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In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time -literally- substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.
– Peter Drucker
Every moment of the day we are bombarded by information and choices. It is easy for these distractions to pull us away from what is truly important. With all this noise, it is difficult to even find quiet time to come up with good ideas to help our marriages grow. That is why we have put together this page of tips and suggestions. Whether you are struggling in your marriage or wanting to take a good marriage to the next level, these tips can help.
The following 10 tips are from people that have had long successful marriages. They were not put together in a classroom. They are real, practical, and battle tested. Some are actions you can take immediately. Others are suggestions for long term growth. Use these tips in conjunction with the information found at the Working on Your Marriage section.
- Love Notes - Too often we get wrapped up in the idea of buying an expensive present to show our spouse love. We forget that every journey starts with a single step. For the next month, write your spouse a short handwritten note every morning. With each note, tell them one thing you love and appreciate about him or her. Keep it short and simple. Put it somewhere where they will find it later that day like a briefcase or purse. After doing this once a day for a month, keep up the tradition at least once every month. Use your heart, not your wallet, to brighten your spouse's day.
- Nurture Intimacy. Intimacy must be nurtured. It starts before you walk into the bedroom. It can be as simple as taking the time to regularly compliment your spouse. Let them know how much you appreciate them. Imagine the difference a week of compliments can make the next time you and your spouse have some alone time.
- Have Fun Together - Too often we find our marriage at the bottom of the priority list. Move it to the top by taking the time to have some fun together. It does not have to be a weekend get-away. Keep it simple. Here are some suggestions. Take a nature walk and hold hands. Try couple cooking and start a food fight. Exercise together by doing something outside your comfort zone, like dancing. Or, just collect a "Daily Joke" to share every morning to start your day. It doesn't have to be expensive. When you make the effort to laugh together as often as possible, you will sweeten your relationship to last a lifetime.
- Serve Together – Everyone has heard of or experienced the joy of giving and helping others. When you can do this as a couple, the shared experience can really deepen the relationship. Look for a local charity or organization where you can plan to serve together. If you are not involved with a Church, look for local soup kitchens to help feed the hungry. Perhaps you both love animals. You can volunteer at your local humane society. Sharing such a wonderful experience can not just help you grow but help your marriage grow as well.
- Planning the right time together. Don’t just plan a date night. Plan more. When you just plan a date night, spouses find themselves just catching up on their week and talking about the children. They don’t get to focus on each other. Instead, plan some daily "Couch time." Just 15 minutes a night with the TV off to catch up on the day’s events. Then, when you do go on the date night, you can focus on the two of you and having fun, not the business of the week. Have a date night at least once a month but preferably once a week. Lastly, plan a romantic weekend getaway once a year without the kids. If the two of you have different interests, explore at least one of those interests on that weekend. Odd years can be for him and even years for her. Learn more about each other. When you do plan these activities, make sure they take priority over the children’s activities. Why? If you were to ask your children what was more important, watching a soccer game or having their parents stay together, they will pick the latter every time.
- Learning to understand what they heard rather than arguing over what you said. When you talk to your spouse, you know what you said, but do you know what they heard? How many arguments started because you said one thing, but your spouse heard something different? We all enter marriages with different life experiences. We see and hear things through the lens of those experiences. Next time you say something that gets an unexpected response, don't get offended. Think to ask your spouse what they heard. Instead of getting upset that they heard something different than what you said, ask them how to state it differently next time so that they hear what you meant.
- Eliminate Contempt - Contempt begins with thoughts of superiority over your spouse. Telling yourself you are smarter and more sensitive only creates a story. Holding contempt for your partner prevents you from valuing their opinions. Next time you get into an argument, do not tell yourself a story that may not be true. Consider their opinion as part of a valuable partnership. Then, you will begin to see the situation from their perspective.
- Never Talk Badly About Your Spouse in Public – This is a simple habit to develop. Those who criticize their spouse in public do two things. First, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are consistently creating a negative image of their spouse in their mind. Second, it can feed the Contempt problem discussed above. By tearing down your spouse, you are actually trying to lift yourself up to make you feel superior. Even if you are struggling with your spouse on an issue, address that problem with your spouse or a counselor, not in public.
- Forgiveness. Practicing forgiveness is a very powerful tool in getting through a rough patch in your marriage. All of us make mistakes; but, when you're married, those mistakes can really hurt. If you hurt someone you love, wouldn't you want them to forgive you? Next time your spouse makes a mistake . . . pause . . . and remember that. Then show them the forgiveness you would want to receive.
- Learn how to navigate conflict. Every relationship has conflict. What separates good marriages from bad ones is learning how to embrace the conflict in a healthy way, rather than avoiding it. When a problem exists between a couple, they should resolve it in a healthy way. Avoiding a problem is akin to refusing to treat an open wound. When approaching a situation, both of you should enter a "Safe Zone" for discussing a problem. You create a Safe Zone so you both can be vulnerable. The following sentences lay out the rules for a safe zone. You both must understand that each person has an internal story that influences how they perceive a situation. Perceiving a situation differently (or feeling differently) does not mean they are wrong. You both must be patient with the other to understand their story. You both must set aside fiery emotions and defensiveness. You both must not shut down, respond passively, or draw away from the conversations. You both must not interrupt, argue, or respond with contempt or sarcasm. You both cannot criticize another’s feelings. You both must refuse to judge the motives of the other and try to give them the benefit of the doubt. You both must make the other person feel understood. You both must maintain the other's confidentiality. Without confidentiality, it is hard to open up and be vulnerable.