This question has been asked over and over in a variety of different ways over the years on this blog: How do you put your husband first?

Here’s an example:

You talk about how you always put Dave first, in what ways do you do this? I know he doesn’t love being talked about on here, but it seems like you really have a special relationship. Do you ever disagree? If you do, how do you resolve it? Do you have weekly dates.. etc etc. What are some of the things that really show that for him? I love how you mention that he comes first to you. Husbands so deserve that!

I think this and other questions have come from these types of posts:

The answer to the first part of this question, do we disagree, is YES!

I used to punch Dave in the shoulder when I’d be hoping mad at him. I have pealed out of our driveway before with him running after me. There have been nights when I would lay in my bed with quiet tears streaming down my cheeks forming puddles in my ears wondering if he would ever understand me.

But I think the tough times make it all real. And actually better, because they are the mortar that holds the bricks together. I think the kinks in the road make our relationship stronger. Because as we work through them we learn more about each other and how to be a better fit in the puzzle that makes up the story us… two different people coming together to make one better whole.

I think the answer to this question is that you work at it. Love takes practice, and showing someone they are number one in your life takes work. And messing up. And more work. Lots of practical ideas for putting your husband first, but let’s begin with a thought about learning a new language.

Learning a new language

But I do believe that when you put that spouse of yours first you start to “speak the same language.”

I kind of compare our marriage and putting each other first to learning to speak Romanian so many years ago. You see, I lived in Romania for eighteen months while serving as a missionary for my church, and boy howdy, I had to work at that language!

When I arrived in that beautiful country I thought I knew that language. After all, I had studied it intensively for two whole months (ha!!) and could carry on a basic conversation with my companion. But as soon as I emerged from the airport I was completely lost.

I was left to wonder if that mumbo jumbo those Romanians were spilling out trying to communicate with me was even the same language I had been studying!

But gradually, I did learn that language. Oh, I didn’t master it, but I learned to get around with it pretty darn well.

I learned it by speaking it all the time. I learned it by waking up early every morning to study the verb conjugations and I packed around my little Romanian/English dictionary wherever I went. It was important to me, so I put it as a first priority.

Marriage is kind of like learning a new language

When I got married I did a similar jump into the unknown.

Don’t we all?

I mean, how in the world do we even make a choice like who to marry???

I love this painting by Brian Kershisnik depicting how we’re essentially “choosing everything” when we choose our spouse:

Yikes, right??

Sure, just like I thought I knew Romanian, I thought I knew exactly how marriage would work. After all, I had seen marriages function all my life.

But once I “arrived” in one myself I think we both realized that a man and a woman are much different creatures than I had thought.

Yikes again.

So we worked.

Worked on those “verb conjugations” tirelessly.

Through the pealing-out-of-the-driveway business and the seas of miscommunication and misunderstandings.

And ever so gradually we learned to “speak the same language.”

Oh, it’s never a done-deal. Marriage always takes work. But we are willing to fight for it and keep each other in that “number one” position.

Here are some ways to keep that valentine at the top:

Go to bed at the same time.

I know this doesn’t work for everyone. And it doesn’t work all the time for us, especially lately! But I’m here to say there is nothing like “pillow talk” to get you on the same page. I feel so much more connected to Dave when we make time to really talk about how our day went and what’s coming up the next day, which leads to connection on so many other things.

Ask Questions

I listened to a podcast last week that talked about how important questions are in a marriage. The woman (I can’t remember who it was) said that she asks this question: “What’s been on your mind a lot lately that I may not know about.” She said that opens up so much talking space and has been so helpful for their marriage.

Find things to be interested in together

We’re always working on this one because we are so different, but I think it’s so important. Skiing and reading together have been one of our “tops” lately. And just so you know, the reading together hasn’t been reading the same book. Nope, we generally don’t like the same books. But we try to read next to each other in bed lately and I like it. (We’re trying to read ten pages of a “real” book every day, as inspired by Max.)

Learn what his “love language” is

Speaking of learning a different language, The Five Love Languages is a pretty phenomenal book to try to understand the best way to give love to others. It’s so natural for us to think others want to receive love the same way we do, but that’s just not true. One of us may thrive on “words of affirmation” where someone else is touched more by the language of “quality time” together.

Don’t underestimate the power of touch

This is actually one of the five love languages from above, but even if it isn’t your (or your husband’s) personal love language, there is something magical about the power of human touch. Even just a touch on the shoulder or on a knee under the table at dinner is such a powerful force to show your love. The “8-second hug” certainly works for a spouse as much as it does for a child.

Show your kids that your spouse is number one

Just like my dad showed that he loved my mom “a little bit more than he loved me” all those years ago, it’s so good for kids to know that you relish, cherish and work on your marriage together. I think that’s one of the biggest gifts we can give our kids.

Tell your kids how excited you are to go on a date together. Hug in front of your kids. Tell them what you love about their dad. All the time. They may squirm and roll their eyes, but believe me, they love it.

Say you’re sorry before he does.

This is so huge. Dave models it so well, and I’m trying to follow suite. It’s quite amazing the power of those two words “I’m sorry” have to bring humility and connection.

Continue “dating” regularly and forever.

Even if it’s an “at-home” date after the kids are in bed.

We have some friends who divorced years back.

Then, due to so many little turns of events, they “found” each other again.

They were suddenly sweethearts and dating each other again. It was pretty sweet to see.

One night when I was explaining the latest happy developments of this relationship to Dave, he looked at me earnestly and said, “do you want to date me?”

And of course I said “YES.” It was a sweet reminder.

Because sometimes don’t we kind of forget, in the hoopla of the passing of life, the interruptions, the trenches, how incredible those “dating” days were?

The twitter-pated ones where you just can’t get enough of that person you’ve fallen in love with?

Keep connection ongoing

Even the little things like texting little love-notes in the middle of the day or telling him something you appreciated that he did as you roll over to go to sleep at night. These little things are the big things.

Keep quiet when others are complaining about their husbands.

Tell your husband your worries or complaints, not your friends. This is such a huge one and it may sound like a weird way to keep your husband as number one: complain to him. Ha! But there is such power in communicating those kinds of things together and working on them together rather than sharing with a wider circle.

Dave and I decided when we got married that we would discuss things and work them out together, not with friends and neighbors. It has been one of the best things in our marriage. It takes being vulnerable and humble, but it has kept our relationship sacred.

Look for the good

When two people live together we find what we’re looking for. If we make a practice to look for something good rather than harping on the bad, it changes my whole outlook. Sometimes I’ll make a point of finding one thing I love every day and sharing it with Dave, and I know he does the same for me. That little thing has the power to pull us out of some hard times.

Talk about your budget often

Make sure you’re on the same page with how you spend. Re-evaluate often. Finances are one of the biggest stress-inducing things in marriages. So important to get on the same page.

Forgive and then Forget

Maybe this is the most powerful thing in marriages! Holding a grudge can be debilitating.

If something is important to him, make it important to you.

No matter how silly it may seem in your view at first. This is one of my favorite pieces of advice from my mother. I’ve loved watching her make things she couldn’t have cared less about some of her top priorities. Because they were important to my dad.

Marriage takes work

Ok, I could go on and on on these things. This is something I think about often, because I NEED these reminders often. Because marriage is beautiful.

But plain and simple: it also takes work!

Just like learning Romanian, I’ll always have work to do to learn and grow in marriage.

Strong marriages make strong families but they don’t just happen.

But we’re here for it, right?

Please add your ideas in honor of Valentine’s Day. This post is updated and re-worked from another Valentine’s day, and I love some of the comments already in the comment section. Would love more because we can all use them, am I right?

I know there are so many great ways to show love out there whether they’re just ideas or things that are tried and true.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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  1. Love languages are NOT cheesy! The concept is important for lots of relationships, not just romantic ones. Understanding that someone else shows respect and care in different ways than you is super important to developing empathy and respect for others yourself. It is something everyone should learn about friendship and collegial relationships at work, families, etc!!

    Happy Valentine’s Day 71 Toes and readers 🙂

  2. I love all this.
    – It helps us a lot to remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I know my husband is well-intentioned, and when I remember that, it takes the sting out of whatever I’m upset about and gives me better perspective.
    – We remember that “message sent” and “message received” are often different, so we say things like “I heard you say…” to clarify.
    – We have a lunch date every week, with packed lunches at his office and we each share one thing we would like to be acknowledged for and one thing we’d like the other person to know about us right now.
    – We’ve also set boundaries around other dates or evenings in the past (we don’t discuss kids or finances that night, for example.)
    – when we disagree about something, we will often assign it a number of importance. Often it’s high for one person (an 8) and low for another person (2-3), in which case we just have the more invested person make the decision. Or it’s low for both of us and we drop it! Haha.

    I also want to second the decision to not ever speak negatively about your spouse to others.

    (For anyone interested in doing some deliberate marriage improving… my favorite resource has been the Wife Savers course. It didn’t require my husband to change at all, or get on board. It was all about me and how I perceive my husband and myself and I found it incredibly helpful. )

    1. Oh thank you so much for sharing all these ideas, I love them. What a great idea to rank how important things are to each to get a better idea of what to worry and push on. I also love the clarification thing. Such a good communication tool I need to remember!

      Excited to check out Wife Savers!

  3. Compliment your partner in front of other people. (it’s SO easy to be snarky and sarcastic as a form of “humor” for me, so this take a deliberate effort!).

  4. I know this is a wife post for wives, and I love these thoughts and the comments. I think these things can apply to husbands too. I have five kids and a husband with a lot of things going on and sometimes I feel like I don’t even have a chance to breathe myself, let alone have time to “become.” I often think we all need more “marriaging” classes in the world… we really are so different, one from the next. Marriage & family is a great workshop.

  5. You guys hike, exercise and sweat together the way my husband and I read together. 10 pages made me laugh. That would probably equal 2 sit-ups for me. Wish I had gotten more in the physical activity lane before the sciatica, torn meniscus and crunchy bones arrived.

    Please, don’t ever drive while angry. Something terrible could happen that would utterly destroy you and perhaps others.

    I like what you said about vowing to not complain about your spouse in front of others. So disrespectful and I know I’d be so hurt if my husband was talking behind my back like that. I have a friend who gripes or is sarcastic about her husband (whom she loves with all her heart) all the time. I just cringe. And I bet if there was a way for her to hear it, she’d be mortified and utterly filled with remorse.

    I am always surprised about what you 2 fight about Haha. Married life is funny. Which of your offspring is most like you and which most like Dave?

    Has Lucy had her big dance yet?

    1. Ha on the 10 pages! I know we’re definitely lightweights, but after listening to books for so many years I’m trying to slow down enough to sit and read an actual book instead of multi-tasking. It’s not easy! But it’s coming slowly but surely! You’re right, married life is so funny. And fun.

      I think each of our kids is like us in different ways, so it’s hard to tell who they are “more” like.

      Lucy’s dance is this weekend. We’re trying to help her turn into “wild west” for the theme so wish us luck!

      Sending love!

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