Ah, the quintessential happy home -- mom, dad, a kid or two (or three) cuddled on the couch for a family movie night, munching popcorn and enjoying each other's company. In a world where divorce and family breakdown are rampant, does this vision still exist?
Of course it does. Many people have managed to keep their first marriages and families intact and happy and feel great pride at that. At the same time, many people who have chosen divorce have gone on to form relationships and family units that are better for them and their kids.
Regardless, maintaining a "happy home" is largely done by practicing good people skills. After all, it's the quality of a couple's marriage that sets the tone for family life. Below are five general qualities to strive for (or avoid, as the case may be) in marriage. They aren't exhaustive, but they are a good start.
- Choose the right person. Many people in unhappy marriages admit that problems -- from infidelity and indifference to belligerence and overspending -- were evident before they exchanged "I do's". Remember that dating is a screening process: when you see red-flag behaviours or disagree on fundamental values, move on. As Maya Angelou said: "The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them."
- Put your spouse first. Ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can, every day, to make my spouse's life easier and happier? This is a simple way to maintain good vibes in a marriage and to motivate a spouse to similarly put you first. Unfortunately, some people will respond to this idea with a knee jerk reaction: "Why should I do that? I'm not going to put my partner first until he/she starts putting me first!" Yep, nothing like a good ol' pissing contest to really strengthen the love in a marriage.
- Model "grown-up" behaviour. Adults are increasingly exhibiting childish behaviour from know-it-all assumptions and temper tantrums to accusations and name-calling. Many have a "hair trigger" where they fly into a rage over nothing, displaying infantile overreaction and self-righteous indignation when they don't get their way or when someone disagrees with them. These are the folks who post snarky messages on comment boards, delight in angry moralizing and manage to have every person in the home walking on eggshells. Buck this trend in your marriage by respecting your spouse's right to disagree with you and accepting the fact that the world doesn't revolve around you or your opinions. Model grown-up behaviour to your kids by showing self-restraint and civility.
- Be pleasant to live with. A positive personality and voice tone can go a long way, as can humility, honesty and reliability. Learn to see things from the point of view of your spouse and kids. Share in the responsibility of housecleaning and managing money, and be supportive of your spouse's and kids' goals in life. Have an easygoing nature and be the type of person that everyone in your family wants to welcome home with a hug. Put your smartphone in a drawer, log off your computer and spend "real" time with those you love. Be accountable for your own choices and flaws, instead of just automatically blaming everything on your partner. It takes two to tango.
- Prioritize intimacy. Ensure that non-sexual affection, gestures of appreciation and loving words fill your marriage. At the same time, don't let sexual intimacy fall off the radar. Couples who acknowledge the importance of both emotional and physical intimacy are more likely to model a good marriage for their children and set the tone for a happy home.
So there you have it. Take the lead in your marriage by practicing these kinds of positive people skills with your partner. Doing so can renew a marriage. If your partner doesn't step up to join you, seek professional help, even if you have to do it alone. When it comes down to it, we're all responsible for our own happiness.
Another way to improve your marriage and family life is to practice a unifying home spirituality that enhances marital and family solidarity. For an increasing number of "spiritual but not religious" people, the rediscovery of the ancient Vesta tradition -- Vesta being the goddess of the home and hearth -- and her simple home-based rituals have added a fun and meaningful way to strengthen the ties that bind, while still respecting their secular and humanist world-views.
And guess what? June is the perfect month to renew your marriage. Why? Because June is named after Juno, goddess of marriage, and sister of Vesta. With these two sisters on your side, there's no stopping you.
If you already honor Vesta, great. If not, think about creating a lararium - or home altar - as a symbol of family unity. Visit NewVesta.com to learn more about this. Offering to Vesta at mealtime is a sweet gesture that can also enhance family devotion: simply sprinkle salted flour, olive oil or wine into the flame of a Vestal candle, thus symbolically nourishing the spirit of your home. It's remarkable how powerfully these ancient ways can restore and protect the modern home -- and not just in June, but year-round!
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