My husband and I have always used traditional anniversary gift ideas as inspiration for our presents.  For example, on year 4, the gift is fruit…so I gave my husband Fruit of the Loom underpants. Naturally. On year 10 , it’s tin, so of course I made him a homemade tinfoil photo book. (Clever, right?) And for this year (year 11), the gift is steel, so I gave him a giant picture of THE Blue Steel (#Zoolander)…because who doesn’t want THAT?!

Obviously we are the biggest dorks around, and we clearly think romance looks more like Ben Stiller than a bouquet of flowers, but that’s just how we roll. That’s also how we’ve made it through—by laughing, a LOT.

Because marriage is hard!

Balls get thrown at you from every direction—constantly—and even though you know you shouldn’t take your eye off of your marriage, you can’t help but hear your kids screaming for more hot dogs while your “mind’s eye” tells you that if you could just “rip and grip” faster you might actually enjoy life AND lose 10 pounds.

Gah! It’s just all so intense.

But I’ll be honest with you. For the past 10-1/2 years, my marriage has felt pretty easy. It seemed like things kept getting better with each kid we added on (don’t hate me), so I guess that’s why we let our guards down. And then, faster than we thought possible, the balls of life shot straight at us.

Depression, anxiety, and YUCK hit us in the chest, the gut, until eventually we felt trapped and tied with our hands behind our backs.

On the good days, I felt like I was on a looooooong road trip (are we there yet?), and on the bad days I just didn’t feel like “this” was what I had signed up for. I prayed, of course, but when things didn’t get better right away I started questioning the very foundation I was standing on, which is NOT a funny place to be in, no matter how much you like Zoolander.

BUT, I do believe that God can use our hardship for good, so naturally he has taught me a few things. And while I still haven’t figured it all out, I would like to humbly share what I’ve learned these past eight months. I hope it will be an encouragement to you and your spouse.

1. You need to know what you’re fighting for.

Go back to the basics. Ask yourselves: Why did we get married in the first place? What brought us together? Write everything down and then share it with each other. Frequently. For me this meant revisiting my vows and marriage scripture (Ecclesiastes 4:12). When I did that, God spoke to me right away: Trust, he said. Trust is the #1 reason you married your husband. After that, everything else just clicked into place!

2. You have to date each other.

When things got hard for us we just stopped prioritizing each other. Unfortunately, this is what usually happens when things get so hard you just try to survive, right?! But  I want to encourage you to push into the exhaustion and get creative anyway! Go back to the basics: What did you like to do together BEFORE having children? Then DO some of those things!

3. You have to stay intimate.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Otherwise you’ll end up with a roommate (and no one wants to kiss their roommate).

Staying intimate means different things to different people, but the bottom line is…you have to touch each other! I know. Shocking. But seriously, ladies, there is SO MUCH power in skin-to-skin contact.

And if tackling this topic seems like the LAST thing you’d rather do, then consider signing up for an Awaken-Love sex class — it will change your life!

4. You have to seek help from others.

You can’t do marriage in a vacuum; it just wasn’t designed to flourish that way.  During hard times seek out trusted friends, therapists, prayer warriors, or pastors. Maybe even consider hiring someone who specializes in Myers Briggs! This person can teach you how to communicate effectively based on both of your personality preferences—a great first step for someone who might not be interested in traditional therapy.

5. You have to laugh!

This tip really should be #1; it’s THAT awesome for marriages. Therefore, instead of ripping your spouse a new one, try watching a funny YouTube video first. Laughing releases “happy hormones” that will bring you peace and restoration. It also makes the hard times bearable and the good times even better.

So in the end, know that every marriage is hard (not just yours) and that they ALL require work. That’s why “love” should be spelled W.O.R.K and “work” should be spelled C.H.O.I.C.E., right?

So choose love. Choose your marriage. Choose it over your kids, your job, and even your volunteerism. If you do, you just might find what God (and Mick Jagger) have known all along: You don’t always get what you want, but you always get what you need. Like a box of “silk” soy milk for year 12. (Because year 12 is silk. Get it?)