I will say up front that J. is the far better half when we're talking about sacrificial marriage. I try to keep up, but he sets a high standard. Know that when I make this list that I never do all of them perfectly, but this is what I aim for. Because in a marriage, the key to making it work is all about putting yourself first.
1. Be the first to ask your spouse's opinion.
You are a team. Sure you could do things on your own, but how does that contribute to the whole team-thing? J. may not really care which curriculum I choose for the children, but I discuss it with him because we are a team and they are his children, too. He often has some good insights and ideas that I haven't thought of. Asking for someone's opinion doesn't always have to mean that you don't know something or are unsure; it can also mean that you care enough what the other person thinks that you want to hear their ideas and involve them in the decision. For a father who works away from home all day it is a way to connect him with his children and when a husband asks his wife's opinion about something at work (if appropriate), it helps her to feel connected to what her husband does while he is away.
2. Be the first to say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness.
We are human and we make mistakes. All of us. If something happens between two people, chances are both parties had some part in creating the situation. There is nothing to be gained by waiting to see if the other person will cave first and admit defeat. In fact, the idea that this is what you are waiting for shows a lack of humbleness of spirit which will make your life agony, at least where other people are concerned. This is doubly true in marriage.
You know you were complicit in the unpleasantness, go ahead and admit and get it over with. There is nothing to be gained by letting something fester until it becomes so big and overwhelming that it overshadows the initial problem. Being the first to say you are sorry, to admit that you were wrong, stops little problems in their tracks before they can become big ones.
3. Be the first to praise your spouse in public.
This is big. Praise and brag about your spouse to others. Both when they are not present and when they are. If you are married to someone it means that you love that person best of all and value their opinion of you. And who doesn't like to hear their Best Beloved sing their praises to others? It is a sign of respect and affection and value and worth. It makes someone feel loved and cared for and valued.
It's corollary is just as important. Never. That would be NEVER. N. E. V. E. R. speak disparagingly, either as a joke or in a remark, of your spouse to other people. Do not complain about what they do or what they earn or what they don't do or what they say. NEVER. You want to kill your relationship? This is the fastest way to do it. Only say positive things, and if you don't have any positive things to say, just don't say anything. If you have concerns about your spouse, then find a trusted friend or mentor and discuss them in private, but negative things are never to be shared or complained of in public.
Who can trust and love someone who is willing to offer them up as a verbal sacrifice to others?
4. Be the first to share what you are feeling.
I bet when you read that you think, "Yeah, those men are pretty rotten at sharing what they are feeling." But that isn't really where I want to go. I know more than a few women who seem to think others can read their minds. It goes like this: If ______ really loved me, then ___________ would know what I was thinking. Therefore, if __________ doesn't do [insert whatever small test is being offered today] then he must not really love me. Because people who love each other are so tuned into that other person that they will just 'know' what should be done.
No person, no matter how much he or she loves you, can read your mind. Get over it. If you want your husband to do something or say something or not do something or not say something, would you please just say it out loud? The guessing games make guesser frustrated, mainly because they weren't even aware that a test was being offered, and the guessee (is there such a thing?) angry because once again the other person failed the test they shouldn't have.
One more time. Just say it out loud. You would like your husband to bring you flowers every now and then? TELL HIM. Conversely, if you say you don't really care if he brings you flowers or not, really mean it. Don't get angry when he should have known that when you said you didn't want flowers you were really saying that you did. Just don't assume people, even your spouse, can read your mind. They can't.
5. Be the first to attribute positive motives.
Let's just use an example for this one. Your husband is late. The children are cranky. The food is drying out a little. You are pretty much done for the day and continue to look at the clock. Where is he?! When he does walk through the door, you have two choices. You can either assume he was late just to make you miserable and because he doesn't really care about you, or you can assume that either traffic was bad or something at work kept him unexpectedly or any number of scenarios that don't involve YOU or what he thinks about you in any way.
And what you decide can have two very different outcomes. If you assume that his lateness was done on purpose, you will not greet him pleasantly. You may even yell. I guarantee that will escalate the children's behavior and life will go downhill so fast you won't be able to strap on your skis. And will your husband rush home the next time he is unexpectedly tied up? No, I don't think so. Would you look forward to that greeting another time? He may not have started coming home late on purpose, but exhibit that attitude that he does and I guarantee that eventually he will be.
Or, you can decide that he is trying his best to get home and something has held him up. I always assume it is something not so nice which helps with my level of compassion. In that frame of mind, it is so much easier to greet your husband at the door with a smile and a bit of sympathy and perhaps a glass of wine (if you are so inclined). The children will sense all is well and the behavior will ratchet down. Your husband will relax, and the evening should proceed in a calmer manner. (I can't help with dinner. Make the best of it.) Your husband will feel that home is a safe and welcoming place and one he wants to return to as soon as possible.
6. Be the first to say, "I love you."
This goes back to someone not being able to read your mind. You cannot tell someone you love them too much. And there are ways to say 'I love you' that don't involve words at all. It is also those little things you do. Do you prepare meals your husband likes? (I cook for my husband, our children are just invited to join us.) I also dress for my husband. I know the clothes I wear that he likes and these are the ones I reach for first. I want him to be pleased with my appearance. Or, for me it is J. bringing me coffee in bed every morning. He doesn't have to do that. It is more work for him and he has to be the one to get out of bed and make it. But he brings me coffee every morning and every morning I fall in love with him all over again because of this little act of love.
There are so many little acts of love and kindness that can be done for your spouse throughout the day. Be the first to find and do them for the one you love.
7. Be the first to remind yourself why you fell in love with this person.
This could also be titles, 'Be the first to offer grace'. When you are first in love with someone, they can often do no wrong. You love every little thing about them... even those endearing quirks. Be the first to always thing of them as endearing quirks and not the little things which grate on you and rub you raw with your annoyance of them. At one point, you loved this person so much that those little things didn't matter. Always remind yourself of this and purposefully stop yourself from allowing them to become irritants.
So, go work on your marriage. Put yourself first. The first to honor, sacrifice, serve, and love your spouse. You are the only one you can control, not your spouse, not your child, not your friend. But you can control how you act and react to the people you love. Be the person you would like to be married to.
Pray for Brandi today... a child who desperately needs someone to put her first.
This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.