This weekend my husband and I will celebrate 11 years of marriage. In the past 11 years, we have had plenty of ups and downs. We have learned a lot, we’ve both grown and changed, and we’ve experienced all sorts of circumstances.
Although I won’t claim to be a marriage expert, I can say that I love my husband more and differently than I ever thought possible 11 years ago. Sure, he drives me crazy on a near-daily basis, but sometimes that crazy is in a good way.
I thought I’d share a few tips and ideas with you on how to improve your marriage. What I’ve learned is that marriage requires intentionality and a lot of hard work. But sometimes, the smallest things can make the biggest difference. This list is a lot of small things that might feel insignificant, but if you make them a habit they will change the atmosphere in your home and the attitudes in your marriage.
1. Keep a gratitude list all about your spouse.
I am a huge proponent of keeping a daily gratitude list for your daily life. It helps to keep your focus on all of the good things you have going on instead of just dwelling on everything that’s going wrong.
This is an incredibly powerful idea to expand into your marriage. Living life with an imperfect human being in such close proximity as a marriage can be brutal at times. Your spouse will never be perfect. There will always be things that he does that drive you crazy, make you mad, or make you wish you could just walk away.
When you’re feeling like the bad outweighs the good take out a sheet of paper and jot down every possible thing you are thankful for about your spouse. Think back to when you were first dating and fell in love if you have to. You might need to carry your paper around for a few days and pay extra close attention, but I bet you’ll feel a lot better about your situation if you start this list.
2. Say thank you, even for the expected and the simple.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated. A simple word of thanks is so easy to say but can mean so much to the other person.
The other day the battery on our smoke alarm went out and the thing started up with the dreaded and obnoxious chirping every minute. It was 6:30 in the morning and I knew my husband wouldn’t be home to take care of it for nearly 12 hours (he’s been working a ton of overtime lately). So, I climbed up on a chair and changed the battery myself.
I’m sure this sounds absolutely ridiculous to most of you, but I don’t change batteries, I don’t mow the lawn, and I don’t usually mess with the trash. Those are all my husband’s responsibilities and I gladly wait until he gets to them. But selfishly, I didn’t want to hear the dang chirping all day long, so I changed that battery all by myself.
You better believe I told him about my grand gesture later that night when he got home. And he replied with a simple, “Thank you!” Those two little words made me feel so happy. He noticed and recognized that I did something for him (even though it was actually for me) and he let me know he appreciated it. I love that guy.
Seriously, say thank you. It’s so easy.
3. Hug (in a non-sexual way) for at least 60 seconds, twice a day.
The hardest part about this for me is finding two minutes in my day to slow down long enough to just stand around hugging. My to do list is always longer than my day, so it feels like such a time waster to hug someone for so long! And I love hugs!
On the other hand, the hardest part about this for my husband is to keep this non-sexual. This isn’t meant to be foreplay and it’s not a chance to cop a feel. The entire point here is to connect in an intimate and comforting way, but there’s more to intimacy than sex.
Interestingly what makes this little habit so important for each of us is what is most difficult for the other person. I need my husband to connect with me outside of the bedroom. I’ve got to feel like he wants me for more than just “getting it on”. And my husband needs my time and attention. He needs to know that he is important to me.
4. Give compliments often and freely.
“Wow honey, you look good today.”
“The lawn looks really great. I can tell you worked hard on it.”
“I love how much fun the kids have when you play with them.”
Notice what your spouse does and say something nice about it. Again, this is so simple. Just one sentence, but it can make a world of difference. Challenge yourself to say one compliment to your spouse each day.
5. Touch each other even when you’re mad.
This might sound dirty, but I don’t mean it to be. I actually learned this lesson from interacting with my son. Nearly every time he’s in trouble or I’m upset with him he runs over to me and asks for a hug. It drove me crazy at first! My head was thinking “quit stalling and go do what I told you to!” But sometimes I would give him the hug in the hopes that it would get him to cooperate.
And what I discovered is that a simple hug in the heat of an argument can change everything. It reminds you that you love the person. It reconnects you, softens your emotions, and calms your brain to give you a chance to think and reset.
I was reading Why I Stayed the other day, which is the story of Gayle Haggard and her decision to stay with her husband after discovering his infidelity and secret drug use. She talks about the incredibly difficult experience of going to sleep in the same bed with him the night she found out and falling asleep in his arms. I can’t even imagine how a person could be strong enough to do that. But her decision to connect even when she desired to pull away helped give both of them the strength to fight for their marriage.
When you’re mad at each other and fighting, resist the urge to pull away and avoid each other. Even if you just sit on the couch next to each other fuming, let your arms touch or rest your hand on his leg. A little touch can go a long way at softening emotions and reminding you that there is still love there and that love matters more than winning the fight.
6. Do life things together.
Lately, my husband has been working so much overtime and our family schedule has been so hectic that it feels like we’re just ships passing in the night. We discuss the logistics of our life schedule (mostly by text) and we sleep together each night, but all throughout the day, we tend to be running in different directions. This is not a healthy way to live and sustain a marriage.
We have had to intentionally create times where we can be together. Even when my husband just wants to relax on the couch after a long day at work, he will sometimes decide instead to come into the kitchen and help me prepare dinner. The other day we were spending time at my in-laws’ house so we took advantage of the “free childcare” and went on a run together.
When life gets busy and exhausting it can be very tempting to just relax and do your own thing. But more time apart is not what your relationship needs. Figure out ways and times that you can come together and just do the simple and ordinary things with each other. It might not be as relaxing as hiding in the other room alone with a book, but the payoff is much better.
7. Give each other decompression time.
In the same vein, help each other find the time and space to relax and decompress. This is especially crucial if you have kids. When you come home after a hard day at work it can be overwhelming to arrive home to a loud house with a lot of people demanding your attention.
Figure out a routine that allows each of you a little time to decompress at the end of the day. Trade off who keeps the kids occupied, who will work on dinner, and make sure you both have your needs met as far as time alone. This might be especially important for the introverts, but I think everyone can benefit from at least a little time and space to themselves.
8. Put your phones down.
We all know how it feels to try to have a conversation with someone who is scrolling through their phone the entire time. Don’t do this to your marriage. Put your phones down and have a real conversation.
I’m not going to say that you have to keep your phone away at all times when you are together, but figure out what works for you. Maybe you put your phones up when the kids go to bed. Or you make a commitment to talk “eye to eye” with your phones in another room for at least 10 minutes a day.
9. Apologize when you’re wrong.
No one likes apologizing and admitting that they’ve been wrong, but the reality is that everyone is wrong sometimes. We all make mistakes. We do and say things that unintentionally hurt the people we love. Instead of being full of pride, let’s just let it go and admit our humanity. Say you are sorry. Say it often and mean it when you say it.
10. Look good for each other.
I’m not saying you need to lose all your excess weight, pile on the makeup, or always dress yourself to impress. But there is always a part of love and romance that involves being pleasing to the eye. The simple rule here is to take care of yourself, not just to go to work or social functions, but also to please your mate.
This means you should probably shave your legs once in a while, even in the winter. And you might consider not changing into dingy sweats and a holey t-shirt as soon as you walk in the door every day. If you’re going out on a much-needed date, maybe you fix your hair in just the right style that you know he loves.
11. Go on dates.
Yes, it’s one more thing to add to your already full calendar. And you might have to shell out some cash for a babysitter. But you have got to spend quality time with your spouse on a regular basis. Schedule it in, make it a non-negotiable habit, and enjoy your time together.
If you’re struggling with money, do an at-home date after the kids go to bed. If you have a hard time figuring out when to schedule it in (or finding a babysitter), consider unique times that can still work. Saturday morning breakfast, meet up for a workday lunch, or take a vacation day and send the kids to daycare while you go on a day date.
Today’s Action Step
If you’re married it is vital to make your relationship a priority in your life. Even when the kids are young, even when your schedule is full, and even when work is stressful. Your marriage is more important than all of those things. (Read this post on why your husband is more important than your kids if you need more convincing on that.)
Choose just one of the above ideas and decide to implement it over the next week. You only need to focus on one of these things to start making a big difference, so pick one and get back to that loving feeling.
Additional Resources to Improve Your Marriage
My (and my husband’s) favorite book on marriage: His Needs, Her Needs
If you struggle with your desire for sex (or just sex in general), check out this really great online course: Boost Your Libido
The Science of a Happy Marriage
25 Ways to Show Love to Your Husband Every Day