***My recent article published with Elephant Journal***
Marriage has been one of my greatest joys and yet equally my greatest challenge.
Many of my clients come to me with the goal of finding or enhancing their marriages. Yet, while we all are enamored 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 our very eyes.
I’ve been married now for five years and I’m certainly no expert and have my fair share of mistakes under my belt, but I have learned a lot about what we should and should not do.
Here are my top eight:
1. 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, lucky guy/gal”. These small gestures can make someone feel 10 feet tall and take so little effort on our part.
At nearly seven and a half 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 we can provide that for our spouse, they will work diligently to keep that powerful, positive force in their lives.
2. Talk before bed.
It doesn’t have to be a lengthy speech on our 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 our day and laugh with our 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.
3. Let it go!
I should preface this by explaining that if this resonates deeply with you, I am right there with ya!
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 we live with someone, we see them through a variety of life experiences. We’ve seen each other when we 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!
4. Speak kindly of our spouse.
Don’t get me wrong, there will be times when I need to call a trusted friend to vent about my partner. We should, however, know better than to denigrate our partner every time we speak to our confidants. If we constantly bemoan having to spend time with our spouse or do little else but complain about them, then perhaps it’s time to evaluate why we are married in the first place.
No one is saying we have to love every single detail about our spouse or spend every waking moment together, but we are sharing our life with someone and should enjoy it. Give them the respect of not talking them down to everyone else.
5. Its 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 three year old tugging at my pant leg.
There is nothing wrong at all with us each having a life outside of the marriage; in fact its rather beneficial for us both to have another identity outside of husband and wife.
We should each have our own interests and passions that we are given room to explore. Believe me, there is nothing better than coming home to one another after some time apart and soaking up their embrace.
6. Surround ourselves with good people…
And good things will happen to us. Surround ourselves with bad people and bad things happen.
It was my father that drilled that saying into my head. 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 we will pick up every habit that our friends display but I do strongly believe that we are products of our environment. It can be hard to avoid compromising situations when we surround ourselves with questionable people.
We are our partner’s representative when we are out doing our own thing. Make sure that our behavior and actions, as well as those we allow to influence us, are a positive representation of both ourselves and our relationships.
7. Get sexy!
Remember when you first met and would spend hours worshiping one another’s bodies? Well let’s be honest, after demanding jobs and kids, as well as the stress that comes from being a grown up (blah!), sometimes we will take worshiping sleep over sex.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we should forget about the pure primal power that is unleashed when we are intimate with our partner. Every now and again, we need to treat our spouse like our lover. Send a sexy text or picture (just make sure it’s sent to the right person!) and wet their whistle just a bit.
Even if we have to schedule it in occasionally, there is nothing wrong with that. What is important is that we are making each of our sexual needs a priority and not an option.
8. Appreciate one another.
I think this is a given but yet 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 thank each other for making the 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 unsaid, they have no way of knowing that we appreciate all that they do.
Marriage is much like going to the gym—just signing up doesn’t guarantee us success. We have to be an active participant for there to be 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, we can help ensure that no matter the obstacle, we each have our heads and hearts together to come up with a solution.