You may have read a pile of self-help books in the hopes of improving your marriage, and many of those books have great information. I like John Gottman’s books (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, to name just two.) If your spouse reads the books too, and you can talk together about what you learn, the reading can lead to actual change.
You may also be in couple therapy, working on your marriage “live”, with your spouse. Getting help before the fractures become full breaks, and the disease goes deep, can save a marriage, and then lead to profound satisfaction in the relationship. I recommend all of the above.
But sometimes a person just wants a few tips. Perhaps you are not ready to commit to therapy, or you have no energy for deep thought about your relationship. You might be able to do some good around the edges though – if you have what it takes to do even a few of these simple things over the coming weeks:
1. Put your mind to the challenge of saying one kind thing to your spouse each day. The comment must carry truth, and you must say it authentically or it won’t help. Even the act of looking for a moment to inject a bit of kindness can help the days in the marriage feel a little better. “You look so nice in blue. It brings out your eyes.” “Thanks so much for pouring my coffee. It’s a nice thing you do for me each day. I notice it.” “I think you really helped Jimmy with his spelling – all that work with him last night probably helped him get that “A”. These are the sorts of little comments that can have a big impact. If your spouse looks at you in surprise, trying to suss out whether you are being sarcastic, stay chill. “I’m serious – it was a good thought. I just wanted to share it.” And move on.
2. When you and your spouse reunite at the end of the work day, whether you have both been working outside the home, or one of you has been home all day, put some thought into the ten minutes surrounding the reunion and do what you can to make that ten minutes feel good to your spouse. If you are married to someone who needs a little space upon re-entry, who needs to look through the mail, change clothes, or finish stirring the spaghetti sauce before being ready for a kiss, or even a real hello, give them that space and don’t start simmering about their ignoring you. You can say, “Take your time, honey. When you are ready, I have a hello hug for you.”
If on the other hand, your spouse needs to reconnect right away, with conversation or physical touch, and YOU are the one who needs space, make an effort to make eye contact, offer a light touch, and let your spouse know that if s/he gives you just a few minutes to gather yourself, you will return and make yourself available to reconnect.
3. If you feel able to be physically affectionate in an authentic way, give thought to touching your partner several times a day – even if the touch is brief, and in passing. Human beings are soothed by physical touch, and even a shoulder pat, a smoothing of the hair, or a quick squeeze of a hand, can ease the feeling of distance or tension between two people. If your spouse resists this, or tells you to stop, respect that. But give some thought to finding a time to talk with your spouse about this when you are both available. Understanding why your spouse needs distance is important.
4. When you wake up each day, make a commitment to yourself that you will make an effort to say fewer critical, sarcastic or cutting things to your spouse. Gottman’s research tells us that ten positive comments to your spouse are outweighed in impact by just one negative. Do your best to stop leaking toxic comments. If you are upset with your spouse, or disagree with how they are handling things, set up a time to talk with them directly about your concerns. Occasional difficult conversations are better than dripping poison every day.
5. Whether or not you and your spouse have a relatively healthy sex life, arrange something for your spouse that is sensually – not sexually – enjoyable for them. You could offer to run a bath, light some candles, and keep the kids out of the way and give your spouse 30 minutes of “spa time” alone. You could invite your spouse for an evening walk, and let them know you would like to just hold hands and take in the air – no talk needed. Or tell them you are happy to listen throughout the walk – and just bring your ears. Give them time to talk without interruption. Or, if your spouse tends to complain that YOU never talk, invite them for a talking walk – and promise to tell them all about your day, and the thoughts you had throughout.
6. Find a poem, an article, a photograph, or a piece of music that speaks to you in some way. Share it with your spouse, letting them know you just wanted to share it, because it means something to you. If your spouse appreciates this, begin doing this a couple of times a week.
7. Buy a food or beverage you know your spouse loves. Buy several, wrap them in ribbon, and leave them on the kitchen counter. Or let your spouse know you plan to cook them their favorite meal – and then do so.
8. Write your spouse a note and leave it some place where only your spouse will find it – beneath the sheets, on the bathroom mirror, inside their coffee cup. Write something, anything, that contains a bit of sweetness, a small piece of your heart. If your spouse appreciates this, do it again.
9. When you do something foolish, or realize you are in the wrong, apologize, and tell your spouse they can lord this over you for the coming week and you will “take it like a trooper.” When your spouse does something foolish, or realizes s/he is in the wrong, forgive, and recall the last time you, yourself goofed.
10. Remember what your spouse was wearing on the day you first met, or on some other special occasion when you felt love for them. Tell your spouse you remember, and let them know of your love.