You hear it again and again: "After I got married, I stopped having time for myself." Cooperation is a healthy part of a relationship. The trick is to grow together, and as the old saying goes, to "row in the same direction."
Growing in a long-term relationship or marriage takes skill. Marriages that stagnate become ripe for problems. So how do you grow in your marriage? Just like the flowers and trees, all relationships need water and sunlight, a little tending to pull up the weeds and a little talk to encourage them.
1. Be present.
Being present can mean staying off your smartphone during mealtimes or whenever you're together. It requires truly listening to what your partner is saying. It means actually focusing on the person in the room rather than thinking about the four other places you could be. When you are present with your spouse, they're made to feel important, validated, and treasured. Again, this pays dividends.
2. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
If your spouse takes an interest in something that doesn't immediately include you, don't react with suspicion or anger. If they suggest that going off and doing it will make them a better spouse, they might be right. So long as their new interest doesn't risk anyone's physical or emotional well-being, it would be wise to believe in them rather than ripping their idea to shreds. Giving them the benefit of the doubt. Support pays huge dividends.
3. Praise. Don't punish.
We're all going to fail sometimes. And who's the first person we talk to when we're disappointed or scared? If your other half has experienced a setback or disappointment, it's not productive to berate or find fault. Find something—anything—positive that you can say about their effort. Now, I'm not suggesting that you lie. Be authentic. A little praise at the right time goes a long way.
4. Be affectionate.
Our spouses need gentle words, that same touch. How much? Well, that's up to you. Sometimes one member of a relationship puts a heavier emphasis on affection than the other. Sometimes, we're just feeling a little needy. A simple hand on the shoulder, rub of the arm, a kiss on the cheek, or quick shoulder rub shows that you care.
Marriage can become routine. Partners assume the other can read their mind. As a professional psychotherapist, I always tell my clients not to assume. Being able to regularly share thoughts, ideas, and feelings is critical. We lead busy lives, so a frequent excuse for not communicating even the basic events of our day is "I just don't have time."
Well, everyone is busy. Your spouse is busy. But if you want them to stay your spouse, open your mouth and tell them what's going on. Ask how their day was. The few minutes it takes to "check in" and ask how your spouse is doing says "I value you and what you're doing. You're not alone." This sharing of ideas and experiences is crucial.
6. Find an activity.
The happiest couples share common activities. Identify what you both derive pleasure from. Maybe you haven't done it lately. Brainstorm up a little excursion. Plan a getaway. Maintaining routine is important, but taking time out to enjoy being with each other in an activity that isn't doing errands is a way to spread growth.
All of these ideas can help lead to positive growth in your relationship. Every good relationship is planted in fertile ground; when things become too routine, it's as if that dirt has been stripped of all the important minerals and nutrients. Whatever gets planted in there won't be as strong as it can be.
But when we revitalize that soil and replenish the nutrients, what comes back will be twice as strong as before.