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This January 22-23, ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN is hosting Ever After: Marriage and Family Conference. Learn more about this conference now.

Everything about that day is meant to be magical and memorable. It should be perfect. The perfect couple. The perfect dress. The perfect cake. The perfect day. What about all the days since the wedding day? Probably not perfect. Happily ever after is the dream for every married couple. It is the expectation. But it doesn’t just happen. It isn’t something that just occurs. It takes intentional effort, development and understanding. Happily every after doesn’t show up because you say, “I do.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony you are wed, but it takes a lifetime together to have a marriage. Here are some ways you work together to make happily ever after happen in your marriage.

Everyone carries Baggage

You both have it. You both bring it. Baggage is not just what you take with you on the honeymoon. Baggage is comprised of the expectations, past hurts, and fears that each of you bring into the relationship. It is built from your parents, your friends, media, your own personality/design and past relationships you have had. All of these things create positive and negative expectations that fuel your definition of a happy marriage. If they are not identified and communicated they have a tendency to derail your ever after into a cycle of crazy.

You will find that many disagreements that take place in a marriage are rooted in this baggage. My wife and I once had a fight that was quite surprising. It was one of the first times we ever hit the timeout and paused the argument. When we did that and started talking about the emotions and feelings that popped up as we started the whole thing we discovered that my wife had gone back to some interactions from her childhood that were really frustrating. She was actually reacting to those memories rather than me.

That was one of the most freeing moments for us and our marriage. Now, have we handled everything since then with that amount of maturity? No, but we have learned more and more how to handle things that developed out of our baggage. One of the greatest things you can do is work to identify what you both carried into your marriage and how it impacts your thoughts, emotions and reactions. You are going to have to own your baggage. At times, a counselor can help you both work through those things. The time and effort is worth it.

Invest in Your Marriage

Plants need water. Your car requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Your home needs repair and upkeep. Your marriage needs time and energy invested into it. It doesn’t just happen. You need to spend time together.

You need to spend time learning how to communicate, how to work through problems and how to make decisions. Investing in your marriage happens at several levels. There are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly things that can happen to build the foundation of your marriage relationship. Intentionally set aside time to be together on a regular basis. Set up a date night once a week, or every other week.

Years ago my wife and I started spending Friday mornings together. Once the kids were at school we would go do the grocery shopping and other errands together. It became our “date day.” It was a great time of just being together. We talked and laughed. The point is that we found a way within our schedule to have time together and it made a difference.

Take time to read books, articles, or listen to podcasts that will help you grow as a spouse. Go to a marriage conference that will challenge you and give you tools to grow in your relationship. Conferences are not just for couples who have a problem. Yes, marriages hit walls and have bumpy roads. Why not learn and prepare for those things before you actually hit them?

Fill each other’s Emotional Cup

You may have heard that spouses should seek to fill the other’s “emotional cup.” And it is true that you should seek to serve, encourage and love your spouse. But how is your cup supposed to be filled? Too often we end up relying on our spouse to “fill” our cups with unexpressed expectations, behaviors, acts or expressions before we will give our encouragement and service to them.That is a recipe for disaster. You are both human and won’t get it all right all of the time.

The moment one of those things on the list doesn’t happen, you will be in a crisis. Let your cup be filled from your faith in God. Choose joy and contentment in Christ rather than circumstances. It takes the pressure off your spouse and frees you to pour into your spouse without an expectation of return. The movies tell us that our spouses “complete” us, but that simply isn’t reality. We are full and complete in Christ, and when we recognize that we are free to fill our spouse without fear or worry. That is truly a recipe for happily ever after.

Over-Communicate with Each Other

Unexpressed needs, expectations, and desires end up as landmines in your marital relationship. You gotta talk. Talk about things you like and don’t like. Talk about the budget and finances. Talk about the day and what happened. Talk about the bedroom. Don’t just talk about something in order to get your view or desire across.

Communication requires both talking and listening. And you need to listen in a way that gives full attention.

Don’t be crafting your next comeback, or question while your spouse is talking. Good communication creates clarity about expectations and dreams. It creates an environment of accountability for the two of you. Good communication can often solve a problem before it ever happens. A lack of communication will leave minor issues buried just beneath the surface waiting to be stepped on, and when that happens they often blow up into a much bigger problem.

Don’t tape over a warning light in your marriage. Communicate.

Marriage is beautiful. Difficult. Awesome. Challenging. Incredible. When you make the time to invest in and honor each other, you’ll see that the good stuff rules and the hard parts fade into the background. These things are not going to come easily, or without work. Keep at it. Don’t give up. Keep moving forward in them. Take each day as a new day. Marriage is a beautiful gift from God – when we keep Him in the middle of things, it’ll be just as He intended.

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About the Author: Brian Hatcher is the Discipleship Pastor at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN.