Improving your marriage doesn’t necessarily have to involve huge changes on your part or your spouse’s. Many times, the cumulative effect of small changes can make a significant difference in the quality of a relationship. It can be discouraging to only focus on the big, sweeping long-range changes that you feel are needed, such as improved communication or increased intimacy. Instead, focus on making several small changes that can affect the quality of your relationship right away.
Once you generate some positive energy flow, it’ll be easier to tackle the larger issues. Plus, you’ll be more motivated to put forth the effort and to keep trying. Here are some easy ways you can improve your marriage:
- Schedule date nights on a regular basis. Did you know research by Idaho State University shows that one of the secrets to a happy marriage is scheduling regular dates? This study involving 132 couples found those who went on dates more often (the average was six dates a month) were more likely to be satisfied with their marriage than those who spent less time together. So get out your calendar and schedule some times for you and your spouse to go out and spend time together doing something you both enjoy. Doing everything with the children and not spending time alone with your spouse can be a way to try to avoid sex or to minimize romance. It’s a mistake to think this won’t hurt your marriage in the long run—because it will.
- Show respect when you’re talking to your spouse. You may not realize you’re doing damage to your marriage when your spouse is talking to you and you sigh with exasperation and roll your eyes. Psychologist John Gottman has conducted research on what attitudes increase the chances that a marriage will end unhappily. He has found contempt is the most damaging, and he says rolling your eyes when your spouse is talking to you is a classic sign that communicates contempt. You’re giving your partner important information about how you really feel about him (or her) when you show disrespect.
- Make time for vacations. The Wisconsin Medical Journal reported that when 1500 women were asked how often they took a vacation, 20% said that it had been six years or more. These non-vacationers were more likely to be stressed and unhappy in their marriages. Every day life can get so bogged down with details, work, and loose ends that fun and romance can easily become buried and neglected. Remember the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The same is certainly true of relationships—if there’s no time to play and have fun, then dullness, fatigue, and boredom often take hold. Passion and romance thrive on stimulation, building positive new memories, and the excitement that change brings. Just leaving home and seeing and doing different things can be energizing and perk up a stale relationship. The vacations don’t have to be expensive or exotic. Put on your creative thinking cap and see what’s possible.
- Remember to hug your mate each day. Doctors at the University of North Carolina have found that hugging boosts blood levels of oxytocin, a relaxing hormone that is linked to trust. According to Kathleen Light, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UNC and one of the study’s authors, “It is safe to say that oxytocin is linked to emotional as well as physical closeness in partners….” Make it a point to initiate more hugging, and don’t be bashful about asking for what you need and want. Note: If “hugs = sex” in your marriage, it’s time to make a change. Many wives complain their husbands only touch them—hold hands, hug, kiss, snuggle—when the husbands want sex. These wives often try to avoid physical contact with their husband because they don’t want to get him aroused. This leads to a pulling away and a lack of on-going closeness and connection. Thus, it’s important that hugging not be just a prelude to sex.
- Celebrate days that are special to the two of you. Take the time to record the special days on your personal calendar so you won’t forget. Through the years, I’ve heard many spouses express hurt that their mate never buys them a gift, even for their birthday. There’s no special dinner or birthday cake—nothing. They might not receive a Valentine’s Day card or a Christmas present, either. I’m always sad to hear this, because it seems like such a loss of an opportunity to celebrate. And the message delivered to the mate is she (or he) isn’t valued and treasured. Life is short, and you can’t take your beloved partner for granted. Look for every opportunity to celebrate your love, your marriage, and the fact that you’re alive!
- Smile More Often. A genuine smile can warm the heart and make you more attractive to your spouse. That’s because smiles are sexy as well as contagious, and the energy they produce can give you and your spouse a needed boost just when you need it the most. A warm smile invites your spouse to come closer, to connect with you, and to linger in your presence. You’ll feel better and so will your spouse.