When we were about six months into dating (and still in a long distance relationship) we took to books to help strengthen our bond and bring us closer together. We had a pretty good idea that we would spend forever together so we decided to be proactive about our relationship and grow. Our friends definitely didn’t have anything good to say, the comments all around were “if you need to read books about your relationship then you’re in the wrong one,” but the truth was that it was the happiest either of us had ever been and we had the intention to keep it that way.
(It’s ironic when you think about it really – we spend all these years studying in school, then thousands of hours practicing our trade, growing in our career, but never even think about developing and perfecting the most important thing in our lives; our relationship.)
So regardless of the fact that we’d be the odd ones out, we decided that our happiness and relationship was important enough to give it the TLC it deserved.
In the year to come we went through all sorts of books, each of them teaching us something new and valuable and we loved it. We would get on the phone after our long days at work or school and just read a chapter and talk about it for hours. Some days were light hearted and fun, but other days were more personal and left us just sitting on the phone in silence for hours, trying to figure out how we would make that part of our life work. Each chapter not only questioned our relationship, but questioned our wants and needs as individuals, making us think about things we never really did before. Out of all the books and articles we read, two of them accounted for 95% of the most important information and lessons we learned.
1. Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman
This is my all time favorite book and we recommend this book to EVERYONE. Whether you think you found the one, or you’ve been married for 10 years, this is a short book all couples should read. Gary Chapmin is a marriage counselor that has years of experience and is probably the one person we have to thank for being together for four years and never having been in a fight. He talks about the two stages of a relationship and what to expect when the honeymoon phase is over. He talks about how to speak to one another, how to always assume the good intention, and how to not lose yourself when you become a couple. He doesn’t coddle you, he tells you the straight up truth and shows you how to deal with common relationship problems before they even happen. Each chapter starts with a short story from his marriage, something like this : (paraphrased)
About a year into marriage I started getting irritated. I would come home after a long day at work and the house would be a mess. I never said anything but it would irritate me more and more as the weeks past. Why wasn’t she cleaning, why was she so messy? It had gone on for so long and one day I finally snapped. I said something rude and she got upset, and even more upset about the fact that I wasn’t the one cleaning or helping around the house. We were bitter and short with each other for a while and finally a couple days later we came to our senses and talked about it. We went back and forth for a while without solving anything. Then, without thinking, I mentioned that when I was growing up, my mom went to work and when she came home she did the dishes, cleaned the house, made dinner, etc. so naturally, I expected the same from her, I didn’t feel I had to ask. BUT on the other hand, she said when she was growing up her parents split the chores. They both kept it clean, both did their share, and that is what she expected from me. All these years had accumulated resentment over something so extremely simple that we just never talked about. So what about you. Who does the cleaning and house chores? Do you split it? Do you take turns by week? Do you do the cleaning and he does the cooking? What is your plan so that you know what to expect from one another and not fight about it?
Each chapter is similar to this- and creates conversations that are as good as gold in a marriage. You dive into house chores (cooking, cleaning, handy work) finances (who does the taxes, who pays the bills, what do we set aside for savings, investments, fun), details on kids (how many, who does the discipline, how do we discipline, what types of school, sports or music, what about electronic time), lifestyle (how many trips do we want to take a year, how much do we want to focus on materialistic things), religion and political views (does mom take the kids to church while dad stays home, is it a family thing, when should we start introducing politics into the household, is it ok to agree to disagree), family (how many times do we see the in-laws, who takes care of who as they get older, do we plan family trips) and more.
It seems like quite a lot off the bat but the truth is that each chapter is so short and just helps you start conversations you normally probably wouldn’t even think about starting. All of these topics are so important because if you know your person, inside and out, and their tendencies and intentions, it’s extremely hard to get mad or irritated with them. I remember one night when talking about kids Mathieu expected me to be the disciplinary, without knowing I definitely would never want to play that role, or thinking we would have 5 kids without really realizing that I only wanted to plan for 2 or 3. Because of all these big and little things we talked about before we got married, we have spent the last 4 years knowing how the other feeling about many of these topics. I never expect Mathieu to run to the grocery store or do the cooking because it was established that it would be my domain, just as he doesn’t expect me to do the taxes and pay the bills. Even though I am more religious than him, we decided that we would both go to church and implement religious dietary restrictions in our family so that the kids see and feel we are in sync. We both love investment opportunities and meeting financial goals so we always take these meetings together. Knowing these things about each other builds a sturdy foundation that will stand the test of time. And feeling comfortable to relate about them from time to time as life changes and we grow will keep you so incredibly happy in your marriage.
Each of these topics are such a big reason why marriages end up unhappy or fail. We don’t ask each other enough questions, we don’t talk and come to middle ground, we don’t understand that our partners reactions might be different than our own. To say that Mathieu and I have not fought or been mad at each other in our 4 years together is proof that two completely different types of people, with different wants, tendencies, and personalities can still be in a happy, loving, and growing relationship.
2. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
This book explains how incredibly important it is for couples to understand how each other and themselves both give and receive love. It is so important because it’s 100% possible (and in many cases true) that couples can love each other so much but still feel unloved. This book helps you understand what the common 5 “love languages” are : words of affirmation, touch, gifts, quality time together, and acts of service. Your language might be the same giving and receiving, or it may be different. If you don’t meet the primary love language of your partner, even though you love them, they might feel like you don’t care. For example, I love spending quality time together. If I spend a couple hours with my husband, just us taking a walk for example, it completely recharges my love battery and I feel so content and connected with him; it makes me feel like he loves and cares about me so much. However, when we first met, he assumed that as a woman my language was receiving gifts and words of affirmation. For the first couple months of our relationship he bought me so many gifts and would very often give me compliments, but he wasn’t taking our quality time seriously. He felt – why isn’t she completely happy? Why does she sometimes feel like I might not care as much as I actually do? I am doing everything I’m suppose to do but it’s not enough. And on the other hand I felt like- I don’t care about all these gifts, they’re just things and it doesn’t make me feel like he loves me as much as he says he does. Cut to reading this book we realized that all of this was just a lack of communication. I never made it clear to him how I want to be loved and he didn’t either. Now we know what our primary love languages are. I feel the happiest with quality time and affirmations and he feels the most loved with acts of service and affirmations. Little things like surprising him with his favorite home made dessert after a game of basketball or letting him know how thankful I am for this hard work and the life we are able to live before he falls asleep gives him so much happiness and lets him know how deep my love is for him. And when he puts aside the first 4 hours of every morning (without me even asking) to just go on a walk and talk about our life and future makes me feel so extremely happy that no gift or amount of compliments could ever give me the same feeling of love.
Knowing each others love languages helps you stay connected and helps you feel how loved you actually are; and the more love you feel, the more love you give- to your spouse, your family, friends, and even strangers. It’s incredible the changes that can happen in our lives if we feel loved and appreciated and this book helps you understand exactly how to do that.
I hope this little post helped inspire some of you to get out of your comfort zone and read books together! If there’s an relationship advise that has worked for you please share it down below.