I love my Crock-Pot. Next to the microwave, I think it’s one of the greatest advances of our modern era. The Crock-Pot is every busy mom’s dream come true. You dump in all the ingredients, set it, and forget it. By the time hungry kids start losing their minds and you’re walking in the door from two soccer practices, bingo bongo dinner is served. 

I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for 19 years. We were very young when we got married. For some reason (let’s blame Disney movies shall we?), I think I got married with this crazy idea that marriage was going to be like a Crock-Pot. I might not have articulated it like that, but looking back I can see my skewed mentality. I honestly believed that the right guy plus the right girl (ingredients), plus the right set of circumstances and beliefs (set it), equaled a happy marriage (forget about it). Can anyone else relate?

Somewhere around the middle of year one, I had a sinking suspicion that my assumptions were a little off. As it turns out, marriage was a lot more complicated than that. While I feel extremely grateful that I’m married to my best friend, and we have a ton of fun together, we’ve walked through some hard times as well — deployments, frequent temporary duty assignments (TDYs), challenges with our children, job changes, and multiple moves to name a few. Add those on top of the daily stresses that all couples face, and there have been many times when we just weren’t on the same page.

The commitment and right ingredients were still there, but our marriage didn’t look or taste anything like we thought it would. 

So here’s my conclusion after 19 years of marriage:

Marriage isn’t a Crock-Pot. It’s a stir-fry. And the key to a good stir fry is organization and preparation. The process of creating an amazing stir-fry is labor intensive and intentional. You can’t walk away from the pan, not even for a minute, or things will burn. You must have everything you need up front, so that it all comes together. 

What does this have to do with a good marriage? I think a good marriage isn’t created by pouring in the right ingredients and walking away. It takes constant tending and a watchful eye. It means paying attention to timing and anticipating needs. It’s knowing when to turn the heat up and add a few more spices.

Here are a few key ingredients that help my husband and I stay connected when life gets complicated:

  1. Stir Constantly.

    Take the time to check in with your spouse daily. I’m not talking about the how was your day variety of questions. I’m referring to meaningful connections and time alone. Not sure where to start? Try building in some alone time with your spouse every single day. Maybe that’s a regular walk after dinner each night if your kids are older or time early in the morning before the crazy of the day. Taking time away from your kids, even for 10 minutes, to be with your spouse is not selfish. Happy, connected parents are the greatest gift we can give to our children.Ask questions like what’s on your heart today or where do you see our family in 5, 10, or 15 years. Never assume that your spouse is the same person he or she was on your wedding day. People are constantly changing and evolving. Take time to get to know each other again. 

  2. Try Something New.

    We are big believers in the idea that the family who plays together, stays together. I think this same principle holds true for couples. Get out weekly and do something fun together. Not sure what that would look like? What did you love to do together before you got married? For us, that means playing a sport, hiking, going to concerts, and laughing together. We love a good challenge and the chance to push each other. Try to think outside of the box. Dinner and a movie are nice, but the key to romance is the novelty. Remembering to take the time to have fun and experience new adventures together will go a long way toward helping you stay in love for the long haul. 

  3. Find the Right Recipe.

    Depending on your love languages, the right recipe for staying connected can look different for every couple. Every single person on this planet wants to feel loved, understood and appreciated. The tough thing about marriage is that because we are with our spouses all the time, we can grow complacent in these areas and stop being intentional about expressing our affection for each other. I like to think of it like leaving a love trail. Send your spouse a love letter via email in the middle of the day. Surprise him with a note hidden somewhere. Send flirty texts throughout the day, and let him or her know that you can’t wait until you’re together again. This is especially important when spouses travel a lot, and you spend extended periods of time apart. Not sure what you would say? Pinterest offers love letter prompts to get you started. Go the extra mile to do something to make your spouse’s life easier. Buy him a gift just because or make his favorite meal. A spouse who feels loved will give love in return. Don’t wait to receive, ask yourself how you can meet your spouse’s needs and see how he responds. 

  4. Start Over.

    If all else fails and you’ve just burnt the entire pan, don’t be afraid to throw it out and start over. What does this look like in marriage? It looks like being quick to forgive and move on. No spouse is perfect and there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Your spouse will disappoint you. You will disappoint your spouse. There will be days and seasons where neither of you is getting your needs met. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel, and then ask for a restart. If you’re feeling stuck and don’t even know where to start, seek out professional help to acquire the right tools for moving forward. Grab hands and hold on like crazy when life gets really hard. It’s OK to be messy and broken, just make sure you’re in it together. If you can do that, then you can find so much joy and peace in the happy, easy times. They always come back around. 

A great stir-fry is a lot of work, but the results are worth the effort. Be intentional about loving your spouse and fight for your marriage. Don’t set it and forget it. Keep stirring!