A common request after those posts was I should share ways to strengthen the marriage. I should note I’m hesitant to offer what appears to be therapy by list, because a good marriage is far more than a formula. Actually, all of life is, including leadership. Any area of our life where people are involved – which is pretty much all our life – can never be reduced to 7 steps or 7 suggestions.
Plus, just being honest, it’s always easier to point out the problems than to fix them.
So, you’re naturally wondering, why I share so many lists. I’ve been called the “list king”.
Well, for one, it is the way I think. I also know, however, one reason some enjoy my blog posts is I give lists which people can easily identify with and apply to their own life. finally, lists can be effective. My theory is we can often determine the things which stimulate or encourage outcomes.
Basically, using this idea, I can’t force my marriage to be better. I also can’t change my wife. (Not that she needs changing – but for discussion purposes. I’m likely the one who needs the most changes in our marriage.) But, there are things I can do which can help my marriage improve, and often those things don’t start with my spouse – they start with me – they start with things I do or we do together.
One suggestion someone offered as a way to improve a marriage is to consider the opposite of the ways we injure our spouse. Just take the 7 points in each of the above referenced posts and do the opposite of them. That’s good, but I thought I would add some more. Another list of stimulants.
Do you want to strengthen your marriage? No, there’s not a formula. But, maybe some of these ideas can help.
Here are 7 simple things you can do to strengthen your marriage:
This one certainly seems simple, but it gives Cheryl great comfort to be able to follow my schedule throughout the day. I know many spouses, probably especially some men I know, reject this idea as too intrusive, but for us, it has strengthened our relationship. Cheryl knows who I’m meeting with, what the key stresses of my day are, and usually what time I should be home so we can eat together. (Or if we have dinner plans.)
The bottom line here is Cheryl loves living life with me. For most wives, they go through their day thinking about the people they love. (Not that men don’t, but it’s different for most of us. We tend to think only about the thing we are concentrating on at the time, whether work, our hobby or our family.)
By sharing a calendar there are fewer surprises for Cheryl (and me). Sure, everyday is full of things we didn’t plan, and we can spend the evening talking about those, but it helps us feel a part of each other’s day when we have a general idea of what we are doing.
Want an action step? Spend 30 minutes this weekend sharing each other’s calendars for the next month. This is a seamless process for us now. With Google calendars when I add to my calendar or the person who keeps my work calendar does, it instantly updates for Cheryl to see.
Plan frequent escapes together
Periodically we place an escape on the calendar for a few weeks or a couple months from today. We both live stressful lives and our best times are often when we purposely get away from everything and everyone. It could be for a day trip or a couple days, but we need to know the “catch up” time is coming. The more stressful the season the more this is needed.
One action step here is to look a couple months out and plan an escape. Put it on the calendar you now share. Do it today!
Have a date a week – or as often as possible
Once a week is preferable, but I realize this is difficult during certain seasons of life. But, Cheryl and I need time for just us – often. Even as empty-nesters we’ve learned how critical this is for our marriage. We have a tendency to fill our schedules with lots of activities and we need some time to slow down. This goes on our calendar. Every week if possible.
I realize this can get expensive for young couples with children. This is a great place to build relationships in the church with people in a similar place in life. Offer to trade babysitting for babysitting, so both couples can more affordably invest in their marriage.
Here’s an action step – Find one night (or one day) and put it on your calendar for the next couple months as close to once a week as you can – until it becomes a habit. Then keep it there.
Cheryl and I can usually tell when we haven’t been communicating enough. We start to miss details about each other’s lives. We have to repeat ourselves to each other. It’s usually when one or both of us has the heaviest agendas and we are running at full speed. It’s easy to get into routines and have surface conversations. In times like this, we will often discipline ourselves to take a walk together, go for a drive, or even go to the mall together. It takes us away from the routines, phones and television and forces us to simply be together and talk. Communication is the fuel of a healthy marriage.
Again, I hear young couples all the time say they can’t make this work. For Cheryl and I when we were in this stage of life it was usually the last minutes of the day before we turned out the lights, but we were intentional to unpack the day together. If you find time to update Facebook and surf the web – or keep up with your favorite televisions program – you have time to talk. It takes an intentional effort.
Want an action step? Tonight – put your phones down, close the laptop, cut off the television, and for at least 30 minutes, talk. Bonus health points to take a walk together. (If you’re old enough – like us – you can even power walk the mall. 🙂 )
It’s not enough to spend time talking. We’ve got to learn to communicate more effectively. We all need to practice our listening skills and the gestures and body language we use. Often these are heard louder than our words. If you become as conscious of how you are saying something as much as what you say, you’ll find yourself injuring the other person less and causing fewer conflicts. It’s important to ask each other questions which spur deeper discussion and get to the heart of an issue rather than surface talk.
An action step here is to come up with a series of open-ended questions, 3 to 5 total, of things you’re curious about your spouse. (Such as: What’s your favorite memory of our first few dates together? Be creative here. Act like you’re getting to know each other all over again.)
Spend time dreaming together
Dreaming stretches the heart and mind and there’s no one we should dream with more than our spouse. As couples settle into routines, sometimes we stop doing this the way we once did. Dreaming together aligns the couple around shared values and goals.
Here’s an action you can do. Make a dream grid for each of you and for the couple. It can be one grid combined if you prefer. For each spouse and for the marriage, list 2 or 3 dreams you have. If there were no limitations, what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? Place this somewhere in your house you’ll see often and discuss them on your date night.
Pray for one another
Did I really have to list this one? But, would you be honest enough to admit almost all of us are weak in the area of prayer at times? And, who more important to pray for than the one with whom we are to be becoming one?
An action step you can do today – Buy a notebook of some kind and make it a prayer booklet. List new prayer requests for your spouse and update old ones at least weekly. Spend a few minutes each day praying for the love of your life.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list. No doubt you’ve got your own ideas. Of course, none of these are fool proof. There’s no secret formula to a good marriage. It takes commitment, intentionality and hard work – and two willing people. But, two people working together can take actions which can spur a healthier marriage.
What tips to you have to strengthen a marriage?
Read the comments on THIS POST for some cheap date ideas.