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Doing this one simple thing has transformed my marriage

The one simple thing that has transformed my marriage

“You’re okay with me being completely honest?” I asked the producer yesterday as I sat down to film a piece sharing practical advice for engaged couples.

“Yes, absolutely.” He replied.

I pressed further, just to make sure he knew what he was getting himself into. “So you’re good with me sharing that marriage isn’t all rainbows and roses? Because I’m not here to pretend that I have it figured out or that our marriage has been a walk in the park.”

The producer assured me that’s exactly why they’d asked me to participate in this project. They wanted my completely authentic and honest voice.

As I talked openly about our struggles and victories while the cameras rolled, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past almost 12 years of our marriage and how it’s looked so much different than I expected it would on our wedding day.

We were blessed to go into marriage with similar core values. We were blessed to have a strong foundation of character and legacy handed to us from our parents.

But core values, character, and legacy didn’t make us immune to marriage struggles. In fact, I think it made us even more surprised when they came… because this wasn’t part of “the plan.”

We’ve weathered a lot of storms together… the lean law school years, multiple job losses, postpartum depression, starting multiple businesses, infertility struggles, quitting multiple businesses, struggles with anxiety, and years of baggage we’d never dealt with that we both brought into marriage.

The one simple practice that has transformed our marriage{Our wedding day…Oh and in case you were wondering, I wore my mom’s wedding dress!}

The last thing our marriage has been is a walk in the park. There have been many moments when I’ve wondered whether we’d make. In the midst of some of the darkest times, I’ve threatened to leave.

Our idealist notions of “happily ever after” quickly crashed and burned. Our carefully mapped out life plan didn’t pan out.

But despite all the setbacks and struggles, our marriage is alive and strong today. If anything, I feel like the setbacks and struggles have woven the threads of our marriage tighter together.

It’s been a lot of hard work. But it has been worth it.

As the interview came to a close, the producer asked one more question. “What is your best advice for engaged couples as they go into marriage?”

“Choose to find the good and praise it,” I said. This has been key in our marriage.

We both have much to learn, many areas to grow in, but the glue that holds our marriage together is our mutual commitment to focus on the good.

When we first got married, I spent a few years tearing Jesse down, picking out all the things he needed to change, and nagging him about areas where he needed to improve. This was only a recipe for disaster.

A few years into our marriage when I realized all my tactics were only producing tension, I began to really step back and examine my heart. Slowly, God started chipping away at my pride and my lack of grace.

In the process, I started choosing to praise and thank my husband for all the things he was doing right, instead of spending my time pointing out all the things he was doing wrong. I was amazed at how this changed how I viewed him!

I had been so busy trying to nit-pick and change Jesse that I had failed to notice all the amazing qualities he had! And as I started to notice and praise him for his wonderful qualities, his great qualities only seemed to grow.

Today, we still have our moments and struggles, I still can get frustrated over stupid things, but for the most part, I spend my time blown away by what a wonderful husband I have. {And he truly is! He’s always going out of his way to help and bless me — like him ironing my shirt this morning for me because I was running late for a breakfast meeting I had, or him getting flowers for me this week, or him taking over all the homeschooling right now while I’m finishing up my next book… I could go on and on!}

You can always find something that is irritating and frustrating about another person. And if you spend all your time mulling over how annoying those things are, you will fail to notice all the good things about another person.

But if you choose to become a noticer of the good and the praise-worthy, it can transform your perspective. I dare you to try it and see if you prove me wrong. 🙂

For more marriage encouragement, read my post on 5 Keys to Have a Strong Marriage — Even During the Storms of Life.

Note: This post was written for couples who are in healthy relationships where both parties love each other and want to work on issues together and personally. If your spouse is abusive, please, please, please don’t hide the abuse out of fear or let your spouse convince you it’s your fault. Get help immediately.

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  • Stephanie says:

    Thank you for that disclaimer at the end of this post. You are a thoughtful and caring person and I know so many people appreciate you.

  • Kimberly says:

    Great post!!! Glad to see you back in. We’ve missed you! 🙁

    • Kimberly says:

      Oops – back on

    • I know! I’ve missed writing content pieces the past few days while I was traveling/speaking!!

      {I’m the one that chooses deals, tweaks deals, and pushes publish on almost all posts that go up here, so I’ve been here at least some… but publishing deal posts just isn’t the same as writing a content piece!}

  • Kimber says:

    Beautiful post! I love the wedding picture. But girl, I have to say, you are “aging” fabulously. You are even more lovely now than on your wedding day! Keep being a light – so many of us are grateful for you.

    • Aw, thank you so much for your sweet words. {Also? Can you tell that Jesse has put on like 25 pounds since our wedding day? 25 pounds he desperately needed to put on, because that boy was a rail when we married!}

      • Kimber says:

        So funny! Yes, the 25 pounds were definitely needed! I know looks aren’t the most important thing in life … but I hope you know what a beautiful couple you are. From several years of reading your blog, I know you’re kind of shy and reserved, but I hope you can look at yourself and your husband and think, “Wow, we’re hot!” and walk confidently. 🙂

  • Tracy S. says:

    So right on! I made myself a list of things my hubby did that told me he loves me. Little things like warming up my car. Being able to go back and read that on rough days put things back into perspective. He found it a long while after I’d written it and asked why I’d never shown it to him. I told him it was a list to remind me when I was being foolish or petty. But it was a wake up call that he needed to hear that I noticed what he did as much I as did.
    Thanks again for being so open and honest! You are truly a blessing!

  • J.K. says:

    Great post, and so very true!! My husband and I have also been married almost 12 years, and have had our share of ups and downs, which have brought us closer together than I could have ever imagined. I noticed you mentioned infertility as one of the things you and Jesse went through. Is there a place you’ve already blogged about your journey? My husband and I have dealt with that as well; we now have a healthy 3-year-old, but have had 2 losses since. I’d love to hear your story! Thank you for always being so real and honest about your life! I love your blog!

    • I haven’t blogged about it much… I’m so, so sorry that you’ve experienced two losses. Have you read Angie Smith’s book, I Will Carry You? I’m not sure of the details of your situation, but if you’ve not read that book and you think it’d be an encouragement, I’d love to send you a copy. Just email me your address: crystal @

      • J.K. says:

        Thank you, Crystal! I have access to that book actually, and have heard it’s very good, though heartbreaking, I’m sure. Thank you for suggesting it.

        • Betsy says:

          Hi Crystal,

          I have been following your blog for years. This was an excellent post about the reality of marriage – it is so worth it to work through the struggles!

          It also caught my eye that you mentioned infertility in this post as that is something I’m well-acquainted with.

          Next month I will be self-publishing a book about my journey with infertility and how I’ve learned to have hope in God through it all. I would love to be able to share it through your blog – especially during the week we’ll be giving it away as a free Kindle book! I will email you to discuss that.


    • Kimber says:

      J.K. – my heart aches for you. I have blessed with my two beautiful babies, but I will not be able to have any more. It has been heartbreaking. I personally haven’t written about it, but my cousin has – beautifully – on her website. If you’d like to take a look, here is a link to her “Infertility and Pregnancy” articles. There are some very thoughtful posts, and the comments are helpful, too. Sometimes it’s just good to know that you’re not alone in your struggles. Hugs!

    • Diane says:

      I’m very sorry for your losses! My husband and I lost 3 babies after our first child. I really benefited from a grief support group (my church has one, not baby specific but much of grief is similar with any loss). We are thankful that God did answer many prayers (including Crystal’s, as I did ask for prayer) and I saw an OB who specializes in infertility and complex pregnancies and we were able to have live, healthy twins.

  • Beth Anne says:

    Love this, Crystal! You’re so right. Thank you for sharing your struggles. It’s easy to assume that you have it all figured out. We’re all just working on getting better each day. My husband and I also went into marriage with lots of ideals and thinking we were almost, “above” any serious struggles. (I know, so naive right?) This past year has brought far more stress and struggle than we ever imagined. We’re pulling through it together, but still, if we weren’t committed to working at our relationship, things would look pretty bleak!

    Recently, I went through an exercise where I wrote down the 25 things I wanted to accomplish in the next year, and then honed that list down to my top 5. One that “made the cut” (I sure hope it does for all of us!) was giving my husband words of affirmation every day. It seems so easy, but in all the busy (and in his case, time away due to work) it’s so easy to forget. I’m sticking with it, and can’t wait to see how God blesses our marriage in the year ahead.

    Thanks for the great advice here!

    • I’m so sorry it’s been a stressful time for you recently. But I love that you honed your list to the top 5 things and that giving your husband words of affirmation made the cut. That’s beautiful!

  • Aj says:

    I wish sometimes (OK, more than that), that one like you was at my church, or around here. I enjoy reading your blog. I really enjoy the fact that God is a major role. I find it hard to find an encouraging woman at my church that would not judge me or my spouse. Being a prior military wife there are things I am willing to do or put up with that I know others wouldn’t. So, THANK YOU. Thank You for the heart you put into this and the warning at the end.

    • {Hugs!} I am so sorry that you haven’t found friends in your church that are encouraging and ones with whom you feel you can be completely honest with and who will love you in spite of your imperfections and struggles. I just prayed for God to bring some of these types of friends into your life.

  • joanna n. says:

    thanks for the excellent post! i’ve been challenged recently in this very area. on another note, i’ve been following your blog for at least 4 1/2 yrs. now, & i never realized you dealt w/ infertility. if i’ve missed posts on it, i understand, & if you haven’t discussed it due to the sensitivity of the subject, that’s quite all right. however, since my husband & i are dealing w/ this ourselves, i thought it would be interesting & helpful to learn of your infertility journey. if you care to share in the future, i would be most appreciative, but please do not feel pressured to do something you’d rather not. blessings to you as you continue to bless me & so many others!

    • {Hugs!} I’m so, so sorry that you’ve dealt with infertility. I just prayed for you in this as I know it can be such a difficult, discouraging journey… often one that can feel so lonely and painful.

    • Gina says:

      Joanna N, you took the words right out of my mouth. . . I was reading through the comments, planning to say almost exactly what you did, when I got to the bottom. 🙂

  • Christine says:

    I too have found this to be the key to a happy, thriving marriage. Sadly, I’ve seen others who do the opposite and they have damaged their relationships to the point of no return. They have been cautionary tales for me.
    The other suggestion I make to engaged/newlyweds is to find a Christian group of young couples that will agree to be transparent and committed in their friendship. It is such a lie that our struggles are unique and therefore shameful. When couples start opening up to each other they often realize the universality of what they are experiencing and that normalization allows them to encourage each other and move forward.

  • Stephanie says:

    It kinda blew my mind when I realized my marriage was going to be…work. It wasn’t until years later that i finally realized I was the one who needed to do the work! ha! Thanks for the encouragement and for sharing some practical advice. Overcoming selfishness and entitlement are my two biggest challenges.

    Also, very cute green ruffled top…where did you find that? 🙂

    • I got it at Maurices a few years ago and have worn it over and over and over again. It’s about to be retired because it’s been worn so many times that it’s almost completely worn out. It’s always a sad day when that happens to one of my staple closet items!

  • Alicia says:

    Thank you for this post, from someone who is going through a difficult, challenging season in our marriage. It’s mostly due to my husbands long work hours, and that he’s in school full time on top of already long days. I’m also pregnant with our 3rd child, and have essentially been solo parenting for 2 years. Its been extremely hard on our marriage, and it’s made it difficult to see the positive or the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Erin R. says:

    Actually, this is great parenting advice as well. We are currently working on the Nurtured Heart approach with our kids and it is transforming. It really works in a classroom setting as well.

  • Sarah says:

    Crystal, you sound just like me in the beginning of my marriage! I’ve been with my husband for almost ten years and I nagged I’m to death about all his bad habits. Thank goodness he ignored me haha. Because I realize I’m just as flawed. We have gone through many moves, financial struggles, a traumatic birth, miscarriage, loss of my fil and I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease right after the birth of my 2nd child. Just reading everything we’ve been through makes me appreciate him more. I appreciate your candidness and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been a reader since (2008?) I just can’t believe how small the world is that you now live just north of me. Hope your enjoying the south!

  • Nicole says:

    This was just the encouragement I needed to hear tonight. I found myself thinking today about maybe trying a little less to be the “perfect mother” and try to be a better wife. Do you ever do this? Spend wayy too much time researching crafts, and behavorial solutions and holiday ideas and etc etc….for the kids? Not that its a bad thing…but I might overdo it a little. Thanks for getting my mind back on track! I love my kids…and my husband too! Btw…competely off subject..but I dont know where else to ask. We moved to nashville recently…and were suprised by the food that adds to the grocery bill a litte bit. Also the price of ground beef has skyrocketed. I noticed that one pound of frozen 80/20 was almost $4 at aldi. Ahhh. My mother in law mentioned I should try to eat some red meat for the iron..and I’m pregnant so..anyway, where do you buy ground beef? Would appreciate some recommendations. thanks so much

    • Diane says:

      Hi Nicole. I live in Chattanooga and my go to place for meat is the Fresh Market. They have their boneless skinless chicken breast and fresh ground in store ground beef for 2.99 every Tuesday. I find the ground beef has very little fat. I am also able to use Recycle Bank 5/25 coupons at the Chattanooga location as well. There is a Fresh Market in Brentwood. I hope that is close to you.

  • Pamela says:

    I am SO very sorry to hear of your struggles with infertility. I’ve been a reader for 6 years and I didn’t know of your struggle. But please know that you are not alone! My husband and I have lost 2 pregnancies (one in the first trimester and one in the second) and our hearts go out to all those with such losses. I will pray for you and your husband. Thank you for this post, Crystal. I really appreciate your honesty.

  • Sg says:

    God knew I needed to read this tonight. We have two young kids (2&3). We are each in a bed with a kid and need a true date night. We have no babysitters …
    Money is tight & conversations are tense.
    I’m going to send a loving note to hubby’s work email. He really is the best. I love him muchly.
    Thank God that his mercies are NEW every morning. Great is HIS Faithfulness!

  • Liz Bernard says:

    Thanks for being so very honest about the struggles that can sometimes happen during a marriage. I wish someone had been this blunt with me before I got married.

    I have one of the best husbands around but we have certainly faced our share of struggles and, like you, I was shocked that it happened to us.

    Your story is an inspiration to keep pushing through even on the rough days. 🙂

  • Jenny says:

    Oops, typo in the last line– DARE, not date right?

    AWESOME post! I am planning to work on this next year– in my marriage, with my friends, at my work– choosing to speak the good (cause its so easy to find the faults and nitpick on everyone in our lives!) and uplift people in that way. I think this is a great topic Crystal and I love how genuine and honest your posts have been this year and while I know you were challenged to step out and do this differently than you have the past few years I think everyone can agree that it has been wonderful.

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us.

  • jordan says:

    What if you’ve done that? Consistently. For years. And then, again, your husband mentions aborting your baby when pregnant with your second child. What if your husband never compliments you, never thanks you. Basically completely keeps you out of his life. Doesn’t want to share finances but it doesn’t work like that when your the stay at home mom and have no real money of your own. I try and looks at my husbands good traits. Like he works really hard. He loves our children. He loves to play with them. He will help out around the house. But there is this emense void he isn’t fulfilling. I’ve complimented my husband for years. In his precence and in others. Frequently. I wrote him love notes. I enjoyed those moments with he and my children. But all those seemed to do was boost his ego and make him feel like this glorious man. While I love him and wanted him to feel good about himself it was a selfish ego. Where he left others behind. Emotionally my husband is very disconnected. While I understand a lot of men are, this is on a different level. I was a bridesmaid in my sisters wedding recently. You get all pretty and dressed up. I was sure my husband would finally make some comment about how gorgeous I looked. Nothing. Call me needy of that reasurance but my husband has never once complimented me on my appearance. I’ve heard “your wearing that?” Many times. I’ve never been commended on my hard work at home or if ive accomplished something. My husband support is absent. Where’s my praise? Wheres my love?

    • Ann says:

      I’m sorry you’re feeling neglected. Have you gently told him that? His love language might not be words, and it sounds like his is. Have you ever read a marriage book together, like the 5 Love Languages, or done a couples Bible Study at church?

    • Diane says:

      Jordan I have been married for 39 years. I also was a sahm for most our marriage. My inlaws spent the first 15 years while I was having our 3 children trying to get my husband to divorce me. I had no idea they disliked me until after we were married since I only meet them once before the wedding. We live far from any family. My husband is a one track thinker. He can not multitask. He travels some for work. I spent years upset because he would forget my birthday, Mother’s Day etc. and he wouldn’t defend me to his parents. I finally realized his way of showing me he loved me was making us breakfast every weekend morning that he was home. He spends all his free time with me and when they were at home the kids. And in his mind he had made his choice when he married me there was nothing to defend his parents could accept it or not. He was always that kid who did everything he was told and rarely got into trouble. Their hateful words fell on his deaf ears. Of course their hurtful words caused me 15 years of pain until I realized their behavior cost them a good realationship with their son and their only grandchildren and I let go of the pain. Good luck

    • Lana says:

      My sister has spent over 30 years with the same sort of husband. He grew up with an overbearing military officer father and was sent off to military boarding school at a young age. He never learned what love even was or saw it modeled growing up. That did not make life easier for my sister but it did explain why. Counseling would be a great help if your husband had a similar childhood. My brother in law would not go. I know the pain you are in from so many years of my sister’s pain and I am sorry that you are enduring the same. You have worth and I know that your children love and appreciate you. Hugs.

  • JP says:

    Really great. How funny is it that the same positive praise is what works in one’s own life as well.

    For me it has been a process of:
    1. Feeling the genuine pain
    2. Keeping in touch with how my body feels
    3. Remaining honest
    4. Acceptance
    5. Gratitude
    6. Joy and growth

    As Aristotle says, “We are what we do repeatedly.”

    Practice! Practice! Practice!

  • Tiffany says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Crystal, this is TOTALLY me, right now. I am constantly nagging and tearing down my husband instead of exemplifying and honoring him. What our husbands want most is our RESPECT, and that includes loving them for their downfalls and encouraging them on in their “so-so” moments. Thank you for this reminder, I know we all need it daily with the hustle and bustle of life and kids and work and church and volunteer activities!

    May God bless you and Jesse for your honesty to the world!

  • Angie says:

    Oh what a similar story! I too was that critical wife and we went through some dark, shameful days. But I am so thankful “He gives more grace.” God helped me changed my attitude and I also began to focus on the positive and choose to speak life into my husband. We are writing a different story now, praise God!

  • adriana bedwell says:

    This was a great way to open Facebook this morning after my devotion time. I am going through this right now as we see both under stress after moving half way across the country. Thank you so much for reminding me to see the good in my amazing husband and making me sit down and check myself. It was much needed and a Godsend today. I am always so blessed by your pieces. AMAZING!

  • Lana says:

    We have been married for over 36 years and for me the change was respecting him which really comes down to the same idea. It changed our lives. Too many couples split up when the kids all leave home but we are happier than we have ever been. We went through infertility too so we have two children and then a big gap and three more. It was one of the darkest times of out lives.

  • Kamila says:

    Thanks for writing this for me.

  • Great advice Crystal and something I need to always remember and make the effort to do! I hate that it is easier to point out the stuff that drives you crazy but after almost seven years of marriage my husband and I are both getting better. I actually try to keep in mind my own drawbacks as well if there is something that is bothering me about my husband…Not to focus on them to bring myself down, but more as a reminder that even though we aren’t all perfect, we all still have plenty of great things to offer as well.

  • Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your honesty. I think a lot of women don’t want to admit the imperfect parts of their life and I just appreciate this.

  • Guest says:

    I’ve missed your writing this week! A few years back we were not in a good place in our marriage. I was asked by my therapist why I married my husband. For me, this didn’t help because a big part of my frustration was that what I had loved about him had suddenly changed when we were married. I felt like I had been sold a false bill of goods. The thing that finally helped, though, was actually NOT focusing on that and starting a journal of appreciation. I would write down what I loved or appreciated about him each day. It was just for me so no one else was going to see it. Focusing on what IS as opposed to what WAS or what I wanted really helped me. Therapy was also huge for us. Even though my husband didn’t/doesn’t go, he now asks what my therapist had to say so we’re kind of getting 2 for 1. 😉

    I had no idea you struggled with infertility. We did as well and it was a huge stressor in our marriage for a period of time as well as taking a physical and emotional toll on both of us.

  • Charlotte Whatley says:

    Thanks for a great post. It was so encouraging.

  • Jennifer says:

    Great advice. You’ve got to look for the good and acknowledge it to find it. 🙂

  • Donna says:

    Crystal this is such a great true post. Such wise words: “Choose to find the good and praise it” I need to remember this!! I love how open and honest your posts are. Thanks for being so venerable!

  • Cher says:

    When I got married, we made two promises–stand by your man/woman:
    In public, never put your spouse down, even if both of you are having a bad day. 2. Do not let the sun set on your anger.
    God never promised a rose garden and there were times when we had a hard time, but God kept helping us to love each other more and more. I agree with you whether it be a spouse or child, praise the good things. Pick your battles carefully. ( I have been married for 42 years.)

  • Carolyn says:

    I loved your post and can totally relate! Awesome that you posted on marriage today (the 13th) because we are celebrating my grandparents 70th wedding anniversary… yup 70 years of loving, sacrificing and making a happy relationship that has been a blessing to watch. Thanks!

  • Maegan says:

    Thank you, thank you for this post. I really enjoy hearing other peoples struggle. Not because I want people to struggle but it helps to know that I am not the only one and knowing that gives me the strength to keep moving forward. Your imperfections are beautiful.

  • Heather says:

    This is a great reminder! My husband and I have been married almost 3 years but together for 9. It’s challenging, but made easier because we love each other. Everyone needs a reminder to think about the good and to never give up. And yes, the disclaimer at the bottom was awesome! <3

  • Denise says:

    I thought the one simple thing was kissing your husband for at least 15 seconds a day. ? I heard you mention that you did that. That’s definitely something I vow to try in our marriage. ❤️

  • Beth says:

    I LOVE this. I often find myself envious of your seemingly perfect life, which I know is silly in itself .. nothing is perfect. But to read that you have been through things which I have experienced (or currently experiencing) AND come out the other side, with such a wonderful family life and numerous successes .. it is very inspiring and gives me hope! Thank you for sharing! 🙂 xx

  • Lisa says:

    I also have to say Thank you for the little note at the bottom. My husband and I are not in a good place right now. I just keep thinking that if I change my attitude and do more or do things differently, it will get better. I keep reading these books and trying to make this work. I now realize that if our marriage was healthy, then that would work. I have recently discovered how unhealthy our marriage really is. God is amazing and has an unlimited amount of strength, patience and grace I can tap into at any moment. For myself or to deal with those around me. I think maybe I will hold off on reading and doing what the books say and try to make sure that I am healthy and my relationship is too first!!

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