Wonderful marriages don't just happen. They require being intentional about your behaviors and being "all in". Having a strong marriage involves choosing well and then being your best self in the relationship. Marriages don't stay in a static state, they are dynamic and ever-changing. You get to decide if you want to put the effort in to stay close. There are few experiences in life as fulfilling as being in a close, satisfying marriage. Here are ten healthy patterns that will help you create the marriage you've dreamed of:
1. Have some fun together regularly. Schedule regular date nights together. I like to have husbands and wives take turns making the date plans. Everyone likes to be courted, and have their partner put some effort and thinking into making the relationship enjoyable.
2. Make each other a priority. Save some energy and time for each other. Don't bring yourself home with no energy left for your partner.
3. Take personal responsibility for being a happy, well adjusted partner and sharing that happiness with your partner. Don't look for your partner as your only source of happiness.
4. Encourage and support each other. There are a number of predictable phases of marriage that are especially challenging, like the years when children are small, are teens, and when you launch the kids and have an adjustment to being just a couple again. Have the awareness that your marriage needs extra tender loving care at these times.
5. Talk with each other every day. Share your feelings, hopes, frustrations and goals. Create couples time daily where you block all the noise of your lives, including turning off television, phones and all technology to make space for the relationship. Doing this tells your partner they are the most important person in your life.
6. Fight fairly. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Use "I" statements, not "You" statements. Keep calm. Only try to resolve one difficulty at a time. No surprise attacks. Instead, get your partner's agreement to spend a little time talking something out that you are upset about, either right at the time or as soon as you can work it out to do so. Avoid the use of "always" and "never", as they box your partner in and make them feel helpless to improve your perception of them. Ask them for what you would like them to do differently next time. Be willing to apologize with sincerity.
7. Develop and express empathy for your partner. When I see couples who are mature enough to see their partners' perspective, I know we can make positive progress. Marriage can teach us to be more unselfish. Most individuals bring some past hurts from growing up into the love relationship. Trying to understand each other's wounds from childhood (loss, abandonment, lack of support, criticism, control) and be a source of healing for your loved one.
8. Be honest and transparent. Don't avoid conflict by hiding your needs, your struggles or concerns. Be known in your marriage. Don't hide out. Close the exits.
9. Maintain boundaries. Don't discuss concerns about your marriage with friends or extended family. Doing so invites others who are not neutral into the sacred ground of your relationship. Instead, speak directly to your partner about your concerns. If you have challenges or need tools, see a licensed marriage and family therapist.
10. Express affection. Most affairs happen not for just the physical attention, but more often for the emotional connection. Affair-proof your marriage by making the physical and emotional connection important to you. Touch your partner daily.
Working with a marriage and family therapist is like working with a trainer for your most important relationship. We all have just what we saw in our family growing up as an example. It's exciting to take responsibility for editing and changing any parts of the family script about what marriages can be like. When we know better, we can do better. Your marriage is a terrific opportunity to become a better person, and create the intimacy you have always wanted.