Wow, the years are flying by. I remember the very first time I saw Rachel on the morning of June 2, 2013. And now we’ve known each other for almost six years and been together as husband and wife for four. I’ve written about what I have learned during my first six months, year, two years, and three years of marriage, and I encourage you to read over those. With this fourth anniversary, I want to share some new lessons that I haven’t shared before.

1. Feed their heart.

I just laid down fertilizer in my yard this past weekend for the first time ever. And I’ve lived here for over a decade. Over a decade!!!! I have always just thought to myself – the grass will be fine…it gets sun and it gets rain…it will be fine. And my grass has been fine. But it hasn’t been lush, and verdant, and really healthy and thriving. And that’s kind of sad, because I could have made it better a long time ago – and then continually ever since – if I’d just done a little bit more. Like lay down some fertilizer to feed my grass.

Rachel is the same way. Yes, she’ll be fine if I just do what I’m supposed to do – help pay the bills, help around the house, help with the kiddos, and faithfully take care of her needs. But I don’t think that’s enough. That’s like, the bare minimum. I don’t want her to just be fine. I want her life to be lush and verdant and healthy and thriving. And that is going to require more of me.

What I find works best to feed Rachel’s heart is identifying what brings her the most joy (in its simplest, purest, most excitable form), and then giving her the time and space and resources to do it. That’s the “fertilizer” she most needs. Actually, it’s what all of us need to get through the monotony and the mundane of our workaday lives. Let me try to make this more clear with some examples.

What I find works best to feed Rachel’s heart is identifying what brings her the most joy (in its simplest, purest, most excitable form), and then giving her the time and space and resources to do it. Actually, it’s what all of us need to get through the monotony and the mundane of our workaday lives.

Okay, so Rachel loves time and quietness to do her devotionals with her coffee in our living room recliner every morning. But we have a kid. And so I do all that I can to watch Maya and keep her away from Rachel during this time, so that Rachel’s heart can get filled up. I often don’t want to, because I have to start my workday and get cracking. But I know it recharges and reinvigorates her, and I want to do what feeds her heart.

As another example, Rachel knows that my heart is fed when I can get away from everyone and everything, and just read books or write blogs and poems. And so she works hard to organize the day or the week to provide these times for me. Not only do I need it for my own sanity, it helps me settle my mind and recalibrate and remember His promises and my gifts and calling and keeps me excited about life. She knows how much it matters to me, and always wants to do whatever will feed my heart.

Go above and beyond as often as you are able to feed their heart. Tend it. Take care of it. Do more than the bare minimum. Your lives together will be so much better if you’re intentional about this.

2. Thank your partner all the time for what they do.

This could be related to their work, what they do for your kids, what they do in or around the house, really anything and everything. I have found this to be so critical because it prevents resentment from starting to build up. Both Rachel and I demonstrate responsibility and conscientiousness and selflessness towards each other, and while we are happy to do it because it’s the right thing to do, we also definitely want to be appreciated.

Both Rachel and I demonstrate responsibility and conscientiousness and selflessness towards each other, and while we are happy to do it because it’s the right thing to do, we also definitely want to be appreciated.

I want her to notice that I always take out the trash so she doesn’t have to, and be thankful that she doesn’t have to worry about our financial future because I am on it, and to appreciate how I check her car’s tire pressure and get her oil changed and vacuum her floormats.

Fortunately for me, she does. She thanks me. A simple, cheerful “Thank you for ___________” is all I really ever need because it shows me she noticed. And that she doesn’t take it for granted. And that keeps me motivated and inspired to keep doing it.

I try hard to express the same sentiment. When she makes our bed or sings songs to our daughter or remembers to pick up something I need from the grocery store, I thank her. When she preps our house for guests, or scrambles my eggs, or closes the cabinet doors and drawers I leave open, I thank her. Our home is marked by two people who convey thankfulness towards the other all the time, and it keeps our relationship healthy and thriving.

3. Carve out consistent cuddling time.

Cuddling is great. But married couples don’t do it enough. Actually, I think the world doesn’t do it enough. I’m not talking about cuddling with your clothes off (because we know what that generally leads to). And I’m not talking about cuddling after sex (as you’re likely to fall asleep soon thereafter (at least I am)). I’m not even talking about cuddling during a rom-com (because your focus is on the movie). I’m talking about cuddling where you’re awake, singularly focused on your partner, holding them (or being held) in the purest of intimacy, and just providing space and time for conversation to unfold.

Whenever we are both home and Maya is asleep for a nap, or we have a babysitter in the morning or afternoon, Rachel and I try to get away for some cuddle time. Just yesterday, when Maya was down, I was like, “so, do you want to cuddle?” and she was like “um, I’m never going to resist an offer to cuddle!” And so we just cuddled on the couch (it’s okay to be the little spoon, by the way!). And here’s why it is so important: it provides time with no agenda or ulterior motive for both her and me to share whatever is on our mind or heart. Here, in that moment, we are so very physically close to each other, and that paves the way for us to be so very emotionally close to each other.

Cuddling provides time with no agenda or ulterior motive for both her and me to share whatever is on our mind or heart. Here, in that moment, we are so very physically close to each other, and that paves the way for us to be so very emotionally close to each other.

Cuddling like this is basically like having consistent date nights – where the goal is to have open-ended, leisurely time to converse and connect. Don’t judge us, but Rachel and I don’t have consistent date nights (this is my fault, not hers). But we do consistently cuddle. And I prefer that because, well, we’re horizontal, and I get to hold her (or be held by her). What more could I want?

Bottom line, there is something incredibly powerful, restorative, and revitalizing about cuddling when you remove sex, sleepiness, and any distractions (TV, social media, food) from the equation. Do it today. Make it happen multiple times a week. Create and seize and protect opportunities to cuddle and communicate with your partner. It has helped make our marriage healthy and thriving.

I want to hear from you, friends! What did you learn early on in your marriage that is still paying dividends? What areas have been a struggle for you? On what are you currently focusing to get to a better place in your relationship? Leave a comment or write to me! I just want to talk and learn and grow with you all together.

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