Many people ask what I do for work and when they find out that I am a marriage and family therapist they will often ask me, “so what advice do you have for making my marriage better?” Whether you are a newly married couple asking for advice on how to make your marriage successful or a seasoned vet looking to keep your relationship strong; here are 10 pieces of advice to keep your relationship amazing:
1: Stay best friends
Best friends don’t always get along. Best friends don’t always think the same. Best friends don’t always do everything the exact same way. But many people tell me they married their best friend and somewhere along the way things changed and “we aren’t best friends anymore.” Remind yourself that just because you are married, you can be best friends. Treat your spouse like you treat your best friend.
2: Show respect
Respect does not mean that you each cannot have a unique way of approaching things. You can parent differently. You can spend money differently. You enjoy different foods and movies. It is critical that even with these differences that you do not disrespect the person that your spouse is. If there are specific areas of difference you feel are important, such as parenting or spending habits, then working together to come to an agreement may be needed. You may need to respectfully explain and demonstrate how your style may be more effective and work together to change it. I can promise you the least effective approach is to dominate them or tell them their way is crap. More often than not it is “more important to be interested in peace than justice!”
3: Don’t compare
Those who compare will never find happiness or joy. You cannot compare your relationship with your spouse to that of anyone else. You are both different than any other human being and your relationship is different than any others. Give yourself a fighting chance and stop comparing! You have no idea how much debt that other couple you’ve been observing on Instagram are in because they went on their 4th trip to Hawaii in one year. You have no idea how much your parents have worked and sacrificed years, even decades, for their dream home. Stop comparing with others and compare your relationship to how much better we are TODAY instead of YESTERDAY.
4: Tell them what you need
Be direct in what you need from your spouse. They can’t read your mind. If you need help with house cleaning, ask instead of being grumpy while you work. If you need help fixing the lawnmower, tell them what you need! We often expect our spouse to know exactly what is weighing on us and exactly what we need to help us feel better. Most of the time they have no idea. Do yourself and them a favor by being direct and straightforward with what you need.
5: Make time for your relationship
So many of us are taking on more and more demands which is putting our relationship further and further down the To Do list. Make your relationship a priority by spending time ON it. As a business owner I am often told I have to spend time ON my business, not just time IN my business. A relationship is no different. Show your spouse they are important to you by spending time working ON the relationship. Ask questions like: what about the relationship makes them happy? What do you do that drives them nuts? Share what they could do to be more aware of you and your needs. What can WE do to fix issues that arise?
6: Show appreciation
It takes approximately 8 seconds to leave a Thank you note. Find a scrap of paper, an old envelope, a piece of junk mail and scribble a Thank You. Let your spouse know that you see and recognize their efforts. We all work hard at the things we do and it’s nice to be acknowledged every once in a while. Make it a habit to show that appreciation.
7: Take care of yourself
When our own gas tank is empty we cannot give our self to those around us. Just like a car runs on gas it can’t run on fumes for very long. Be sure that you are taking care of yourself. For some people that means exercise, for others that means reading or learning, being engaged in something that uplifts and inspires you to be the best version of yourself! If you do this, I promise your relationship with those around you, especially your spouse will be greatly enriched for doing so.
8: Have fun together
Once you tie the knot, it doesn’t mean the fun stops. Be sure you are enjoying each other and having fun together. Sometimes that’s going on dates with other couples, sometimes that’s hanging out at home with nothing else to do. Have fun together! Play a game, watch a movie, laugh together, play video games, visit friends and family. Another approach for some of you go-getters is to take up a new hobby together such as rock climbing, hiking, dancing, etc. Whatever it is just get out and have fun together!
9: Take care of the important things together
Often I ask couples about finances, about sex, about parenting, and it is always a little surprising when one person is solely responsible for any one area of the relationship. I have to admit, finances STRESS me out and most of the time I loath discussing them. But we push through and do it together every single time because not only are they important to both of us but they equally affect both of us. It is typical that one person takes the lead in an area and is the one paying the bills or primarily responsible for the discipline of the children but this shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of one partner. Be sure that the important things in your relationship are discussed and talked about together.
10: Make love
We saved the best for last and notice how I didn’t say have sex? It’s important that you take time to make love. When making something a person puts time, energy, effort in creating something beautiful. Intimacy between two people isn’t something to be rushed through, something to be checked off the to do list, it’s a powerfully beautiful interaction between humans that bonds us together. We share the very most vulnerable parts of ourselves with another human and that is not something to be rushed or check off. It is to be enjoyed.
If any of these areas are areas that you find you’re struggling with in your relationship, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed. It means that you are NORMAL! Every relationship can use improvement and that is part of the reason we commit ourselves to someone else in this life, is to improve each day with them. Put work INTO your relationship and continue loving your spouse!