Marriage has been one of my greatest joys and yet equally my greatest challenge. Many of my clients come to with the goal to find or enhance their marriage, and yet while we all are enamoured with marriage, very few, including myself, understand it. So many times I've wrestled with helping women to understand a concept I am only just beginning to grasp, which is that marriage is an organic, living thing — much like our house plans. Fail to water and nurture them and they wither and die right before your very eyes.
I've been married now for 5 years. I'm certainly no expert and have my fair share of mistakes under my belt, but I have learned a lot about what you should and should not do. Here are my top 8 tips.
- Complement Each Other With Politeness: Both you and your spouse enjoy a compliment. "You smell great," "You look gorgeous," "You were wonderful meeting my boss last night," "You killed it at that party! Absolutely hilarious!" are all sentiments that take mere seconds to utter, and yet we so seldom say them aloud — even if we think them. Smile and wink when your spouse enters the room; let them know they are seen and are special to you. Walk up and say "I'm a lucky guy/gal." These small gestures can make someone feel 10ft tall and take so little effort on our part. At nearly 7.5 months pregnant nothing lifts my spirits more than hearing my husband tell me I look beautiful or that I make pregnant sexy. Remember that people gravitate towards those that make them feel good, and if you can provide that for your spouse, they will work diligently to keep that powerful, positive force in their lives.
- Talk Before Bed: It doesn't have to be a lengthy speech on your thoughts about the conflict in the Middle East (unless that's your thing — then by all means, proceed!) but taking the time to catch up, share stories from your day and laugh with your partner before bed is incredibly powerful. There is something sublimely intimate about lying in bed with your spouse and just talking. It's a time to be focused and engaged with one another after a long and busy day. And it sure beats falling asleep to the TV or having your face in a device before sleep each night.
- Let It Go: I should preface this by explaining that if this resonates deeply with you, I am right there with you. I can hold a grudge like no other and have a near photographic memory when it comes to what I think you've done wrong, but in marriage there is no room for holding a grudge. When you live with someone, you see them through a variety of life experiences. You've seen each other when you are sick, stressed, overworked, undersexed and overtired. We go through a lot in life and sometimes we get cranky and should be allowed to go through this very human experience. Sometimes we say things when we are not necessarily at our highest that can be hurtful. Not everything needs to be taken personally nor should every perceived wrong doing escalate to a full blown, knockdown drag-out fight. Have compassion for one another, and let it go.
- Speak Kindly Of Your Spouse: Don't get me wrong, there will be times when you need to call a trusted friend to vent about your partner. You should, however, know better than to denigrate your partner every time you speak to your confidants. If you constantly bemoan having to spend time with your spouse or do little else but complain about them, then perhaps it's time to evaluate why you are married in the first place. No one is saying you have to love every single detail about your spouse or spend every waking moment together, but you are sharing your life with someone and should enjoy it. Give them the respect of not talking them down to everyone else.
- It's Natural And Good To Spend Time Apart: My husband loves to ski, and I tore my ACL the first time out on the slopes on my own. Clearly, I'm not game for downhill skiing these days, but that doesn't mean he should stop doing something he loves. He enjoys his day and weekend trips up to the mountains, and I enjoy weekends in Portland visiting friends and not having a 3 year old tugging at my pant leg. There is nothing wrong at all with you each having a life outside of the marriage; in fact, it's rather beneficial for you both to have another identity outside of husband and wife. You should each have your own interests and passions that you are given room to explore and believe me there is nothing better than coming home to one another after some time apart and soaking up their embrace.
- Surround Yourself With Good People: And good things will happen to you; surround yourself with bad people and bad things happen. It was my father that drilled that saying into my head, and while I scoffed as a wayward teenager, the adult in me is hollering a loud "Amen!" This is why I believe that spouses should choose very carefully who they decide to spend their free time with, especially when their significant other is not around. Throwing a few beers back with people who cheat on and lie to their spouses and otherwise engage in risky behavior is a slippery slope that puts both you and your relationship in a compromising position. I am not suggesting that you will pick up every habit that your friends display, but I do strongly believe that we are products of our environment and it can be hard to avoid compromising situations when you surround yourself with questionable people. You are your partner's representative when you are out doing your own thing. Make sure that your behavior and actions as well as those you allow to influence you are a positive representation of both yourself and your relationship.
- Get Sexy: Remember when you first met and would spend hours worshipping one another's bodies? Well let's be honest, after demanding jobs, kids, as well as the stress that comes from being a grown up (blah!) sometimes you will take worshipping sleep over sex. This doesn't mean, however, that you should forget about the pure primal power that is unleashed when you are intimate with your partner. Every now and again you need to treat your spouse like your lover. Send a sexy text or picture (just make sure you send it to the right person!) and wet their whistle just a bit. We are all busy so even if you have to schedule it in occasionally there is nothing wrong with that. What is important is that you are making each of your sexual needs a priority and not an option.
- Appreciate One Another: I think this is a given, but it never ceases to amaze me how many clients look at me with a blank face when I ask them when was the last time they told their partner "I appreciate you." Marriage is not the place for constant competition about who does what and when. It's about taking the time to say thank you for what you each do to make your family function. It's about understanding that when we fail to do this simple gesture we send the message that what they do is not important or valued. Even if this couldn't be further from the truth, if it's unsaid they have no way of knowing that you appreciate all that they do.
Marriage is much like going to the gym — just signing up doesn't guarantee you success. You have to be an active participant for there to see any results. I am certain that no couple walks into marriage planning their divorce, but that doesn't mean we can become lazy or complacent about the work required to keep it thriving. Everything has an ebb and flow, but by creating a few conscious and compassionate habits you can help ensure that no matter the obstacle you each have your heads and hearts together to come up with a solution.
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