We spend countless hours taking care of things in our lives that we depend on to keep things running smoothly. Like the saying “prevention is better than the cure”. We keep up on things that need “maintenance”, oil changes, yearly check-ups, therapy, but how often do we look under the hood of our marriage? We hear a knocking in our car and we bring it right in, but often, we ignore the clunks and bangs in our relationships.
So, how can we put marriage on the priority list, especially when the world seems so chaotic? Small changes can make a big difference. When we think of making changes, we can engage in all or nothing thinking, especially this time of year when we are making resolutions for the New Year. It’s not necessary to go from 0-60. Meet your relationship where it’s at and make that the starting point, while focusing on the core areas below. The following four approaches are well studied, essential ways to improve your marriage, and can all be utilized in small, feasible doses.
1. Dedicate time for you as a couple: Commit to spending time together every day. There is no one-size fits all way to do this. Talk with your partner and together identify your prime time of the day when you can turn towards each other and be present. Disconnect from distractions and prioritize each other. If you only have 5 minutes every morning, that’s a step in the right direction! Plan on drinking your morning coffee together. Carve out time every evening to do something you both enjoy (think card games, Scrabble, puzzles, long walks, etc). Think back to the start of your relationship and bring the activities that initially brought you together into your current relationship.
2. Check-in with your partner: When was the last time you asked your partner a simple “How are you”? As simple as this question may seem to you, the simple questions can go a long way. It feels good to be asked and for someone to really listen to our answer. There’s a variety of questions you can ask each other to help deepen your understanding and connection.
Some questions you might ask your partner include:
“What can we do to make our partnership stronger”?
“What are your hopes, dreams, fears”?
“When do you feel most loved”?
“What is your favorite part of the day”?
3. Support: On the other side of the check-in, will be the answers. Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Try to listen with the goal being simply to listen. No rebuttals, no response being crafted while your partner is still speaking. Just listen to understand their point of view without bias and from a loving place.
4. Couples therapy: If you’re in need of guidance or additional time and space to work on your relationship, couples therapy is an option. It’s a safe place to address the issues and improve the areas in the relationship that need attention with guidance from an unbiased therapist. The most common relationship issue that brings couples to therapy is communication.
Try to apply two to three of the ideas mentioned. After a few weeks of trial and error, see how your new efforts impact the connection with your partner. Check in with your partner to identify the behaviors that are helping, as well as the areas you still want to work on. Give your new efforts time to click. It’s all about trial and error.