Develop a Better and Healthier Marriage

All couples get married expecting that their relationship will remain as warm, loving, and intimate as it was on their

All couples get married expecting that their relationship will remain as warm, loving, and intimate as it was on their wedding day. And for many couples, it does. There’s no secret and no luck involved: These couples have simply learned to devote time and attention to their marriage. Not just sometimes, but every day.

You see, it’s not diamonds and flowers that make a marriage, but the little things. Each morning, he makes you coffee, while you make sure the freezer is always stocked with his favorite ice cream. You’re still spontaneous, taking a Friday afternoon off to explore the countryside and stop at an out-of-the-way roadhouse for lunch. You’re each other’s best friend, there when things go right — or wrong — but still appreciate your time apart. Above all, you learn through the years to accept each other’s shortcomings and to forgive each other for transgressions both large and small.

The fact is, like a garden, you must attend to love. While the sun and rain will do their part to make a garden bloom, you still have to pull the weeds, fertilize, and provide tender loving care.

The good news is that in any relationship, particularly an intimate one, taking small, simple steps can bring big results. So check out the tips below. Most fall in the category of what we like to call “random acts of romance.” You’re sure to find more than a few ways to keep your love alive, vital, and evergreen, no matter how long you’ve been brushing your teeth side by side.

1. Say thank you at least once a day. You thank others for the little courtesies they do you. But do you thank your partner for his or hers? If she makes you breakfast every morning, thank her — and mean it. (How many wives make such a loving gesture?) If he took out the trash without your asking, thank him — even if it’s his job. Saying, “Thanks!” once a day can help you avoid taking each other for granted.

2. Praise your partner for the little things. If there’s something you appreciate about your partner, from the way she makes scrambled eggs to how hard he’s working on the kitchen-remodeling project, speak up! Praising your partner reminds him (or her) that you love him (or her), and knowing you are loved makes you more willing to iron out differences.

3. Do small kindnesses for your partner. The good we do tends to come back to us. When you’re thoughtful to your partner, she’s more inclined to be thoughtful in return. So pick up each other’s favorite dessert, clip or e-mail articles you think your spouse might like, make a favorite dinner, take on the other’s chores, give your spouse a day off with no chores or expectations.

4. Deliver on your promises. Failing to keep your word can destroy the unity and trust in a relationship. It’s better to say, “Let me think about it” than say you will do something but drop the ball.

5. Play a game of show and tell. Though it sounds X-rated, what we’re suggesting is that you and your partner take turns choosing an arts or cultural event to attend together each month. The point is to show your partner what you love, so that he/she can experience it as you do (or close enough). To make this work, both of you have to be flexible: You may have to attend the Saturday-night race at the local dirt track, and he may have to go to the community theater with you. But the reward lies in experiencing each other’s delight and sharing something of yourselves with each other. And who knows — you may have a lot more fun than you ever imagined.

6. Kiss under a full moon. On a gorgeous evening, spread a blanket under the night sky and drink in the beauty and quiet of your surroundings together. You can talk if you wish, or simply savor the silence and being together, side by side, under the stars.

7. Make a fun, flirty change to your appearance. Want to make him sit up and take notice? Color your hair, wear lipstick if you normally don’t, or wear a pretty nightie to bed instead of your flannel pajamas. Want her to suddenly get the urge to run her fingers over your chest? Try a sexy black shirt or unusually tight trousers. The simplest change in your appearance can show your partner you care enough to catch his/her eyes, helping rekindle the chemistry that brought you together in the first place.

8. Play the newlywed game. Do something for your partner that you did when you were newlyweds. Bake him a batch of homemade brownies. Send her flowers after a night of lovemaking. Tuck little notes into his briefcase or leave sexy messages on her voice mail.

9. Have a conversation about the big things in life. When you were courting, did you talk for hours about current events or the meaning of life? If all you seem to talk about now is the grocery list or how much to spend on a new sofa, reintroduce meaningful conversation into your relationship. Asking her about her day isn’t enough. Try this: One night while you’re in front of the TV or in the car, make a provocative (but not hurtful) remark about something your partner deeply cares about — the guy in the White House, a favorite sports team — something that will get his/her dander up. He’ll disagree, of course, which will get the ball rolling. Keep it rolling!

10. Develop a common interest. The couple that play together, stay together. To keep your relationship fresh and vibrant, think of an activity that both you and your partner enjoy, and do it together. The possibilities are endless: gardening, sports, attending classes or cultural events together, walking, hiking, working on home projects. How to get your partner to join you? Be sneaky. Say you need his/her help in the garden, want to do minor remodeling to the bathroom, that a friend just happened to give you two tickets to whatever. Chances are, he/she will have a wonderful time and want to do it again. In time, it may become a regular part of your life together.

11. Do service projects together. Giving to others moves you out of yourself and your own problems and supports a broader, more spiritual view of life. Again, try to pick a service or organization that appeals to you both, whether it’s a mentoring program for disadvantaged youth or working weekends in the local soup kitchen.

12. Rekindle your spirituality. If you’re both interested in spiritual or religious activities, try some religious study together. If you both pray, praying together can be extremely intimate. Same goes for meditation or other spiritual or religious rituals.

13. Get active together. Are you both a few pounds heavier than when you first met? Engaging in a physical activity that you both enjoy can be as good for your marriage as it is for your body, and can reinforce the fact that you’re a team of two. You needn’t run a marathon together (although training for one could provide a lot of couple time). How about tennis? Golf? Swimming? Even gardening can be a workout, if you’re landscaping the yard or tending a large flower or vegetable garden.

14. Set movie night once a month. All right, so he loves sci-fi and action, while you prefer romantic comedies. She is strictly chick-flick and you’re super hero. Doesn’t matter. To find common ground, select movies for the characters, not the genre. For example, in The English Patient, one gets espionage and adventure; the other gets a love story. In Jerry Maguire, there’s football for one, Tom Cruise for the other. And if he wants to have a John Wayne film festival, gently direct him toward shoot-’em-ups that appeal to women, such as The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

15. Each morning, ask, “What’s on your agenda today?” Does he have a big meeting? Is she dreading a phone call to an important client? Is she having lunch with an old friend? Talking about the daily details of your lives is just as important as sharing hopes, dreams, and fears, so asking about those details is a great way to build understanding and rapport. And don’t forget to ask how that meeting, phone call, or lunch turned out. Your thoughtfulness will make your partner feel loved and cared for.

16. Treat your spouse with respect and admiration in public. Whether you’re at a party, a business meeting, or just strolling down the street, give him or her subtle signals of your connection. Hold his hand. Smile at her. Put your arm around her. And never, ever, make fun of your partner in public.

17. Walk out your disagreements. When you and your partner are at odds, ask him if he’d like to go for a walk to hash things out. Being outdoors and walking at a steady pace can melt away the tension so it’s easier to talk honestly, form compromises, or apologize.

18. Learn — and use — the Serenity Prayer. When you see his towel on the floor instead of in the hamper, resist the urge to complain. While it’s understandably irritating, it will undoubtedly happen again…and again…and again. When you start to sweat the small stuff, recite the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You’ll be amazed at how quickly your resentment melts away.

19. Give your demands a makeover. You want him to hang a shelf? Mow the lawn? Asking her to throw in a load of laundry? Make sure you ask, rather than demand. We all tend to respond better to requests than orders. For example, instead of saying, “You should…,” say, “Could you…?” And instead of saying, “Why didn’t you…?” say, “Next time it would help me if you could try to…”

20. Try to air grievances at the same time each week. We know what you’re thinking — who would do this? But consider this: If you and your partner discuss what’s bothering you in a structured, formal way, these issues won’t come up so often at other times, and if they do, you’ll be able to discuss them more calmly. One more thing: Make the meeting formal. Sit down, turn off the television, and let the answering machine pick up calls.

21. Cuddle in the morning. You may associate snuggling with bedtime, and it is a lovely way to end the day. But cuddling in the morning will keep you feeling close to each other all day. So set the alarm clock five minutes early and snuggle. You can talk, or not. What’s important is that you both start the day connecting physically and feeling secure and loved.

22. Schedule time for lovemaking. Yes, you’re both busy. But don’t let your schedules stand in the way of an activity that’s so crucial to a loving, intimate relationship. The lovemaking may not be as spontaneous as you’d prefer, but there’s something nice about looking forward to a night (or morning, or afternoon) of sex.

23. Always turn in together. This may take some compromise on both your parts. If your partner is dead tired, give up your nightly ritual (television, surfing the Internet, whatever) and follow him to bed at least a few nights a week. Talk about the day, or simply snuggle while each of you reads. And if you’re the morning person, maybe you can stay up to watch the eleven o’clock news. The point is, you’re together when the house is quiet and the demands of the day are done. Make the most of it!

24. Make sure your bedroom is a sanctuary. Your bed is not the place to argue, or bring up complicated subjects, or discuss difficult parenting issues. Your bed is a place for good things only — sleep, companionship, romance. If it becomes a place for hard talks and critiques, one of you will eventually feel your bedroom is emotionally unsafe, and you’ll start to avoid each other. If this is already going on, you need to stop it — declare the bedroom a safe zone, and that all serious discussions are to take place earlier and elsewhere.

25. Pursue your own interests. Go ahead, take that writing class — or pursue any other interest you might have outside of those you share with your partner. It makes you more interesting to your partner and everyone else. Moreover, a little “me time” allows both you and your partner to grow as individuals and reduces the pressure on each of you to fill the other’s
every need.

26. Have a regular girls’ (or boys’) night out. Every woman needs time with other women, just as every man needs a night out with the guys. If it’s been a while since you’ve connected with friends or relatives, get on the phone and start arranging a day — or night — spent in their company.

27. Take a weekend getaway. If you present the idea to your partner as an adventure, he’ll be more inclined to get into the act. Once you’ve gotten him excited, the fun begins: deciding where you’ll go, what you’ll do, and how you’ll get there. And to make sure he’s invested in the idea, let him in on the planning. Pore over maps and the travel section of the newspaper together. Discuss whether you should splurge on a room with a hot tub or a fireplace.

28. Renew your vows. Renewing your vows renews your commitment not only to your partner but also to keeping passion and intimacy in your relationship. You can do it once a year by taking a romantic getaway on your anniversary or make it a once-in-lifetime event.

29. Write him a love letter or send her a love e-mail. Don’t worry that you’re “not a writer” — be simple and sincere, rather than trying too hard to be romantic. On simple but good-quality stationery, describe to your partner how he/she makes you feel. Mention specific qualities he/she possesses that you appreciate, or little quirks you find endearing. Recall your past times together and describe your hopes for the future. Slip the letter into an envelope and tuck it in a briefcase or purse. (Just be careful your partner doesn’t pull it out at an important business meeting.) If your partner is the type to snort at a love letter, send an e-mail at work.

30. Read the comics out loud to each other and share funny stories from your day. A 2004 study found that sharing humorous experiences significantly reduced the amount of conflict couples felt.

31. Go shopping (or watch a ball game) with a close friend. One study found that couples who have individual friendships outside their marriage were more satisfied with their marital relationships than those who didn’t.

32. Demonstrate your love by working to improve something about yourself that bugs your partner. For instance, if she prefers you thin, join the gym or take up a nightly walk (preferably with her). If he’s a neat freak, stop throwing your dirty socks on the floor and leaving your dishes in the sink. Saying “I love you” is always nice, but showing it is really fundamental.

33. Always put your marriage first, even if you have a houseful of kids. This is a golden rule: Of all your relationships, your spouse always comes first. After all, the kids are going to leave someday soon; hopefully, your partner isn’t. Plus, giving up your life as a couple to indulge your children simply sets an uninspiring example: Grow up, become an adult, then you, too, can subjugate your existence to that of your children. Putting your marriage first means things like deliberately setting aside time for the two of you, whether it’s a weekly date, a nightly bath together, or dinner alone a few nights a week (feed the kids early).

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