives the opportunity to communicate beyond “I will pick up kid #1. Can you pick up kid #3 from soccer and take him to Boy Scouts?” Sometimes family life requires communication of “what needs to happen today.” But love thrives on conversations about life, dreams, hopes and fears—the sharing of one’s self.
  • A sense of humor is integral to the relationship. It will get you through some of the tough times and enrich your friendship.
  • Gifts to each other do not need to be expensive, but meaningful: a gift card to a favorite coffee shop or a certificate to have a week off from washing dishes can be more valuable than a piece of jewelry.
  • Don’t keep score after disagreements.
  • If you are having a bad day, be honest about it. Just say, “I’m having a bad day.”
  • Be patient with one another as you are growing up together.
  • Conflict can often be boiled down to a lack of clear communication. Everybody communicates differently. Too often we make assumptions about what the other person thinks or is going to do instead of just talking it through. It is important to learn how each person needs to process his or her feelings. Once we know and understand each person’s communication style, we can learn how to communicate more effectively.
  • Always try to be kind, but get to a place where you can be honest about anything, particularly things that are starting to make you resent your partner or respect him/her less.
  • Grace is a gift to be given to each. Encourage one another and be an advocate for one another.
  • The very things that you love about your mate will also at times drive you crazy. During difficult times, try to remind yourself what you do love about your relationship with your partner.
  • Think as a team. Allow gifts and abilities to complement each other.
  • Putting yourself in the other’s shoes is important…. for example, the spouse who works outside the home should remember that the person who has cared for the kid(s) has been working all day, too.
  • Marriage and partnership is a dance. The same person doesn’t always have to lead. There are many different kinds of dances in any couple—polka, samba, tango, and sometimes even the chicken dance.

The Rev. Stacey Jutila serves as a chaplain and pediatric bereavement coordinator at Advocate Christ Medical Center and Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. She enjoys baking bread and breaking bread with her husband, daughter, and others.