Build healthy boundaries. Marriages need what experts call a semi-permeable boundary that allows friends and family to connect with you but that doesn’t interfere with your own desires and plans. This can be especially complicated when it comes to your families of origin.
The biggest challenge is often deciding how you’ll handle the holidays. Will it be his family’s house for Thanksgiving, yours for Christmas? Yours for Rosh Hashanah, his for the Passover Seder? Or will you start a new tradition in your own home? How often will you talk on the phone — and how much will you share about the details of your marriage? If in-laws are nearby, decide how often you’ll visit — and when you’ll be at home to receive family visitors. Some parents and siblings respect a new couple’s needs; others may need gentle reminders. “Parents can work with or against a new couple,” Claudia Arp says. “They need to be getting on with their own marriage, going from being child-focused to partner-focused. Your marriage can be a transition time for them as well. Don’t cut them off — you really need that love and support. Do communicate your decisions about your needs in a kind, calm way.”
Cheer each other on. “One of the most important things to me is that my wife, Rebecca, is for me and I’m for her,” says Lee Potts, a retired computer programmer from St. Louis, Missouri. “It sounds simplistic, but it’s really important. I’ve been married twice before, and I don’t think we had each other’s best interests at heart like this. We had our own agendas.” Arp suggests that encouraging your partner is one of the most important things you can do for your relationship. “If we don’t, who will? Our bosses and co-workers? Don’t count on it! Our children and teenagers? Ridiculous!” she says. “Our mates need our encouragement.” Three strategies she and her husband recommend in their workshops: Look for the positive in your new spouse; develop a sense of humor; and give honest, specific praise — describe what you appreciate about your spouse.
Schedule time for your marriage first. Don’t relegate your relationship to scraps of leftover time. “In mapping out your schedule for the next several weeks, why not start with writing in date times for you and your mate?” suggest Claudia and David Arp. “Then add discretionary things like golf, shopping, and community volunteer activities.”
No time? Wonder why? Do a calendar review. You’re overcommitted if friends, visits with your parents and extended family, hobbies, clocking overtime hours on the job, or volunteer and community commitments have crowded out the three kinds of time you need with your beloved: casual catching-up, scheduled dates, and intimate encounters. Same goes if your evenings are TV marathons or Internet extravaganzas. “Unless you’re willing to make your relationship a higher priority than other relationships and activities, you won’t have a growing marriage,” notes Claudia Arp.
Disconnect from the 24/7 office. Push the “off” button! Heavy use of cell phones and pagers, BlackBerry devices, and high-tech walkie-talkies — the little gizmos that keep us connected with family, friends, and the office 24/7 — can mute your happiness and dial up stress in your home, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers found recently. The study tracked the technology use and moods of 1,367 women and men for two years. Those who sent and received the most calls and messages were also most likely to say that this “work spillover” left them tired and distracted at home. “Technology is really blurring the lines between home and work,” says lead researcher Noelle Chesley, an assistant professor of sociology at the university. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may give you more flexibility. But your boss doesn’t tend to call you with the good news — you don’t hear that you’ve done a great job on the project; you do hear that suddenly there’s a deadline crisis.”
Setting limits could lift on-call stress: Talk with your boss or your company’s human resources department if work calls are burning you out. Check e-mail once in the evening. If a call’s not urgent, muster the courage to say, “I’ll look into it first thing in the morning.” And simply turn off your cell phone at a certain time in the evening (same goes for the laptop). Ahhh … quiet.
Create a code word for love. Remember the elementary school joke about “olive juice” — say this silly phrase, and your mouth automatically makes the same movements as when you say “I love you.” Find a secret way to express your love that only the two of you understand. It comes in handy if your spouse calls when the boss is standing beside your desk, and creates that “just us” feeling anytime you use it.