Every year, there are more than two million weddings in the United States—occasions full of hope and excitement as a couple embarks on their new union. But then there is also this sobering statistic: ever year, there are about one million divorces across the country.
Over time, a variety of forces tug for couples’ attention: building careers, having children, extended family issues, financial issues and health difficulties. By the time a couple comes into my office, their relationship has suffered and left them wondering what happened.
Here are 11 steps that I encourage couples to take to help get their relationship back on track. If your marriage is already healthy, consider this list for any tips that will help you make it stronger:
1. Make your relationship a priority again. Yes, even over the kids. The best gift you can provide your family is a happy marriage that models a healthy relationship. Besides, they will grow up and move out of the house (I promise!); if you haven’t worked on the marriage when they were growing up, you won’t have a marriage when they move out.
2. Commit to a regular date night. Couples need to get out and have fun! Show me a couple who has fun together frequently and I will show you a good relationship. Young or old, people who have regular fun together like each other--period.
3. Respect each other. When one partner consistently feels dismissed, rejected and condescended to, the relationship is in a bad place. Sadly, we tend to treat others better than we treat our partners. You are not always going to agree, but learn to see things from your partner’s viewpoint. As we counselors like to say, “You can be right, or you can be married.”
4. Learn to communicate well. It amazes me when people who have learned how to negotiate multi-million dollar business deals say they can't communicate with their spouses. Learn basic communication skills and use them with your partner. Learn to negotiate. When you negotiate a business deal, you may not get everything you want, but you have to be OK with the deal in the end. Same goes for your marriage.
5. Show appreciation. Let your partner know what you appreciate about them. When your partner helps you in some way, express how much you appreciate what they have done. That communication can come through words, such as a phone call or a text message, or in some other way, such as an unexpected gift (like flowers or a card). Be as creative as you like—it can mean the world to your partner.
6. Be affectionate. Hold hands, give your partner a hug. There's a difference
between knowing that you're loved and feeling that you're loved. Sometimes, we rely
too much on the fact that our partners should know that we love them even when we don't show it. The best relationships use affection to show love.
7. Practice acceptance. Accept your partner for who he or she is. We can't change them into someone else—only they can do that. Let go of the "If only….!"
8. Extend forgiveness. Leave the past in the past. We all make mistakes and if we could go back and change what has happened, most of us would do just that. When you let go of the past, you unleash your ability to work together as a team and build a positive future.
9. Take responsibility for your own happiness. It is not up to anyone else to make you happy. You can choose to be happy in this relationship or you can decide not to be happy. Either way, you’re the one in charge of this department.
10. Be accountable. When you say you are going to do something, do it. Don't blow off picking up the dry cleaning, mowing the lawn or making dinner when you have said you will do it. Failure in this area destroys trust, an indispensable ingredient for marriages to survive and thrive.
11. Keep your sense of humor. Laugh with each other (not at each other) in the security of the relationship. Laughter is said to make the world go 'round and it may with your relationship, too. It has all sorts of health benefits—increased blood flow, strengthened immune system, decreased blood sugar levels…and more vibrant marriages. Don't forget to laugh!