Let’s face it–marriage is hard work!
Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband. He is my partner and my confidante. He’s been endlessly patient and and supportive and understanding. He’s a wonderful father, an amazing brother and uncle and son, and my biggest champion. He’s my best friend.
But that doesn’t mean our life together is all sunshine and roses all the time. There are times when he rubs me the wrong way or doesn’t do things the way I would do them (or think they need to be done). There are times where I spend too much money at Target or fill up our schedule far more than he would like. There are times where we just don’t understand where each other is coming from.
And while we love our kids to death, there are definitely times when they also add strain to our relationship. Sometimes we’re so focused on the needs of our children, the challenges of running a household, and dealing with day-to-day stress, it seems we don’t have time to just enjoy being a couple.
There’s nothing sadder than watching a marriage fall apart, but the reality is that marriage takes work and dedication. Whether we intend to or not, our spouses tend to bear the brunt of our stress, and all too often get our leftovers, rather than our best.
Luckily there are a lot of things we can do right now–as in TODAY–to make things better, even if you happen to be spinning right in the middle of a crazy cycle. Here are 11 ideas to get you started:
1. Go on a Date
It might feel a little forced sometimes, or even like the last thing in the world you have time for, but the happiest couples I know go out together on a regular basis. Date night can be going out to dinner or to a movie, or going on a walk or a drive—really anything you both enjoy. I know babysitting can get expensive, but your date night activity can be free—try simply watching a movie together or going to the park. It’s really about spending one-on-one time with your spouse and enjoying each other’s company.
2. Say, “I Love You”
It seems obvious, but many times we go through our days either automatically saying “love you” when we hang up the phone or run out the door, without really thinking about it. Look into your spouse’s eyes and think of all the things you love about them—the way they care for your kids, the way they take care of you, your family, the way they make you laugh. Whatever it is that really connects the two of you, focus on it and say it with real honesty and meaning: “I love you.” Love is the foundation of a strong marriage and we all need to hear it from our spouse.
Tell your partner the reasons you love them. The why. “I love you because you’re always there for me. I love you because you make me laugh. I love you because you got up in the middle of the night to clean up barf, because you know I can’t do it. I love you because you eat everything I make for dinner without ever complaining. I love you because you’re principled.” Whatever it is, identify it and say it.
3. Be Intimate
No, I’m not just talking about S-E-X, although, to be fair, that’s pretty very important too! But intimacy is all about touch and closeness, and while I can’t speak for all men, I do know that my guy thrives on it, and most other men do too.
This means we have to be purposeful about being intimate, even when–especially when–we are short on time. It means remembering to hold hands or kiss for longer than just a peck. It could even mean hopping into the shower, giving him a quick unexpected back rub, or playing with his hair.
And believe me, I know sometimes it can seem like one more thing you have to take care of, and I also know all too well that when we’re feeling stressed or not feeling particularly “sexy” it can be a challenge to flip the switch and suddenly be all hot and bothered. Those are the times that you have to trust that the action will create the feeling. Make time for intimacy and you might just be surprised at how much closer–and sexy–you feel.
4. Say I’m Sorry
No one likes to lose face. It’s hard to say I’m sorry for things, especially when you might not feel 100% apologetic. Sometimes though, the words, “I’m sorry,” are exactly what your partner needs to hear, and a little humility when you know you’ve done something wrong will go a long way. Even if you were right or if you feel like your actions or words were justified, if you hurt your spouse, then apologize for causing that hurt. It might just make all the difference in the world.
Of course the flip side of saying, “I’m sorry,” is saying “I forgive you.” It’s painful when someone lets us down or says something hurtful or disappoints us in some way. And when that person is our spouse? Well then all the anger and bitterness feels that much worse! We might feel resentful and sometimes the words, “I’m sorry,” just don’t seem like enough for us to let go of what happened.
Unfortunately, when we refuse to forgive others and move past hurts, we’re only continuing to hurt ourselves. If your spouse has done something that stung, try to forgive them. Empathize with where they’re coming from, let go of the need to take it personally, and if they’ve asked for forgiveness, give it to them and move forward.
6. Let Go of “The List”
How many of us keep a tally when we fight with our spouse? I know I’ve been guilty of letting out a litany of complaints and a laundry list of wrongs I’ve saved up and held on to. Make a resolution to let go of “the list.” Marriage isn’t a competition and it’s not about one-upping each other or doing something to “get back” at the other person. If you’re holding out on things that bother you, it’s time to address them or let them go.
7. Play a Game
When was the last time you played a board game with your spouse, tried to shoot some hoops, or even let them talk you through a video game (if that’s their thing)?
Playing board games with your spouse keeps your marriage fun and alive. Laughing and having fun together helps you feel young, reminds you of the person you fell in love with, and gives you energy. Bring playfulness into your marriage. Find something that holds interest for the two of you, whether it’s tennis, golf, running, or rock climbing. Pick an activity or hobby that’s fun and keeps the two of you engaged in a little healthy competition and laughter.
8. Surprise Him
Some people feel loved and acknowledged through gifts or actions, and almost everyone enjoys a surprise or thoughtful gesture. It doesn’t mean you need to go out and purchase lavish gifts for your spouse, but if you’re out and you see your honey’s favorite beverage, pick one up and bring it home for him. Make his favorite dinner or cookies “just because.” Get him something funny or text him a funny photo or joke you heard. The idea is to simply let your spouse know you’re thinking of them throughout the day.
9. Give Him a Compliment
We all like to hear we’re attractive to our significant other or that they think we’re really smart, funny, nice or unique. Your spouse feels the exact same way. When you first started dating, chances are you complimented each other all the time. As the years go on, we start to mention the little things less and less. Part of keeping the fires burning is letting our sweetheart know we still think they’re just as handsome, smart and funny as they were the day we met.
10. Be Honest about Money
There’s no single issue that can cause more stress within a marriage than money. Often, we might be on a different page than our spouse when it comes to finances and the way we save and spend. Tempers can flare and things can get heated.
Believe me–I’ve been there! In the past, things in my own marriage came to a head because of financial differences . It took a lot of effort–and a lot of help from Dave Ramsey–to get us back on track! We learned that we had totally different mindsets when it came to money and spending, and we also learned that we had to be honest with each other about what we were spending, where our priorities were, and how we planned to save. Once we got on the same page and were able to work together towards our common goal of becoming debt free, things improved greatly.
While the money conversation can be tough, talk to each other about finances. Be open and honest with your spouse.
11. Show Appreciation
When your spouse does something for you, do you always say thank you? So often we forget (or we come to expect) that our spouse will do their regular chores and duties around the house, but isn’t it nice to occasionally be thanked? Not only that, but our children will learn appreciation by modeling our behavior. Let them know how grateful we are that Daddy “fixes our bikes for us,” or, “painted the garage,” or, “works so hard.” Acknowledging and thanking your spouse will go a long way toward helping them feel appreciated and keeping your bond strong.
There are many conversations couples should have, as communication is vital to your marriage—but so is action. Often, we start to talk about all the things we feel and what our needs are, but then forget to put these thoughts and feelings into action.
Marriage is amazing and fun and wonderful. Keep yours strong and healthy by doing little things every day to keep the love flowing and your spouse happy. It’s not about being perfect or getting along ALL the time, but it’s about the little gestures that connect you and keep you bonded together as husband and wife.