No, really, this is a serious question. What’s the point? If you don’t have a goal, objective, or specific outcome in mind, or if you don’t know what you and your partner’s needs are and how best to fulfill them, how can you know whether or not you’re being successful in your partnership?
Having the wrong goals or “point” to your marriage can leave you feeling frustrated, alone, or even reeling in confusion or anger. Speaking of anger (this will all tie together, so stay with me here), I saw a quote on social media the other day that got me really upset:
“You deserve to be with somebody who makes you happy. Somebody who doesn’t complicate your life. Somebody who won’t hurt you.”
This quote got me riled up because this is the kind of hogwash cooked up by a social media manager in desperate need of some validating “likes.” It can destroy relationships because it is offering an ineffective platitude that people will take as serious advice.
Is unending happiness the goal? Sounds boring.
So, here’s another honest question: since when did the pinnacle of relationship achievement become existing in a constant, unchanging state of happiness, simplicity, and total safety? When did the fantasy of “and they lived happily ever after“ stop being the end of a storybook for kids and turn into literal #lifegoals?
I don’t remember “providing your partner with an endless supply of happiness” being in the details for me or my wife when we signed up for this marriage thing. Social psychologist Eli Finkel argues in his book, The All or Nothing Marriage, how, in today’s world, couples expect more and more of each other. We rely on each other for many aspects of socialization and support that, prior to the 20th century, many people found outside of their marriages.
Don’t get me wrong, I think happiness is great. It’s necessary in all aspects of life, and especially in a relationship. But it’s also a fluid emotion that comes and goes based on how your stomach reacts to the burrito you ate for lunch today, your coworker’s irritable habits, what’s happening in the White House this week, if your baseball team wins or loses, or who lives or dies on Game of Thrones.
Happiness is not a strong, stable foundation upon which to build lasting, committed love. It is simply too unstable, fleeting, and constantly in flux, and the ways in which we achieve happiness changes as we change over time.
Honestly, sustained and immutable happiness is arguably the most ineffective goal you could set for your relationship because it’s not possible to achieve. The reality of happiness, just like any other emotion, is that it comes and goes, just like the in-laws during the holidays, 80’s fashion, or stomach cramps.
Well, today it’s time to bust out another cold, hard truth:
The point of marriage is not happiness. The point of marriage is growth.
The Human Growth Machine
The key to becoming a truly successful couple is to take action and expand your comfort zone. Marriage is what Dr. David Schnarch, author of the book Passionate Marriage, calls a “Human Growth Machine.” And Finkel also posits that, in our world, “a new kind of marriage has emerged, one that can promote self-discovery, self-esteem, and personal growth like never before.” I love the idea of having a growth-centered marriage. That is something I can achieve, and it feels satisfying to grow and improve. It is a tangible goal.
Regarding goals: in the last few years I started doing something I never thought I’d do. I lift weights.
I used to be a slender little guy. I once dropped a girl when I was country dancing and was so embarrassed by my weak muscles that I never went back. Then I hit the gym. I remember when I first started lifting, I squatted 225 pounds and my coach was like, “Dude, Nate! That’s awesome!”
I was so proud of myself! So, I kept at it.
A few years later, after grinding away at the gym every week, I now squat around 345 pounds. Big improvement, right? And every time I add another pound, I feel like a champion because growth is satisfying and progress feels amazing.
How to keep your marriage strong for the long run
Now I apply the principles I used in the weight room to my marriage. For example, I used to get anxious when my wife was feeling sad or stressed. And I used to snap at her if I felt attacked or threatened. For over a year I’ve been working to improve myself in this area. I practice self-soothing, taking deep breaths, and thinking before I speak, and giving my wife the benefit of the doubt and trying to understand her perspective when I feel hurt.
I’m definitely not perfect (a little secret: nobody is!), but I’m getting better at managing conflictbetween us and using it as an opportunity for understanding and growth. I’m less stressed out when she is. I snap at her less. My wife even smiles compassionately at me when she sees me taking deep breaths, or using the plans we’ve put in place to help us fight better and love smarter.
She’s commented that I’m improving, and because of that, we’re improving as a couple. But, like working out, it’s not easy, and especially not at first. It stretches your comfort zone. It pushes you to your limits. It expands your capacities as a human being. And this painful stretching and expanding and growing means that, sometimes, your partner and your marriage will not make you happy.
Honestly, marriage is a challenge. And it’s a good one because marriage reveals your limitations and exposes your weaknesses, flaws, and vulnerabilities. Marriage makes you painfully aware of how impatient you might be, of your struggles to say “no” to things that aren’t important and “yes” to things that are, and of how challenging it is to navigate your differences when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, or simply hangry.
Marriage challenges you to deal with sickness, tragedy, financial stresses, changes in faith or beliefs, job loss, weight gain, raising kids, losing parents and other family members, and you have to do it all while supporting and satisfying another emotional human being!
You can’t tackle this stuff and come out on the other side still in love with each other by remaining the exact same people you were when you started. You can’t go through all of that together while remaining in perpetual bliss. You have to constantly grow and evolve into the version of you that’s capable of facing and overcoming the unique challenges that life throws at you at any given moment.
That dynamic won’t feel like perfection, but that’s actually what you want. In fact, Dr. John Gottman argues strongly in favor of a good enough marriage when he states that today, couples “expect to be treated with kindness, love, affection, and respect. They do not tolerate emotional or physical abuse. They expect their partner to be loyal. This does not mean they expect their relationship to be free of conflict. Even happily married couples argue. Conflict is healthy because it leads to greater understanding.”
You will be confronted with uncomfortable truths throughout your marriage. It might be about sex, or money, or time spent together, or parenting, or all of that. Things won’t always work out how you plan them, and plans may need to change if you’re going to have the relationship you want.
Having someone challenge you to expand and grow can make things feel worse before they get better. It may even put the relationship on the line if you or your partner refuse to confront your own flaws, or if you won’t take responsibility when things go wrong. If the Four Horsemen come charging into the dynamic, then you might be doomed if you don’t find ways to fight them off.
But this is what love is really about. It is not always about always pleasing your partner, or always being pleased yourself. Instead, it is about supporting your partner.
Pleasing your partner means you make sure they are happy and comfortable and worry-free, and there will be times you must do that. But if that’s your primary goal, it might cause you to be overly agreeable and accommodating even when your partner is being unkind or hurtful. And we all make those mistakes, but pleasing your partner also means shielding your partner from anything that could make them feel challenged or uncomfortable.
Like the uncomfortable experience of growth.
Supporting your partner means you have their best interests at heart and you intentionally act to uphold and achieve those interests. It means you stand by their side, you help them, you have their back, and sometimes it means you engage in conflict about difficult truths and regrettable incidents. True partners dedicate themselves to the person they love and to the bond they share, even when those acts of dedication might be temporarily painful due to the positive growth it causes.
Dedication to that positive growth forces you to identify and open up about your weaknesses, insecurities, and fears is exactly what leads to the periods of happiness, trust, connection, passion, and commitment.
Is that the kind of love you want? Or are you willing to settle for less?
The Marriage Minute is an email newsletter from The Gottman Institute that will improve your marriage in 60 seconds or less. Over 40 years of research with thousands of couples has proven a simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up below.
Your Marriage: You Have No Idea of the Good You Are Doing
byDoug Mainwaring within Marriage
None of us can truly gauge the impact of our lives on others.
The most riveting, wise, and helpful statement I have heard in recent years was shared by Ifeyinwa Awagu of Lagos, Nigeria, for the 2014 Vatican Humanum Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman:
The couple is the locus, it’s a starting point, but it’s a ripple . . . Whatever I do in my marriage, the circle keeps increasing, keeps widening, until it covers the whole world. Marriage is beyond us. It’s about the society. It is your own project for the world.
Ify’s statement is pure gold, displaying immense truth and gravitas. To illustrate why, I begin with this example from my own life.
While my wife and I were still divorced, our younger son, Chris, would occasionally spend the weekend at the home of his middle school friend, Ray. When he arrived back home, he wouldn’t say anything in particular, but I could read his body language and perceive what was left unsaid. I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that Chris really liked spending time at Ray’s house, and the reason was clear: he loved their family life.
All I had to do was look into Chris’s eyes to see that he wished he had a family like theirs—a family with a gregarious, big-hearted, and affectionate Mom and Dad who clearly loved each other. I knew that this was precisely what I had deprived Chris and his brother of.
It was this very loving marriage that first caused me to wonder if I had made a huge mistake in divorcing my wife and breaking our family apart. And after each of Chris’s subsequent visits with Ray’s family, I became more convinced of my grave error. I knew that I needed to repair what I had broken. Yet Chris never made a single direct statement about this. He never said why he enjoyed spending time with their family or explicitly compared it with ours. Although I don’t know if he could have articulated it if he had tried, I received the message loud and clear. Eventually, I realized that I had no choice but to find a way to bring our family back together.
Meanwhile, Ray’s family simply carried on life as usual. They had never made an attempt to address our family situation; they just simply lived their lives as faithful Catholics and as faithful loving spouses to each other. They had never spoken a word of judgment, encouragement, or advice to me, and I had never once said a word to them about my broken marriage. In fact, at that stage we barely knew each other except to say “Hi” at our sons’ football games. Our lives touched only through our sons, yet that was enough.
This family had no idea how much good they were doing for me and my broken family just by the way they were living their lives. Somehow, their Catholic faith, their joy, their love, and their faithfulness overflowed and cascaded into my life via my son.
Were it not for this family, I’m not sure I would ever have had that first thought implanted in my mind about bringing our family back together. Although I was completely irreligious at the time, it seems to me that this was God’s gentle way of getting me to see that I had erred and needed to do something about it. God didn’t send somebody to club me over the head or rebuke me. Instead, He brought me into indirect contact—into the distant outer orbit—of a couple whose lives deeply, quietly touched mine. I am one of the beneficiaries of the ripples emanating out from their loving marriage.
When I finally had lunch with Ray’s parents a few years later and thanked them for what they had done, they were completely taken by surprise. They had no inkling of the important role they had played in our lives.
Yet the ripples of their faithful marriage continue to expand. Not only have my wife and I been back together for nearly six years, I also returned to full communion with the Catholic Church after a nearly twenty-year absence.
None of us can truly gauge the impact of our lives on others. Yet, even without your knowing it, the witness displayed by your faithful marriage might be the lighthouse that guides and helps others to hold their marriage and family together. You could be saving a family from the destructive influence of the world. You could be leading someone to the threshold of faith, and you may never even hear about it.
Your Marriage: Ground Zero for Astounding Good
You probably have no clue of the enormous good you do by cherishing your marriage, your spouse, and your family, and by simply living your life as a faithful Christian. Your personal relationship and commitment to Christ reverberates all around you, sending out ripples that affect the lives of others in unseen and unexpected ways.
This kind of impact is extremely personal and therefore difficult to quantify or measure. Yet legitimate social science seems to bear out the point I am making. As Kay Hymowitz has observed, children “have a better chance at thriving when their own father lives with them and their mother throughout their childhood—and for boys, this is especially the case.” She continues:
A highly publicized recent study by the Equality of Opportunity Project comparing social mobility by region found that areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. The reverse also held: areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children. In fact, a community’s dominant family structure was the strongest predictor of mobility—bigger than race or education levels. This research suggests that having plenty of married fathers around creates cultural capital that helps every member of the Little League team.[emphasis mine]
In miraculous manner, the blessings and benefit of intact families spills out of their homes and into surrounding households. I’m not a social scientist, but history, observation, and common sense all support Ify Awagu’s statement: “Whatever I do in my marriage, the circle keeps increasing, keeps widening, until it covers the whole world.”
Upholding the Dignity of Your Spouse
Marriage is bigger and more important than either husband or wife alone. Perhaps that more easily resonates as true for couples with kids, but it is just as true whether children are present or not. While marriage has been under attack throughout human history, beginning in the Garden of Eden, in recent decades it has suffered catastrophic blows thanks to the ongoing sexual revolution, a revolution that has produced countless casualties.
Through my own marriage—with all the mistakes and detours—my wife and I have created something that is irrevocable and unmovable. What we began at the altar in 1985 in front of our families, guests, and God can’t be undone. Two became one, and an entirely new entity came to being in the universe. Not a metaphoric creation, but a reality. A wonderful, utterly unique new alloy was forged. It can be ignored or abused, but those choices don’t undo the mandate that fell into our laps that hot July afternoon nearly thirty-two years ago. When my time on this planet has reached its end, my marriage will have been the single most important contribution I will have made.
There is never a good reason not to uphold your spouse’s dignity—in front of the kids, in front of friends and family, in private conversations with your spouse, and even in your own mind where nobody else can see or hear. Belittling, cold-shouldering, name-calling, and tearing down or undermining your spouse’s dignity in any way is always destructive and never helpful, demonstrating an absence of unconditional love. Even negative humor is far from harmless. It’s not funny; it’s a visceral personal attack on your spouse’s dignity.
In my marriage, we’ve had to deal with my same-sex attraction, family histories of addictive behavior, financial difficulties, major health issues, and much more. Sadly, a combination of those things once led to our separation and divorce, for which I take full responsibility. But, in the end, good has outweighed bad, and human dignity and love have slowly and steadily triumphed over animosity and isolation.
How do you heal a relationship that self-destructed, which had lost its moorings for more than a decade? I have no easy answer, but I do know that the first step is this: you must choose to recognize the importance and irrevocability of your covenanted relationship and to uphold the dignity of your spouse and your relationship every day, no matter what, repenting when necessary.
Since reconciling (and that’s too weak a term—it has really been a complete change of heart and a hard-fought renewal of our minds), we have continued to face both big and small challenges, one after another. Rather than allowing them to tear us apart or let our relationship fray at the edges, to give up or to say “this is too hard for me,” my wife has upheld my dignity as husband and father, and I have upheld hers as wife and mother.
My wife’s love for me, especially during the darkest times when I’ve been at my most weak and vulnerable, has been a direct conduit of God’s love to me. In fact, the greater the personal challenges I have faced, the more she has honored me with dignity and respect. There is a miraculous, inverse relationship between the weight of difficulties and weaknesses present and the degree of dignity accorded. It’s counter intuitive. It’s the opposite of the way things work in the world, but it’s a reflection of God’s unconditional love. Upholding each other’s dignity allows grace to flow into and lift our marriage day after challenging day.
For every objection or fear, worry, regret, or apprehension I can come up with, I’ve taught myself this two-word response: “So what?” Our marriage is more important than any reservation I encounter.
- I’m unhappy. So what?
- I’m same-sex attracted. So what?
- I’m disappointed. So what?
- We’re having financial difficulties. So what?
- We’ve become incompatible. So what?
- We’ve gotten older and gained weight. So what?
- My spouse has developed bad habits. So what?
- I didn’t bargain for these medical or psychological problems. So what?
- I’ve met someone I like better. So what?
Here’s what I say: “I can handle that, and I do so with pleasure. We can address and overcome these problems. We’ll navigate difficult waters together, even if it falls upon me to do all the paddling and steering while plugging all the newly sprung holes in the hull.”
Instead of fretting or wistfully daydreaming about something that might have been better, realize this: there is no better option, because you have no greater, more important mission.
If it weren’t for the presence of dark times, I don’t think godly, unconditional love and dignity would have ever had a chance to take root and grow between my wife and me. Personal experience has taught me that the Church truly is a field hospital within our own home. That makes sense, because the domestic church is right up on the front lines where battles can be treacherous, and where wounds, both old and newly inflicted, can often present themselves. If willing, spouses can serve as medics. The very best medics.
Don’t be caught by surprise, don’t despair, don’t give up, and don’t be afraid. Instead, resolve with all your might to hang on to your life’s greatest mission and treasure. Even if it feels like a daily burden, it remains a pearl of great price. Ify is right: “Marriage is beyond us. It’s about the society. It is your own project for the world.”
Ify first spoke these words in Lagos, Nigeria: “Whatever I do in my marriage, the circle keeps increasing, keeps widening, until it covers the whole world.” I first heard her words in Rome, Italy, and they have continued to have enormous influence on me and my family here in the United States. I owe a debt of gratitude not only to Ray’s parents, whom I now count as friends, but to Ify and her husband, Chidi. We have never met, but their marriage has touched my life in a profound way.
Marriage is the big project that I have chosen for myself and it’s the big mission that I’ve been charged with. We have solemnly created our marriage, God has solemnly blessed it, and now we must solemnly live it. It is our project for the world.
A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that those who consider their spouse to be their best friend are twice as satisfied with their lives overall. The study controls for pre-marital well-being levels, age, gender, income, and health status.
What is a best friend? Foremost, Melanie Curtin opines, “a best friend has your back.”
Dr. John Gottman has spent his career studying successful marriages. Happier couples more often fulfill their partner’s “bid” for an emotional connection. As partners make emotional connections, each feels that the other is "on their side."
Do you have your spouse’s back? Are you on your partner’s side? If not, what do you think is getting in your way?
Those unsatisfied in their marriage might answer that their relationship hasn’t turned out the way they hoped; they are not getting what they need, and they’re tired of giving more than they get.
You can again have your partner’s back if you are willing to relinquish faulty ideas that corrode your marriage.
In her book, A Gift of Love: Marriage as a Spiritual Journey, Ann Linthorst believes marital difficulties begin with a focus on “separate, individual egos trying to get along with each other.” This orientation narrows our thinking to getting the best marital deal for ourselves, rather than having our spouse’s back.
When your spouse does something you don’t like, Linthorst points out, your ego’s thinking traverses these familiar paths: “He/she shouldn’t have done what he/she did. It made me mad. I have a right to be mad because I was badly treated and I’m going to stay mad until he/she says or does what I want him/her to. I’m not going to give in first because it was his/her fault.”
Whether we voice our grievances or keep them to ourselves, much of our commentary is about who or what is to blame for what is happening and how we feel because of what is happening.
Notice how these thought patterns place our ego at the center of the universe. An ego orientation, Linthorst points out, leads to an “expectation that our spouses will govern their lives in a way which will please us.”
How often have you caught yourself in “my spouse should” thoughts?
If we don’t rise above ego’s limited perspective, Linthorst cautions that marriage can become “a series of ‘marital movies,’ interpersonal dramas, written, produced, and directed by and starring the two egos of the marriage partners.”
Whew! Sitting through these self-produced movies is exhausting and dispiriting.
In ego land, resolution of grievances is nothing but temporary. Each partner is reacting to the other by producing grievance movies of their own. Linthorst puts it this way, “You never get as much of what you think you need from others, and what you provide to others is never adequate by their—or by your own—standards.”
Linthorst recommends shifting our mental focus away from our ego’s good (getting what we want) and towards a higher power: “Vitality, health, intelligence, harmony, joy, love, beauty, kindness, generosity, respect, reverence, peace, etc. this is the good of God.”
If you were able to speak to each partner during a martial squabble, they would tell you they want harmony, joy, and love; and then may come a but: “But why should I be the one to do it all.” When there’s a but, Linthorst writes, “Each individual remains more interested in the ego-good — the drama, the bad feelings, having the spouse come across with the desired behavior — than in the good of God.”
How do you shift your orientation away from your ego’s good toward a higher power? Here are five steps:
First, acknowledge where you are. Everyone’s ego is selfish, so you are in good company.
Second, don’t deny your ego patterns; simply observe them.
Third, take 100 percent responsibility for your thinking; yet do not justify your thoughts.
Fourth, ask yourself if you are well served by the ego patterns you observe.
Finally, as you look at yourself, be willing to feel embarrassed by your antics.
It is helpful to observe how hard you must work to maintain your ego orientation. If you can, remember a time you were upset with your partner for days and then made the choice to let go of the upset. It may be hard to recall what was upsetting you. The moment you are willing to let go, the upset vanishes into nothing. Your ego’s good must be maintained, moment by moment, in a fantasy world in opposition to Reality. The good of God is Reality.
When we are not aligned with the good of God, we are not aligned with harmony, joy, and love. We may think we are justified in choosing the ego’s good, but happiness eludes us. When we stop working so hard on behalf of our ego’s good, in rushes the good of God.
Linthorst points out, “We cannot make our interests change, but we can allow them to do so.”
If you went on a diet to improve the health of your physical body, you might notice in the supermarket the many varieties of produce. You might become curious about how to prepare vegetables; and with a little practice, you might see you relish eating more vegetables.
In the same way, consider going on an ego diet. You might notice how you and others suffer under a What about me orientation. You might become aware of your habitual thoughts patterns that fight to maintain the ego’s good. As you release those patterns and experience the good of God in your marriage, you will wonder why the ego’s good once seemed so important to you.
Marriage becomes a joyous and worthwhile journey as you walk on the path to allow the good of God to orient your life.
Suggestions for creating a strong foundation for marriage ministry in your church.
By Scott and Sue Allen
So you have a passion for marriage ministry and you're ready to get started. In fact, you are so motivated that you want to share your plans and enlist anyone who shows interest. Why not? The more, the better, right?
Not so fast!
A key component to a vibrant, growing marriage ministry with staying power is recruiting and equipping the right couples to serve alongside you on the leadership team. So while you may be eager to get started, you will want to take your time recruiting your team members. Then, once you have your team members identified, you will want to take more time training them in effective ministry.
Recruiting team members
Effective ministry is a spiritual battle. Because Satan does not want God’s kingdom to prevail, he will attack. We advise that you not try to initiate a marriage ministry on your own. Enlist a team to share in your victories and your challenges.
The size of your church and your ministry plan will guide you in determining how many couples are needed on the ministry team. A team can be as small as you and one other couple or several couples. Depending on the size of your church, we suggest a leadership team of 4 to 6 couples. If your team is too large, decisions become slowed; too small and members burn out.
Begin by praying for the Lord to send you team members with passion to enrich marriages. We discourage putting out an open invitation for members. This is not a club to join; this is serious kingdom business and requires prioritized commitment.
Schedule a time with your pastor to share your vision and ask him to suggest couples for the ministry’s leadership team. Marriages may not always be as healthy as they seem. Couples may appear to have a great marriage in public, but privately they could be struggling.
Observe couples in your church and seek out the ones who have visibly healthy marriages. When we were enlisting our team members, we sought suggestions from a life coach in our church who provided marital enrichment guidance.
Once you have identified some interested couples, share your ministry vision with them. If they express interest in serving, ask them to take the Prepare/Enrich® couple’s assessment. This assessment will bring to light areas of strength and areas for growth in marriages.
Set a minimum assessment outcome of “Conventional Couple” as a requirement to serve on the leadership team. If a couple is interested but does not have the necessary strengths, ask them to be a part of the marriage support team. This allows them to build into their relationship and serve, but it also protects their marriage from taking on more responsibility than they can handle at this time. It also protects the ministry.
When asking couples to commit to the leadership team, be clear that it is a year commitment and can be renewed annually. This helps the team to have stability and continuity.
Equipping team members
Once you have your team members enlisted, you must equip them for service. Help your team members to be successful by learning how they serve best and channeling them to serve from their strengths.
With our team, we expected each couple to lead a class annually. At first, facilitating was overwhelming, so we spent time training in facilitation skills. Using a six-week study with team members, we asked each couple to lead the class for one session. Afterward, we reviewed the session and made suggestions as to how to improve their facilitating skills.
This was a friendly environment where they could learn without judgment. Each couple's confidence increased and they realized facilitating was not too difficult once they learned some basic skills. Today, the couples who were apprehensive at leading a class six years ago are confidently leading classes and speaking during marriage events to large audiences.
Beyond facilitating classes, you will need members to do many other tasks. As you get to know members, match their service with their strengths. We suggest meeting weekly for the first few months to develop cohesiveness and camaraderie. During your meetings, include prayer, planning, fun, and food. Be prayer warriors for one another and be a source of help and support in each other’s lives outside of your meetings as well. Share life with each other. We enjoyed bonfires, bowling, concerts, ball games, retreats, and meals together.
As your team evolves, some members may decide to work with other ministries or conclude their involvement. As couples leave the team, recognize and honor their involvement. Then add others through vetting and unanimous support from the remaining members of the team.
Recruiting the right team members and equipping them to serve will provide a strong foundation for the ministry plans you develop.
Meet the Authors: Scott and Sue Allen
Scott and Sue Allen live in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee. As lay leaders, they speak at events and retreats and provide marriage enrichment through mentoring and coaching. Over the last seven years, they have directly applied their experiences through successfully launching a marriage ministry in a church of 450 people.
One of the things that Jake appreciates about Kristin is her way of showing love through her actions. Jake puts it like this: “When I come home after a long day and Kristin is there, she usually gives me a hug and wants to know how my day went.”
According to a new study by researchers at Penn State University, you don’t need grand gestures to show your partner love. In fact, this team found that small gestures, such as hugging, holding hands, and regular acts of kindness all top the list of how most Americans report feeling loved and appreciated.
Kristin explains: “It’s the everyday moments that matter. Jake and I have found that little things make a difference. When I forgot to pay my cell phone bill, Jake noticed it lying on the counter unopened and quickly called in the payment so it wouldn’t be late.”
Look for ways to show love with small gestures
In The All Or Nothing Marriage, psychologist Dr. Eli J. Finkel explains that many easy actions, or “lovehacks,” aimed at improving your relationship can be done in five minutes or less. For instance, you can write your partner an endearing and charming love note, hold their hand, or give them a hug. Think of fun and special places to leave love notes.
Create daily rituals of connection
Dr. John Gottman recommends spending at 15-20 minutes daily having a stress-reducing conversation with your partner. Examine the schedules of family members and determine when there is a dependable time you are both available. Consider enjoying a daily walk together or unplugging and talking about your day over a cup of your favorite beverage.
You can create other rituals of connection, too, such as a six-second kiss (which Dr. Gottman calls “a kiss with potential”) before leaving the house or when coming home, or making sure to text each other throughout the day with positive, loving messages to help you both feel connected.
Make a habit out of using kind and polite words such as please, sorry, and thank you
Would you rather go to bed resentful, or would you prefer cuddling with your partner after repairing an argument? Studies suggest that couples who apologize when they’ve hurt their partner’s feelings (even if done so accidentally) and grant forgiveness have a more successful marriage. Apologizing and taking responsibility is an antidote to defensiveness, which is one of four negative behaviors that Dr. Gottman proved to consistently lower the quality of a relationship. And when you can make repair attempts, like apologizing after an argument, it helps to decrease tension and make you feel more connected to your partner.
Take action and offer support to your partner
This can include helping them complete tasks, run an errand, or finish a project. These positive actions lead to interdependence. As you coordinate your plans with your partner, you create a sense of purpose and shared meaning in your marriage. Creating a larger context of meaning in life can help couples to avoid focusing only on the little stuff that happens and to keep their eyes on the big picture.
In The Relationship Cure, Dr. John Gottman explains that the small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have more power than isolated, excessive gestures when it comes to creating and sustaining lasting love. Therapist Liz Higgins, LMFTA, informs us that Dr. Gottman’s motto is “small things often,” which includes turning towards your partner as much as possible to create a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not important to celebrate big events such as anniversaries and birthdays with more grand gestures of love and romance, but just don’t forget to offer little, daily kindnesses to your partner, which are the most important gestures of connection.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The Penn State University research team discovered that actions speak louder than words. “We found that behavioral actions—rather than purely verbal expressions—triggered more consensus as indicators of love. For example, more people agreed that a child snuggling with them was more loving than someone simply saying, ‘I love you,’” Heshmati said. “You might think they would score on the same level, but people were more in agreement about loving actions, where there’s more authenticity perhaps, instead of a person just saying something.”
Kristin reflects: “I never realized the importance of doing simple things to make Jake feel loved until he pointed it out. Growing up, my family wasn’t very affectionate but Jake lets me know how much a kiss on the lips and an embrace means to him.”
It would be easy for Kristin and Jake to neglect each other’s needs since they have two school-age children. Their sons both have demanding after school activities and play soccer on the weekends. However, Kristin and Jake embrace the notion that in order for their marriage to thrive, they need to pay attention to each other on a regular basis and intentionally turn towards each other’s bids for connection.
Jake speaks: “Kristin loves and appreciates me. Since we have kids, we make sure to go out for dinner at least once or twice a month by ourselves. We also show our love by the small things we do for each other like sending each other a loving text message during the day.”
In order to feel alive in your marriage, you need to put effort into spending quality time together—with an emphasis on giving small gestures of love. Responding positively to your partner’s overtures for connection will help you bring out the best in one another and keep your marriage fulfilling. Give your partner the gift of love and appreciation in small ways every day!
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Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW is a therapist, author, and college instructor. Two of Terry’s research studies have been published in the Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. Her popular book Daughters of Divorce won the 2016 “Best Book” Award in the self-help: relationships category and a silver medal for Independent Publishers in the category of self-help. She is also a contributor to The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and DivorcedMoms.com. Follow Terry at her website,