100+ marriage tipsWritten by Focus on the Family Canada
What's inside this article
We’ve come up with some practical ways to help strengthen your marriage and take your relationship to new heights. Check back regularly to see our new ideas! And if you have any marriage tips of your own to share, we would love to hear from you! Email your tips to [email protected]!
The three-question test
Author Annie Chapman suggests that before you say anything – especially to your in-laws – you ask yourself three questions: “Is what I’m going to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” This will keep you from saying something you might later regret.
Understand your spouse's spiritual temperament
Everyone has what Gary Thomas calls a “spiritual temperament.” Naturalists love God in the outdoors while caregivers love God by loving others. Click here to see all nine temperaments Thomas has identified. When you and your spouse identify which you are, encourage one another to nurture your personal relationships with God.
Start small with your couple devotions
No matter where you’re at with your spiritual journey as a couple, you can always grow by starting small. Begin with a weekly (or even monthly) devotional and work through it as a couple. Give yourself grace when you skip one and hone this spiritual discipline until it becomes second nature.
Choose a landmark on your drive home from work, or a task such as brushing your teeth to act as a reminder to pray for your spouse. Every day, when you drive past the mark or paste your brush, lift up your spouse's needs or simply thank God for him or her!
Pray without ceasing
Pray spontaneously as you’re driving, shopping or making dinner. When requests and praises enter your mind, join hands with your spouse and speak them out. These quick prayers help build spiritual connection, even for the busiest couple! And spouses who are uncomfortable with long prayer sessions appreciate these informal chats with God.
End each day with prayer
Pray as a couple after getting into your bed. Give thanks for the day, pray for tomorrow and lift up any concerns or worries. Use this time to ask God to continue to strengthen your marriage.
Growing together in faith
For spiritual formation in your marriage, try memorizing Scripture together. Whether you’re cooking, cleaning or driving somewhere together, see if you can recite the week’s passage to each other. You’ll have God’s Word dwelling in both your hearts and minds week by week.
Crystal J. from Alberta recently shared with us how she handles negative feelings towards her spouse. She wrote, “When frustration, anger or resentment is rising in my spirit because of something my spouse has said or done (or perhaps something I expected him to have done), I tell him I'm struggling and I ask him to pray for me. It doesn't take a long explanation. Usually, he can sense what caused the issue anyway. It shifts my focus to how God wants to shape and mould me, and keeps me from trying to change my husband. Pride disappears and humble dependence on God and each other replaces it.”
Too busy to pray, or find it difficult to establish spiritual intimacy in your marriage? One of the best marriage-building exercises is to have a regular prayer and Bible study time with your spouse. With a busy schedule, start by committing just half an hour each week to study a Scripture passage together, discuss its meaning and explore what it is telling you about Jesus. Then, discuss how it applies to your life and marriage. Praying together also opens up communication and fosters openness in your relationship when struggles and praises are shared. It may seem difficult to commit to this at first, but by nurturing your relationship with God in marriage, you’ll likely find yourselves greatly enriched and coming back for more!
Before leaving for work, while on the phone or before bed, try praying for and with your spouse. Building your relationship with God is the cornerstone of your marriage.
Prayers for the new year
As the new year begins, why not put your marriage on your resolutions list? Start with discussing with your spouse three things about your marriage you are thankful for, and three major tendencies that most negatively affect your marriage. Then, pray for each other, using the list as a reminder of these prayer requests throughout the year. On the following New Year’s Day, return to your list to see how God has been answering your prayers.
“Help me understand”
These three words can make all the difference when you feel your emotions getting the best of you during a disagreement with your spouse. According to Mike Bechtle, “Disagreements start with a difference in perspective. Your spouse has their own way of seeing things . . . ‘Help me understand’ is a phrase that de-escalates tough conversations and opens the door to genuine, trusting connection.”
Joshua and Christi Straub suggest couples carve out 15 minutes every evening to check in with their spouse: “Just sit with your spouse – with no condemnation – and listen to his or her most prevalent feelings from the day. Don’t try to fix it; just validate it. Share your heart with your spouse. Use feeling words to describe your day: ‘I felt sad when . . .’ or ‘I felt angry at . . .’ Simply using feeling words strengthens your bond.”
Choose your noes carefully
Everyone can benefit from putting proper boundaries in place. Couples especially need to protect their relationship with clear boundaries. Marriage and family counselor Tim Sanford calls this process “choosing your noes carefully.” He says, “Even if you’re saying yes to a lot of good – such as activities for the kids or a voluntary out-of-town sales trip for work – you’re saying no to the opportunity to connect with your spouse.”
"How can I help?"
Gary Chapman suggests that this simple question can do wonders, especially when you have just become new parents. Your husband or wife is likely as weary or frustrated as you are with the present situation, and by making this simple offer, you're starting a conversation about making your marriage a priority in spite of the new demands and stressors.
Be honest about your expectations
Do you expect your spouse to do something and they just don't? Do you get frustrated that they can't read your mind? Resentment will only grow if you remain silent. With grace and love, share your frustrations and your expectations with your spouse. Then ask them if they have expectations of you. Things won't change unless you open up the door of communication.
Quick to hear and slow to speak
When your spouse is sharing how they feel, whether it's in a certain situation or in response to something you did or said, follow the advice of James 1:19 and be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
Listen to what your spouse is saying
Robert S. Paul and Greg Smalley, authors of The DNA of Relationships for Couples, encourage you not to react to what your spouse says. Instead, repeat back to them what you heard, asking if that’s what they meant. Then ask how they feel. This will deepen your conversations.
Speak for yourself
Take a cue from Gary Chapman, and learn how to speak for yourself. Instead of using accusatory “you” statements when talking to your spouse, use “I” statements to help them understand your point of view and to keep you from pointing your finger.
Listen to what's being said
Relationship conflict often arises from simple misunderstandings. Ask for clarification rather than making assumptions. Try saying, “I heard you say this. Is that what you meant?”
Yell less, walk more
Want to tell your spouse something, but they're in the other room? Shouting loud enough for them to hear you isn't the answer. Instead of lazily yelling to your husband or wife, walk to the room they're in so you can speak calmly and quietly. Bonus: you'll get some exercise and maybe a quick kiss from your sweetie, too!
Timing tough talks
Collecting thoughts in a conversation jar frees you from the anxiety of timing challenging chats. As you think of a concern, write a few topic keywords on a strip of paper and put it in a jar. Set aside time every week to pull out one issue from the jar for a focused discussion with your spouse.
"This or that?" game
A social gathering or event is easy fuel for fantastic conversations! After an activity, debrief with your spouse by having a "This or that?" question time. Ask your spouse a series of questions about what they enjoyed about the gathering, and provide them two options. For example, ask "Which did you like better, the entree or dessert?" or "Did you have more fun chatting with friends or playing the group game?"
Be sweet to your sweetie
When do you use your best manners? When you’re with coworkers, church members and friends – or with your spouse? Talk to your husband or wife more sweetly and respectfully than you talk to anyone else.
Use nonverbal signs
Half of a conversation is nonverbal, reports psychology studies. Use physical signs to show your spouse that you're listening intently. For example, give their hand a gentle squeeze. Also, face them when they speak and lean forward slightly; these are signs that you’re interested and receptive to what they’re saying.
Keeping the love line open
Do busy days keep you and your spouse from finding time to talk and pray together? Take a moment or two throughout the day to briefly call, email or text message your spouse. Quickly share your prayer requests, praises and assurances of love. Make sure you end the day together in prayer.
Accused of neglecting a task, a husband once responded to his wife with a grin, “I don’t remember you telling me to do that – you shouldn’t talk to me when I’m not listening.” Sharing information is a shared responsibility: be sure your spouse is “tuned-in” before making an important announcement or request.
Hearing vs. listening
The first thing you need to know about love, you learned in kindergarten . . . and that’s to simply pay attention. Don’t let “tuning out” become a habit – acknowledge every comment from your spouse. If you tend to share your every thought, reduce the chatter so meaningful comments aren’t missed.
When day-to-day life is filled with so much busyness, it can be easy for couples to lose track of each other. Try setting aside a time where the two of you can check in with how the other is doing, either once a day or a few times a week. It’s an intentional but simple way you can connect and make sure your marriage is always at the forefront of your weekly routine!
Gift your gratitude journal
A gratitude journal can keep you personally focused on the positives in your relationship, but it also makes a great gift! Keep track daily or weekly of things you’re thankful for and on the next special occasion, be it their birthday or your anniversary, share it with your spouse!
As you learn more about your spouse’s personality type, be sure to write down your own strengths and weaknesses. Then, come together and see how your strengths and weaknesses complement each other and what that can mean for your marriage as a whole.
Coded love note
With your spouse, come up with a code word or acronym that’ll be your private way of expressing love to each other. For example, I.L.Y.M. could be an acronym for “I love you more.” Plant this code word in random spots for your spouse to find. Try writing it on sticky notes around the house, in the snow in the yard or forming the letters from toothpicks on your kitchen table!
Write it down
In the heat of a situation, your anger can make it difficult and counterproductive to discuss your disagreements with your spouse. Instead of verbally expressing yourself, try writing down your thoughts. Wait a few hours and revisit your note when you’ve had time to calm down. This can help you separate your emotions from the true problems so you can both work together to smooth over any potential issues.
Create a gratitude journal
Buy a lined notebook or journal and place it someplace central, such as your kitchen table. Every day, take turns writing down a reason (or two, or 10) that you’re thankful for your spouse.
Write notes of thankfulness
On a sticky note or sheet of paper, thank your spouse for something that he or she did recently, whether it was making dinner, fixing a leaky pipe or simply listening to your tales of an awful day. Slip the note into a place where they’ll find it unexpectedly during their day. Simple expressions of gratitude like these can do a lot to brighten their day.
Shake up humdrum conversations with your spouse by writing love letters to him or her. On a regular basis, write your love a letter to express your appreciation of them, what you love about them – or anything you want to say that will make your mate feel loved. Even if you don’t feel like it or have trouble thinking of anything, the more you practice, the more positive thoughts about your spouse you’ll remember for your next letters. Email will work, too, but giving your spouse a hand-written note to read at work or at home can become special keepsakes they’ll want to keep!
What's not to love?
On a sheet of paper, list 10 reasons why you love your spouse. Keep it in your wallet, and add to it regularly. Review it if you’re travelling for business, or whenever you’ve had an argument.
Demanding children can be skilled at pitting one parent against another in subtle ways. Don’t play the blame game with your spouse. No one can win, and it only deflects energy away from the real issues. Make unity as a couple your priority, then dealing with the rest will be easier.
Dr. Greg Smalley explains to couples that there is no such thing as a win-lose solution. A couple needs to realize they are on the same team, and a win-lose actually means a lose-lose. "You either win together or you lose together," he writes. Take time to discuss different solutions, understand your spouse's perspective and arrive at a solution as a team, not opposing players.
Be on the same team
Whether you and your spouse are dealing with conflict or facing a decision (big or small), remember that you’re teammates and not opponents. It’ll make everything a lot easier!
Motivation to make up
Do you have trouble reconciling with your spouse after an argument? Before you retire for the night, try using a statement like this: “I’m so thankful I have you to disagree with! What would I do without you?”
Ally, not enemy
Your spouse probably doesn’t aim to make your life difficult. While behaviours and comments can be hurtful, shift your perspective of your spouse from “enemy” to “ally.” Even the most heated discussions are better worked through when you approach hurts and hopes together, instead of one against the other.
Dig a little deeper
Understanding how your spouse behaves when frustrated, angry or exhausted promotes marital intimacy and harmony. Sit down with your spouse to ask, “When you’re ____, how do you act?” Fill in the blank with an emotion. Be attentive to these clues so you can pinpoint what your spouse is feeling and respond supportively when emotions run high.
Stop, refocus and move forward
Facing a marriage crisis? Shift your focus away from anger, fear and despair and redirect it toward love, confidence and hope. Then, work with your spouse to determine how you can seek out help.
Understand each other's needs
Understand that your spouse's needs are often different from your own. Husbands, rather than trying to fix the problem your wife tells you about, take time to just listen. Wives, allow your husband to have time to himself; this helps him reignite his love for you.
Introverts and extroverts react to and deal with circumstances differently. Talk about why you want something done a certain way, respect your differences and agree on how to reach a compromise.
Too hungry to think straight?
Does being hungry make you or your spouse easily irritable? When at home or out and about, try stocking your pantry or carry-along bag with wholesome snacks like fruit, nuts or granola bars to help calm the hunger-cranks. You’ll be surprised how an apple can help deter those too-hungry-to-think-straight conflicts.
Open ears and open hearts
Most of us don’t like being wrong, so we often shut off our ears and keep arguing without hearing our spouse’s point of view. Instead, try listening first to avoid jumping to conclusions and really consider what your mate is saying. It’ll take some humility and self-control, but doing so will help your spouse feel loved and understood if you take the time to really hear them out.
Discordant love triangles
Demanding children can be skilled at pitting one parent against another in subtle ways. Don’t play the blame game with your spouse. No one can win, and it only deflects energy away from the real issues. Make unity as a couple your priority, then dealing with the rest will be easier.
Start with the positive
When you wish to address an area of concern with your spouse, begin by affirming the positive aspects of your marriage. Then voice your concerns. This will begin the conversation with love and respect.
Pause, then talk
When you get into an argument with your spouse, make a decision to pause the conversation. Give yourselves a minute or two to process your thoughts and then continue the discussion in a calm, respectful manner.
Make a Venn diagram of hobbies
You may have more interests in common than you think! Draw a circle that includes your hobbies and a circle of your spouse's hobbies and see where there are similarities. Maybe you both like to be outdoorsy or creative. Find the overlap and give them a try!
A little touch goes a long way toward a zest-infused marriage! It's easy. Simply place your hand on your wife's hip when reaching to open the door for her. Or squeeze your husband's bicep – anytime, anywhere!
Laugh a little
Lighten up and laugh a little (or a lot) in your marriage, especially when your spouse makes a joke. But no pity laughs allowed! Let out a sincere chuckle that’s flirtatious without being fictitious.
Less phone, more flirting
Is your spouse competing with your stream of Facebook, Twitter, email or text notifications for your attention? Cut off the competition – your husband or wife wins! When you're together, turn off your smartphone and turn on your spouse. You’ll find that focusing on each other rather than on your phones is far more appealing than any app!
Make fast food romantic
The next time you and your spouse dine under the golden arches, bring a tablecloth and a candle. This bold move shows off your creativity and adds an element of fun and romance to your otherwise ordinary date.
Romance – rain or shine
Don’t let ornery weather disrupt your plans for a weekend getaway. Blustery gales create a perfect setting for a romantic retreat. Plan a trip to a thundering ocean beach, or stormwatch on a high plateau where you can marvel at lightning-laced cumulous clouds sweeping across the landscape.
Recreate your first date! Whether visiting the restaurant where you first shared a meal, renting the DVD of the movie you saw, or simply reminiscing about your special evening, enjoy the memories by reflecting on those first-date thoughts and emotions.
A picture speaks a thousand words and is a fun way of catching up with your spouse at the end of the day. With the camera on your cell phone – or a digital camera – snap photos of things throughout your day that are easier shown than said. Capture and share anything from a work event moment to a funny street sign you saw!
Seize the moment
Date nights with your spouse can be rare when you’re managing a busy household. But with practice, you can learn to snatch opportunities to connect on a deeper level. Move to another room while the kids are watching TV or playing, and simply ask each other, “What’s on your mind today?”
Back to school together
September is a month associated with new beginnings. With the kids starting another year of school, why not begin something new in your marriage by taking a special interest course with your spouse? Together, you can learn a new language, try your eye for photography, cook new, flavourful foods or develop your green thumb. Pottery, dance, visual arts or creative writing are other options most continuing education locations offer. And the great thing is, most of these courses are fun, creative and don’t likely have homework. Another benefit of learning something new is that it not only generates new interactions with your spouse, but you can take these skills home and start a new joint hobby.
Keep the small traditions alive
Do you and your spouse have any rituals, like kissing each other goodbye, saying “I love you” before you go to sleep or having breakfast in bed on Saturday mornings? Whatever special traditions you have, keep them alive by practicing them regularly. Celebrate these rituals that play a fun role in your relationship.
Marriage and media
Movies offer a wealth of affirmation inspiration! The next time you watch a flick with your spouse, look for specific ways he or she excels in tasks and traits illustrated in the movie. For example, is there an absent father figure in the show? Wives, whisper in your husband’s ear how wonderful of a dad he is. Is there a pretty actress on cast? Husbands, make your wife blush by verbally praising her beauty. Compliment each other during the movie, and watch your spouse glow long after the credits stop rolling!
Jenn T. from Alberta shared with us that she and her husband sometimes find it hard to get out for their date night due to financial reasons and being parents of a toddler and an infant. So, another way they spend time together is to go for an evening walk right after supper with their kids. Distracted by the change in scenery, the children tend to entertain themselves in the stroller, not only giving Jenn the chance to get out of the house for some exercise, but also giving her and her husband time to unwind and catch up on each other’s day while they walk. Even something as simple as going for a walk is valuable time spent together. It works out great for them and better yet, it doesn’t cost them anything.
Couples often find there’s simply no more time for playing favourite board games together once baby arrives. If this sounds like you, don’t give up this important and inexpensive relationship builder! Instead, search online for ideas for shorter games you can enjoy together in 30 minutes or less.
Treat your spouse to a personal chef - you! Present a handwritten menu including two or three of their favourite entrees, seat your spouse at the table with his or her favourite beverage and soft music, then take their order and chat as you cook. Don't allow them to help; they must enjoy the treat! Sit down and eat together, and even do the dishes yourself.
Switch it up
Feeling stuck in a rut? Try something new (e.g., take a different route while running errands or make a new meal for dinner). You’ll be surprised how a small switch-up can reignite excitement in your everyday routine.
Try doing things differently
Remember that it’s okay to do things differently (e.g. there is more than one way to peel a potato or fold the laundry). Rather than correcting your spouse’s methods, ask why they do things a certain way. You might learn something new!
Try something new
If you and your spouse have very different pastime activities, consider ways to “play together” to strengthen your marriage. Even if you have very different interests, you still probably share general similarities. For instance, if she likes to sew and he likes to fix cars, both can enjoy a pastime that involves working with details and working with your hands. Begin with discussing each other's interests and ideas of leisure, then look at the fundamental reasons why you’re drawn to those activities. Trying out your spouse’s pastime doesn’t hurt either – you might like it! And if you simply can’t enjoy sharing certain hobbies, learn something new for the both of you, and have someone else instruct the activity. This creates a neutral territory where both of you are beginners. If it turns out you’re both natural dancers, great; if not, you can still laugh together over the clumsiness of your shared “left feet."
Want greener grass?
Think the grass is greener in your friend’s marriage? Rather than let discontentment rule, do something to water your marriage! Frequent compliments, kisses and courteous acts grow love between you and your spouse. So live the life and nurture the relationship you've been blessed with!
Make it a good morning
Morning’s first moments set the tone for the entire day. So whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, muster a smile and make your waking words to your spouse count!
Tackle projects, pronto
Show your spouse you care for their needs by bumping their requests to the top of your to-do list. Did he ask you to research something online? Does she need you to hang a picture frame? Complete the task as soon as you can! Small labours of love speak volumes about your priorities.
Just as Christ did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28), try serving your spouse today instead of expecting to be served. Often, our own wants and desires get in the way of blessing our husband or wife. When you see them stressed, frazzled or doing their everyday tasks, ask how you can help or pick up the slack when you see it. Adopting an attitude of servanthood can help a marriage go a long way!
Fattening, but flattering
When your colleagues make candies, fresh baking or other treats available in the workplace, don’t be bashful about picking up one or two for your spouse. Your small gift says, “I thought of you during my work day.”
If your spouse has a long commute to work, give them a great start to their day by giving them a mixed CD or loaded MP3 player to listen to on their drive without saying what’s on it. Start by picking their favourite tunes and, as a special surprise, record messages between songs telling your mate how much you love them, a word of encouragement or a funny story.
Show your love in a practical way by disrupting your spouse’s sleep as little as possible. This might mean skipping the ensuite and showering in another part of the house, choosing clothing the night before, or even sleeping on the couch if you have a cold or the flu.
Good deeds for the day
Be on the lookout for small tasks you can do to make your spouse’s day a little brighter. Thoughtful ideas include recharging their cell phone, brushing the snow off their car, or putting their towel in the dryer so it’s cozy when they step out of the shower.
For ideas on how to bless your spouse, keep your ears open when they’re talking with others. Often, your partner will express wishes that are easy to fulfill. Exclamations like, “I’ve always wanted to see that show . . .” are clues to great surprises for your spouse.
Do the chores
Surprise your spouse by doing a household chore or task that is typically their duty. For example, make dinner or clean the bathroom. This gesture helps to demonstrate your awareness and thankfulness for your spouse's contributions to your home and relationship.
Let’s face it. Getting up in the morning – especially weekdays – can be a real challenge. On a middle-of-the-week kind of day like Wednesday, surprise your mate with a special breakfast in bed. Try serving chopped fruit, granola and yogurt, or eggs and pancakes, while your spouse is still in their PJs. Nothing says “I love you” more on a weekday morning than a special breakfast served in bed!
Give a gift
Small gifts are a great way of expressing love to your spouse – especially when it’s a surprise! Ideas include hiding a note in their coat pocket, completing a household chore or making a meal. A little creativity goes a long way!
Show your spouse you are thinking of them, even when you are travelling far from home. Prepare for your trip by hiding small, wrapped gifts around the house with a thoughtful note attached to each one. Phone your spouse every few days, and guide them to a hidden gift.
Give your spouse a break
If you have children, take them on a field trip to give your spouse a moment of solitude. Example trips for an afternoon include ice cream parlours, park playgrounds, museums – many which have free or discount admission days – and zoos. It can work as a great bonding time for you with your kids, while also allowing your spouse to relax, unwind and not have to worry about taking care of anyone.
Make a habit of giving thanks
Getting into a habit of thanking your spouse and thanking God as a couple will give you more contentment, gratitude and joy in your everyday life. So start a gratitude journal, end each day in prayer or make it a habit to list all the things you’re grateful for as you drive to church each week, and see the difference it makes.
A better focus
Put aside your spouse’s past failures or poor decisions and focus on his or her victories! If you believe in your spouse and encourage their good qualities, they will grow – and your love will too.
Check them out
Eye up your spouse at home and in public – and let them see you doing it! A classic full-body once-over, plus a wink and a suggestive eyebrow raise, conveys the message, I like what I see!
When was the last time you spoke words of affirmation to your spouse? Over time, it may not come to mind as readily as it did early in your relationship. Intentional affirmation will not only encourage your spouse, but also strengthen those bonds of affection. Tell your spouse what you love and admire about them today!
Remember to thank your spouse
Rather than criticizing your spouse for forgetting to carry out a particular task, thank them for all the times they remembered to fulfill their responsibility.
I’m thankful for you because . . .
Even after the Thanksgiving holidays, tell your spouse 10 things about them that you’re thankful for. On an everyday basis, strive to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness for each other, focusing on the positive qualities of your spouse instead of the negative. Often, we easily take our loved ones for granted and only look at what they lack according to our expectations. Constantly measuring up your spouse to those expectations will guarantee your disappointment and marital dissatisfaction. Instead, choose to adopt a thankful perspective and ask God for help to let go of unrealistic or selfish expectations. You’ll find through ups and downs, learning to be thankful for how God has made your mate will greatly strengthen your marriage.
Do you wish your spouse would help out around the house more often? When you catch them doing a small chore, such as chopping veggies, surprise them with a hug from behind and murmur, “Mmm, magnetic attraction!” They’ll soon be looking for other ways to earn an appreciative snuggle.
Keep the compliments coming
When life gets busy, it’s often hard to take a moment to say what you admire about your spouse. Keep the spark alive by remembering to tell your love how beautiful or handsome they are, or letting them know you noticed how good they look in today’s outfit. Small words of admiration can make a big difference in your relationship!
People constantly change, but married couples sometimes begin to take each other for granted and stop seeing these changes. This can make each spouse feel ignored, unnoticed or – even worse – unwanted. Take a moment every day to verbally acknowledge a new thing in your spouse. This can be something as simple as complimenting a new shirt, or deeper issues like discussing a new view of a Bible verse. Regularly doing this can help show your spouse that you’re aware of them and engaged in their personal development.
Verbalize your thanks
Thank your spouse regularly. Expressing your thanks doesn’t just make your spouse feel loved, appreciated and wanted, but it also helps to remind you of their positive qualities. When showing your gratitude, focus on the person and not the action or object. For example, say "You're an amazing cook" instead of "Thanks for making lunch."
Seek godly wisdom from others
Is there a couple whose marriage you and your spouse admire? Ask them for advice! Even though no marriage is perfect, as a newlywed couple – or even if you and your spouse have been married a long time and feel like you could use some guidance – learning from couples who have walked this path before can be a huge help to your marriage.
Lunch date, but not with your spouse
Take your spouse’s parents to lunch – or if they live out of town, call them or send them a care package. This thoughtful gesture will express honour to your in-laws and show your spouse that you’re invested in their – and now your – family!
Be a friend
Determine to get to know your spouse’s friends by going on double dates or attending the occasional group event. As you spend time with his or her “besties,” you’ll learn more about your spouse and support their life-giving friendships.
Host more, date more
Do you spend more time hosting others than you do on dates with your spouse? Keep a guestbook near the front door, and ask your guests to write a date idea or conversation starter before they leave. Frequent visitors will come prepared with ideas, and you’ll be inspired to balance social time with spousal time.
You’re not alone!
Whether you’re newly wed or married for years, busy lives can make going out a challenge, let alone going out with other people. However, making time with your spouse to connect with others is important. Spending time with different types of married couples helps bring new perspective to your marriage and affirms you’re not alone in your marital ups and downs. Older couples have a wealth of wisdom from their own marriage journey, offering valuable, seasoned advice. Couples who are in the next stage of life can counsel you on issues concerning the near future, such as the decision to have children or how to handle transition for empty nesters. No matter the age of your married friends, you can still benefit from their company. Armed with others’ encouragement, perspectives and stories of hope, you’ll be better equipped to fend off marital troubles and experience a lasting, fulfilling marriage.
When talking to friends about your marriage, how good are you about keeping private matters private? If you’re not sure, next time you’re with friends, be mindful of how your spouse would feel about you sharing certain details about your relationship. And on the other end of things, if there are items you don’t want your spouse to share with her friends, be sure to say, “Please keep this between us,” just to be clear.
Public display of praise
What do you say about your spouse in front of others? If you sing nothing but the praises of your husband or wife, great! But if you’re prone to complain, insult or speak negatively about your spouse in public, you not only dishonour your mate, but yourself as well. After all, when you married each other, you became one! And spreading your complaints about your loved one does nothing but hurt your spouse and your own regard for them. The best thing for your marriage is to show everyone – you and your spouse included – how much you value the person you married with words of affirmation and sincere appreciation.
Talking with the in-laws
Letting your spouse know that you’re eager to have “your turn” on the phone with his or her parents is sure to score you bonus points. Keep a list of news tidbits near the phone so you’ll be ready to keep the conversation flowing when “Mom” and “Dad” call.
Whether you’re a newlywed or have been married for years, spending quality time with your spouse and spending time away is healthy for your marriage. Without outside friendships and interests, you might find yourself with less to talk about with your spouse, especially if you and they have dissimilar hobbies. To keep your marriage well-balanced, call up a friend today! Your time away will all the more sweeten your reunion with your love when you come back together to share about your day and new discoveries.
Take your spouse to work
If possible, take your spouse to your office so he or she can meet your coworkers and see what you do every day. This can help your spouse understand more about your job duties, especially when you come home and talk about your day.
Never too late to learn
The days of dating, engagement and the first few years of marriage can be an exciting time of discovery as you learn more about your spouse. But the excitement doesn’t need to stop there! People continue to change and develop, so never stop being a student of your spouse.
Speaking their language
When was the last time you did something that spoke to your spouse’s love language? Whether it’s words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service or physical touch, author Gary Chapman encourages you to be intentional with how you express your love in order to deepen your relationship with your spouse.
Eye each other up
You've heard that the eye is the window to the soul. With that in mind, connect with your spouse by gazing fondly and intently into each other’s eyes for 30 seconds every day. It may be awkward at first, but the intimacy will grow as your eyes communicate – no need for words!
Verbalize your love and respect
Want to show your spouse that you love and respect them? Try to make a habit of saying “you’re welcome,” “please” and “thank you.”
In sickness and in health
How does your spouse handle being sick? Do they want lots of attention and tender care – or mostly to be left alone? Ask your spouse how you can best love and care for them when they’re feeling under the weather. Learning how they want to be treated during illness can strengthen your marriage for other challenges ahead.
Celebrate each reunion
Refrain from talking about your stressful day for the first 10 minutes when you come home. Instead, celebrate your reunion with a hug and enjoy each other’s company, then tell your spouse about your day. Those 10 minutes set the tone for the rest of your night together.
Solomon wisely observed that little foxes ruin the vineyard. Even if your marriage is great, you likely have small habits that annoy your spouse. As an expression of love, regularly hold a personal “fox hunt,” and determine to eliminate habits that steal some of the joy from your spouse’s day.
Do you know your spouse’s love language?
According to Gary Chapman’s book words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch are ways to receive and express love. Not knowing your spouse’s personal love language is like shooting an arrow in the dark. Ever wonder why your wife is thrilled when you pick up the groceries but less than excited about that thoughtful box of chocolates you bought her? While she might appreciate occasional gifts, it might be that her love language is receiving acts of service. Take time to sit down with your spouse and discuss the different ways he/she receives love best.
Invest into your marriage “bank account”
You get more out of your marriage if you invest into it. Make a “deposit” each day with kindness, service and encouragement. You will experience a richer marriage as a result.
Try to remember the last time you shared your dreams with your spouse – and not just the dream you had last night. Look ahead at your future together, and take the time to explore your hopes for the next 5, 10, 20 years.
Vacation game plan
A spouse-only vacation is a wonderful way to reorient you as a married couple away from the responsibilities of regular life and parenthood. However, preparing for the trip and being on someone else’s idea of a vacation can cause more stress than relaxation. How many times have you found yourself flustered over packing, worrying that your spouse has forgotten something – or everything – important? Take a few minutes to create a packing list, which will help both of you get out the door faster. This will also give you the extra time you need to plan the trip together and address the question, What to do, what to see? Before embarking on your trip, discuss your vacation expectations with each other. You might want lots of time on the beach doing nothing; your spouse, on the other hand, may want to see every museum in the city. Settle on a vacation game plan that honours both of your wants and needs, and keep it flexible. By discussing your expectations, you’ll better anticipate what the trip will look like and reduce trip-related squabbles. Enjoy a truly restful and intimacy-building time with each other.
A new year, a clean house?
If one of your consistent sources of marital conflict comes from disagreements about chores, then try this: Sit down with your spouse to prepare a list of all the household duties that need to be done, and divide them up. Now that you have your list, resist the temptation to use it as a way to catch your spouse for not doing their chores. Instead, the list should be a visual way to help remind each of you what chores need to be done and by whom. Often, conflicts about chores arise because neither has an accurate idea of how much work the other is doing or one spouse fails to match the expectations of the other. Posted on the fridge or some other visible area, “the list” can show where the housework stands each week. Of course, you may need to adjust the list according to trial and error, but remember: things will never be perfect, and you will need to give each other continued grace as you work through your clashes in cleanliness.
Divide, conquer and affirm
Do you often need to divide tasks and errands between yourself and your spouse just to “get it all done”? Ensure these tasks are assigned via negotiation rather than delegation. Working through conflicting priorities reassures your spouse that their needs are important, too.
Write down your goals
Write down your goals and add specific bench marks so you can know where you’re at. For example, if you wanted to have a certain amount of money for a down payment but didn’t meet that goal this year, what factors contributed to not reaching that goal? How can you achieve this next year?
Name your feelings
Do you feel abandoned? Controlled? Humiliated? Misunderstood? By naming your feeling, you can identify its character – and learn from it. Understanding the association between the word and emotional experience that triggered that feeling will help you be more in control of your feeling, rather than controlled by it.
What calms you down?
Maybe it’s a simple touch on your back or a squeeze of the hand. Maybe you need access to fresh air or a certain smell calms you down. Or maybe what you need is silence and solitude. We can all get overwhelmed and anxious, but by communicating what you need to find calm, your spouse can help in those anxious moments without feeling as though they’re adding to the problem.
Caring for our own emotional, spiritual, physical and mental health (ESPM) is essential right now, but a crucial part of self-care is giving authority to God. "Instead of feasting on the moment-by-moment news that increases our sense of lack of control and fear, prioritize caring for your ESPM," Hope Restored therapist Tara Lalonde advises. "Check in with the news if you need to, then look to what we can control and surrender the rest to God."
Take space to care for your heart
When you sense your body is starting to respond to a difficult emotion, even if you cannot name that emotion, give yourself space to find comfort, clarity and objectivity. This may require you to physically remove yourself from what's triggering you – such as a conflict with your spouse – and give yourself at least 20 minutes to calm down. Drink some water, take a shower, make a cup of tea, go for a walk – find what works for you and return in a healthier state of mind.
Stop and check your emotional health
According to Jill Savage, we need to regularly address heart issues like unforgiveness, lust, idolatry, pride and bitterness. “These sins tend to creep into our lives and too often we defend our right to hold on to them,” she explains. If, after checking your heart, you see these sins at play, confess them to God and repent by choosing to be emotionally healthy – for your sake and the sake of your marriage.
Be the change you want to see
If you want to see a change in your spouse, the best thing you can do is set an example of that change yourself. Grow in your relationship with God to encourage them to do the same. Practice selflessness and kindness, gentleness and forgiveness, and hopefully you'll see them follow your lead.
All of us have expectations of our spouse and our marriage relationship, whether we realize it or not. It’s important to understand that many of these expectations come from the family culture we grew up in. Identifying and communicating these to your spouse will help you both in the long run.
Learn the art of self-care
Self-care is about making sure you are caring for your own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Know that when you’re intentional about caring for yourself, you’re better able to give back to your marriage and family.
Recharge your batteries
As helpful as it is to learn about your spouse’s personality, it’s even more crucial for you to understand your own. Take the time to think about how you best recharge. Do you feel energized after being in a group or do you need time alone to feel more like yourself again? Once you know what you need, be sure to communicate this to your spouse and ask them to do the same.
Rethink your media diet
Popular entertainment often has a low opinion of marriage, and those attitudes can quickly work their way into our minds if we’re not careful. Always be sure to “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7) when it comes to what you’re watching.
The three-question test
Author Annie Chapman suggests that before you say anything – especially to your in-laws – you ask yourself three questions: “Is what I’m going to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” This will keep you from saying something you might later regret.
When in doubt, check your heart
In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller suggests that “when facing any problem in marriage, the first thing you look for at the base of it is, in some measure, self-centeredness and an unwillingness to serve or minister to the other.”
Count your blessings
Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a wake-up call for us to open our eyes to all the things we have to be grateful for – especially in our marriage. Get ahead of the game by regularly counting your blessings and looking at everything you’re thankful for in your marriage and in your spouse.
Think before you speak
When out with friends or family, it can be tempting to join in negative griping about your marriage and spouse. But before you speak, think about whether or not the words you're saying are building up your spouse or tearing them down.
It can be tempting to think your spouse should complete you, but Gary Thomas, in Sacred Marriage, warns against looking for fulfillment in your spouse: “Don’t blame your spouse for a lack of fulfillment; blame yourself for not pursuing a fulfilling relationship with God.”
Stop, look and go
David Steindl-Rast’s simple method of being grateful is one that can easily be applied to your marriage. When you find yourself constantly finding problems that need to be solved – and even when you don’t – take the time to stop, look for something you appreciate in your spouse and go forward with that gratitude at the forefront of your mind.
Not being your spouse’s parent
In your marriage, do you often confuse your role as a parent and as a spouse? After a while, it’s easy to get used to telling your kids what to do and how to do it; however, these modes of communication are reserved for your children and not your spouse. Likely, you won’t get very far with your spouse by speaking to him as one of the kids. Instead, be aware of your tone of voice, body language and the fact that your spouse has a specific role in the family with a say in how things could be done.
Give yourself a hug
Take the time to intentionally affirm your own gifting and abilities. If you believe in yourself, you’ll be able to positively build up your spouse.
Honesty is important for a thriving marriage, but knowing when and where to express criticism and opinions on a touchy subject takes practice in the art of self-editing. In the heat of an argument, uttering every negative or critical thought that comes to mind can wound your spouse and ultimately harm your marriage. Instead, hold your tongue on thoughts aimed at tearing down your spouse. This is not to say that you can’t share your innermost concerns with your spouse; it does mean, however, that couples must learn to make their marriage a safe place where they can deal with conflict. Learn to speak what’s on your heart with a spirit of humility, and become a better judge of what thoughts are appropriate for the moment and which ones are generated by a desire to hurt the other person.
Take care of yourself
Be sure to take care of your spiritual and physical health through devotions and exercise. This will improve your quality of life and help you become all you can be for your spouse.
Log in your eye
Remember when you and your spouse first started dating and it seemed as they though could do no wrong? Remember when you got to know them better and some of their habits started to irritate you? Now that you’re married, you may find that some of their habits are more intolerable than others. Before letting these annoyances become bigger than they should be, remember to look at your own bad habits, too. Nobody’s perfect!
If only he were like . . .
For many women, curling up with a romantic movie or book is an ideal pastime. Love and relationships make for great fiction, but it’s all too easy to let unrealistic portrayals of love and “perfect” characters direct how we view our marriage. Whether you fancy the straight-laced Mr. Darcy or the rebellious James Dean type, comparing your husband with idealized characters sets him up against impossible expectations – and could leave you less satisfied with your marriage. If your imagination is affecting your perspective, perhaps it’s time to turn off the tube or put down that book, and get totally carried away with your real-life hero.
Make no mistake
If you’re married, it’s time to stop wondering if you made the right decision when you chose your spouse. It’s time to start doing everything you can to make that the right decision.
Financial wants and needs
Whether you and your spouse are facing an involuntary career change or you’re preparing for a rainy day, setting a realistic budget starts with discerning your wants and your needs. This requires open, honest, grace-filled communication, especially if your “need” (e.g., a gym membership) is considered a “want” to your spouse. Remember that you’re on the same team and look for alternatives that you can both agree on (e.g., setting up an at-home gym).
Face your money fears
Everyone has fears and misgivings when it comes to money. Sometimes it’s due to how we were raised, other times it’s because of our past experiences. Whatever it is, take the time to address the lingering fears you have and have an open conversation with your spouse about your misgivings.
Make a money autobiography
Karen Lee, a certified financial planner, recommends that each spouse writes a “money autobiography” to help understand what influences your personal relationship with money and spending. Think about how your parents spent money and what habits you do without even knowing why.
The "Money Huddle"
Financial advisers Scott and Bethany Palmer recommend couples take 45 minutes, once a month for a “Money Huddle.” This is not the time to discuss budgets, debts and investments. It’s a calm conversation to tap into the emotional and relational side of your finances. Use this chat to reconnect, to learn more about your spouse’s views on money and to dream about your future together.
Set a monthly budget
Money becomes an issue in every marriage but it can be managed with a budget. Simply list all of your regular expenses, subtract them from your total monthly income and then determine how much you can use for spending. That way, you know where your money is going in advance. If possible, try to set some aside into your savings account toward a long-term goal or for emergencies.
Keeping up with the in-laws
If you’re on vacation with your extended family, it may feel exhausting trying to complete your combined holiday itinerary. But remember: your in-laws may be trying to keep up with you as much as you’re keeping up with them. Sometimes people in a group are waiting for that one brave person to speak up and suggest a time-out.
New Year’s resolutions
Don’t settle for empty resolutions that you’ll never keep. Sit down with your spouse and make tangible, reachable goals for your relationship. Want to go on regular date nights? Want to attend a retreat? Want to read a book together? Set goals that will draw you together and keep each other accountable!
The lights of Christmas
During the busyness of the Christmas season, carve out quality time with your spouse to enjoy your city or town’s special holiday lights. Bundle up, grab a cup of hot cocoa while you “ooh and ah” through town. If you’d rather stay warm, hop in your car for a slow cruise through decorated neighbourhoods, and discuss your favourites.
An Advent devotional
With Advent just beginning, why not start the season off by committing to regular devotional readings with your spouse? The hustle and bustle of the holidays can distract us from the true meaning of Christmas. Get started with this year’s free Advent devotional!
A holiday getaway
Does holiday stress have you and your spouse desperate for some quiet downtime? During the month of December, plan at least one weekend getaway with your mate and leave behind the chores, commitments and chaos of the season to give your marital intimacy a boost. Slowing down the Christmas rush could be as easy as cozying up in a local bed and breakfast, a rented cabin or house-sitting the home of friends or family going out of town. Or, if fitting in a getaway is nearly impossible, reserve one day of the week for a relaxing time with your spouse, avoiding malls and other places bustling from Christmas-season activity. Together, you can explore a nearby nature walk, snowshoe through a forest or visit the next town. Even if it’s snowing outside, bundle up, bring your boots and enjoy the quiet of a snow-filled vista.
Romance in the little things
To make your spouse feel even more special this Valentine’s Day, hijack their to-do list for the day and complete some of those tasks to give them an easier, hassle-free day. If your spouse usually takes care of arranging the babysitting, grocery shopping, walking the dog or making lunch for the kids, take on a few of these to alleviate your mate’s workload. They may only be chores, but freeing up your mate’s busy schedule can help your spouse feel loved and to relax during your special night out.
Five days of Valentines
Instead of giving your spouse their annual treat on Valentine’s, why not spoil them for the five days leading up to the romantic day? Each day, plan out something small to give or do for your love. Ideas include: love notes or emails, brownies with red and white icing, heart-shaped cookies – you name it! Your mate will love all the special treatment!
De-stress Thanksgiving dinner
Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner can be a lot of work. Even between husband and wife, cooking a turkey and all the fixin’s for family or friends is no easy task. If both of you aren’t used to working together in the kitchen, alleviate some of the Thanksgiving-dinner stress by going over expectations and prep duties together before the big night. For example, list the tasks that need to be done, and distribute them according to each of your strengths and giftings. For example, if your spouse does not excel at cooking, perhaps they can help chop foods, prepare drinks, set the table, entertain the guests and/or help with post-dinner cleanup. This way, each of you can make use of the different gifts God has given you, and share the load to better enjoy Thanksgiving day.
© 2021 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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