Ah, spring: the season of new life, regeneration and . . . cleaning? Last year, 60 per cent of North American adults said they take part in the annual spring cleaning ritual that leaves their homes nice and tidy. This year, make spring cleaning about more than just wiping out the kitchen cupboards.

"Spring can be a designated time to clean out the dusty corners of the attic and closets of your home," says marriage and family therapist Debbra Bronstad, but it can also be good for something more. "What about a time to talk about the ‘dusty corners’ in your marriage to [help] build a stronger connection to your spouse?"

Getting started

Spring-cleaning your marriage starts with opening your communication channels. Bronstad recommends a simple marriage assessment where each spouse ranks the relationship on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the best. "Talk about what would make [the] marriage even better," she says. Then, talk about how to incorporate those ideas into your daily life.

Second, Bronstad suggests reviewing how you react to conflict. "Marriage researchers have found that it’s not conflict that harms a relationship," she says, "but how you talk about conflict." When you’re in conflict, try to eliminate what Bronstad refers to as the four most common communication killers: defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling (refusing to discuss the issue).

Marriage and finances

Speaking of marriage conflicts, arguments over finances rank at the top of many counsellors’ lists. "One of the dustiest corners in many marriages is money," says Lee Gimpel of Money Habitudes. "It's super important for the health of the relationship, but it's also very difficult to talk about and deal with – so it never gets cleaned up and stays dirty, year after year!"

On a quiet evening – if you have kids, it may help to get a babysitter and go on a coffee date – talk about the state of your finances. What stresses you about your financial situation? What are your expectations? Make sure you’re both on the same page when it comes to budgeting, charitable and church donations, shopping and your day-to-day financial lifestyle.

Give your marriage a good polish

Even marriages that have no visible sources of conflict can drift into the emotional doldrums. "Most couples start out feeling so inspired, enthusiastic, passionate and invigorated around each other," says marriage and family therapist Alisa Bash. Over the years, work deadlines, children and other daily tasks fill your days. Bash notes that this tarnishing of the romantic gleam is an area that many couples should give a swift polish. Here are a few tips to restore the lustre and give your marriage a spring boost:

Explore the changes of the spring season, literally. "Enjoy the outdoors together – hiking, walking, jogging, bicycling, etc.," says Debbie Mandel, MA, author of Addicted to Stress. "Activity alleviates anxiety and will promote quality conversation. Also, physical activity jumpstarts libido for the two of you."

Wash away the past and toss out old hurts. Just as a hidden water leak can erode your home’s foundation, holding a grudge can eat away at the foundation of your relationship. "When we keep everything inside, we are closing ourselves off to a new beginning that God wants to do in our marriage," says author Terri Savelle Foy. "One of my favourite Scriptures is Isaiah 43:18-19: ‘Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth.’

"In order to experience that ‘springing forth’ of a new thing, it requires two things: do not remember or consider the past. How in the world do you forget the past? You stop talking about it, stop meditating on it, stop rehearsing it and stop reminding your mate of it. Spring represents new life. Allow God to do a new thing in your marriage by letting go of the past and holding on to a new beginning."

Go on a date. "A date does not have to be a dinner and a movie," says psychologist Eva Fogelman, PhD. "Do something new that you will both enjoy. One of my patients recently redecorated and painted her children’s rooms with her husband. Any kind of joint project where each of you shares your strengths toward a common goal will rejuvenate your life together."

Reference to the individuals quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organization.

© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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