We have just celebrated Thanksgiving and are now upon the very Eve of Christmas. How about celebrating a little marriage in the process? Other than our individual relationship with God, it is our highest calling to be “one flesh” with our spouse . . . So how do we do that? There are thousands of books on marriage, annual retreats, workshops and seminars that all claim to show us the way to happier and healthier marriages. I often wonder which ones are right.
Working with so many families and couples over the years, I have learned there are no magical answers. Three characteristics, however, have consistently stood out to me that are present in couples that are better connected. Yes, there are always fluctuations and I believe that marriages go through seasons, but when these characteristics are sought, things seem to work a little better. When these things are lacking, it is a tougher road.
First of all, time together is a priority. Whether it is a date night, watching a favorite weekly show or trips away together, there is a clear effort on both sides to pursue meaningful time together. One of the biggest obstacles to this is family. It is all too common for us to put our children or their activities ahead of time spent with our spouse. When the parents have a solid investment of time in the marital relationship, the children benefit more than if their interests are center stage. Mutual initiation and pursuit works to counteract the busyness of life that we often get caught up in to the detriment of the relationship.
The second characteristic I observe is that they seek to affirm each other daily. It is easy being as imperfect as we are to focus on the negative, and we all have negative. The problem is that whatever we focus on grabs hold of our attention. It expands in our reality and before long it is all we see, missing or taking for granted positives about each other. When we seek to affirm, we are saying that above all else, we will see the positive and the good. We will encourage each other and “assume the best” by not reading negatively into comments or actions without seeking understanding. We need to share what we appreciate daily like a vitamin for the health of the marriage.
The third characteristic is an ongoing demonstration of affection. I remember having a kid tell me once, “I know they love me, they are supposed to. But you know what, if they showed me every once in a while it would be easier to believe.” Spouses are not much different. We may “know” our spouse loves us, but hearing and seeing it on a regular basis makes a significant difference. How often do we tell our spouse that we love them? When is the last time we sent love notes or cards just for the heck of it? Regular demonstration of affection says that no matter what is going on in the relationship, the other person is always valued and cared about. Think of affection as something that needs to be consistently renewed to have the most impact in the relationship.
It is important to remember that in a relationship, whether it is with a spouse, child, friend, etc . . . there is never neutrality. If we are not pursuing, we are rejecting. If we are not affirming, we are tearing down. If we are not being affectionate, we are neglecting. It is often the subtle slide into this “neutrality” that can be toxic.
To me it is amazing when I see these healthy things happening in a marriage. Communication is better, conflict is less frequent, and obstacles are not as big. So, instead of waiting for the New Year to make a resolution, try one now. Take a look at these three characteristics and see how you are doing. Make a commitment to strengthen them in your relationship and enjoy the outcome. It would make a great early Christmas present to your spouse.