Each day, we have the opportunity to make our relationships even stronger than they were the day before. Sometimes all it takes is a slight change in our behavior to make our partner feel more loved, more heard, and more accepted.
In researching my new book, I talked to happy couples (with a combined 120 plus years of marriage under their belts) about how they have stood the test of time. I learned that these five simple things can make all the difference.
1. Make it a rule to resolve conflicts in an open and kind way. (No yelling!)
Whenever I teach kids about effective communication strategies, I always ask them, “When someone yells at you, are you more likely to do what they want you to do, or less likely?”
The answer is always, “less likely.” And for good reason. We humans don’t like to be yelled at. Even if the person has a valid argument, we’re much less likely to hear it and more importantly, less likely to change our behavior in a meaningful way.
Rather than yelling, make the conscious effort to sit down and talk. Keep your voice soft, and calmly open up a discussion on the issue that's upsetting you. Your partner will be less defensive and hopefully more open to looking for a resolution to the problem.
2. Find win/win solutions.
Once you’re sitting down, having that nice calm conversation about whatever issue has arisen, think about how both of you can reach a win/win solution. What are the needs of each person? How can both needs be met? What compromises need to be made? And how can you achieve a resolution together as a team.
The beauty of win/win solutions is that we are forced to look at the other person’s perspective. In a marriage, one always has to consider the other person if he or she wants the relationship to stay healthy. If someone is always looking to win, then someone always has to lose. And when you think about it, do you really want the person you love to lose? Or would you rather find a way for everyone to get at least a piece of what he or she wants?
3. When things get hectic, help out.
If you notice that your partner is particularly busy, take the extra step to make his or her life easier. Maybe doing the dishes isn’t normally your chore. If your partner has been running around and barely has had time to breathe, make an exception and tackle that sink full of dirty plates. That’s one less thing they'll have to do, so when they get home, they can take some much needed time to decompress.
Last week I noticed my husband was stressed out by how cluttered our apartment had become, yet he was too busy to do anything about it. One night, I did a whole bunch of tidying up. He was so appreciative when he got home and I could see that it instantly relaxed him. And all it took was an hour from me to make that happen.
4. Never stop dating.
Between jobs, kids, friends and housework, our lives can get pretty full (read: mind blowingly hectic). And because our spouse is always around, it can be easy to stop doing the kinds of activities we did when we were courting. That’s why it’s absolutely vital to make the time to go on dates. It could be as simple as dinner and a movie.
Make sure that the activity is something that is enjoyable for both of you, and try and steer conversation away from topics like bills and obligations. These dates are great times to check in about how a person has been feeling, talk about mutual interests, or experience something completely new.
5. Remember the power of touch.
So many couples, people who were glued to each other in their twenties, simply stop displaying nonsexual touch as they enter their thirties, forties and beyond. I’m talking about kissing, hugging, holding hands, and placing one’s arm around the other person’s shoulder.
Study after study has shown that nonsexual touch has tremendous benefits for us as individuals and for us as couples. It enables us to bond even when words fail. Next time you’re walking next to your partner, link your arms together or reach out to hold a hand. It shows them that you love them, and enjoy being close without ever having to say a word.
A relationship is a living thing. It constantly needs to be nurtured if it’s going to grow and succeed. These five simple acts will help you keep your marriage healthy, especially during the difficult times. And really, what’s more important than that?
To learn more about how to make great choices, check out Choosing a Good Life.