My husband was good at dating. He approached it like a mission, serious about getting to know me and win me. And, you know what? My husband is really good at being married, too. This isn’t an accident.
If the goal is to get marry and stay marry for life, that makes dating really important. In the midst of dating someone seriously, you should be doing two things: (1) deciding if you belong together and (2) laying the groundwork for potential married life. Here are five habits that my husband Kyle and I practiced while dating and continue to practice in marriage.
01. Try to Win the Other Person, Again and Again
When Kyle and I were dating, we both thought the other person was a real catch and, therefore, stayed on our toes a little. We listened attentively to each other’s stories and thoughts, laughed at each other’s jokes. We took interest in each other’s interests. And, perhaps most importantly, we always talked to each other respectfully. You would never treat someone you wanted to impress rudely, so that should also apply to someone you hope to marry.
For some reason, we never really let go of this habit of striving to win and deserve each other. Kyle still loves to impress me – telling me his mile splits after a particularly good run, finding the perfect thing for my birthday. I still want Kyle to think I’m a catch – that I’m clever and hard working, a good mom and wife. And we are still careful about the way we talk to each other. When you strive to win and continue to impress the person you’re dating or married to, you’re sending a message: you deserve the very best.
02. Build Each Other Up
When Kyle and I were first dating, he hadn’t landed his dream job yet. To be honest, I had no idea how realistic his big plans were, but I knew what he needed. He needed me to believe in him. So early on, I started the habit of working to build him up, to explicitly tell him how capable and wonderful I thought he was. And he did the same for me.
As we got more serious, we carried this habit into our expressions of love. We still thank each other for both little things and big things, for making life more wonderful than it used to be. We say “I love you” many times a day.
Life can leave you wondering, “Am I good enough? Am I lovable?” I like to think of our home together as a safe haven, a retreat from the world, where we both know someone loves us and believes in us unconditionally.
03. Establish a Healthy Way to Work Through Problems That Works for Both of You
During the first real disagreement Kyle and I had while dating, I spat out a feisty remark, revving up for a lively debate. This is how I’ve seen my parents argue. They are lively, dynamic arguers. I was quite surprised then, when Kyle put on the brakes and said he didn’t want to talk to each other that way. He just wanted to discuss. I settled down and tried his way. He listened respectfully to what I had to say and then took his turn. We worked toward a solution together and no one “won.” I decided I liked his way and that became our habit. It still is.
Of course, our way might be a little blah for some. (In fact, if I’d married someone else, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting worked up in an argument, but both people need to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. If one shuts down while the other dominates, or if the fight escalates and both end up saying hurtful things, that couple is in unhealthy territory.
04. Connect Physically Throughout the Day
This one is simple but so easy to forget. At the beginning of dating, walking into a restaurant holding hands or making eye contact over a meal is such a thrill. Those moments of physical connectedness are an important part of falling in love. Once you get accustomed to being together, however, these can fall by the wayside. Don’t let them!
Moments of physical connection remind you that you’re not just buddies, or, in married life, business and child-rearing partners. This person plays a different role in your life from anyone else. Kisses after the workday, handholding in the car – these little things go a long way.
05. Talk About Meaningful Things
I’ve always admired those couples who have adventures together – who go hiking, biking, and winery-ing. Now that I’m married, on a budget, and without grandparent babysitters nearby, however, there’s something else I’m really thankful for: the habit of talking about meaningful things.
Fairly early on in our dating, Kyle and I got comfortable talking about what really mattered to us in life. We discussed our values, what seemed right or wrong with our culture, what kind of family we’d each like to have, etc. As our dating turned to into an engagement and then a marriage, we grew in our understanding of the world together. For us, marriage is about more than the feeling of being in love. We are on a mission together to create a beautiful life and family, to make each other better, to follow a good path.
Habits form identities. What you do on a regular basis in your relationship shapes it. Yes, Kyle and I are crazy about each other, but that’s not luck—we started working on it from date #1.