When couples come to me they’ve often already sought help or tried to work things out themselves. Tired, overworked and worried, they seem to have forgotten what once brought them together. They talk about how difficult it is to prioritize their marriage. Date nights become stressors instead of a way to connect. Budgets are tight, babysitters are expensive and other obligations get in the way. A common theme is also feeling inadequate when they see blissful, “perfect” families on facebook or other social media sites. With today’s filters, social media and access to celebrities, unrealistic expectations are created that strain relationships.
The following five tips can help strengthen your relationship and don’t cost a dime. They focus on strengthening a marriage using strategies that every person can master.
Laugh a lot
Marriages face many challenges; some small, some not so small. Being able to find humor in everyday experiences can help take the sting out of some of those times. Recently a client was telling a story about something upsetting that happened to her child in school. She had tears in her eyes when her husband interjected a little joke. They both began laughing and were able to see that although the problem was a concern in one environment, it would have been laughed off in another. His humor put the problem into perspective and they came together realizing that one incident did not define their child.
While prioritizing your relationship with your spouse is vital, it is not always feasible. The reality is that long-term relationships are a series of phases and events. There are times when your spouse can and should hold the top spot in your life. There are other times, however, when you both need to accept that other things are happening and need priority too. When our son was born, I was consumed with worry about how to balance the needs of my husband, son and even myself. The need to be present to my son took time away from my husband. After some time I learned that this too was just a moment. My son would not always need to come first. Instead of stressing about not being there for everyone, I learned to appreciate the time I’m able to dedicate to different areas of my life at different times. Children, extended family, jobs and friends may take priority from time to time. If you and your spouse can learn to adapt to the moment, you can survive.
Let it go
Forgiveness is a beautiful gift to give yourself and others. Arguments between couples often bring baggage from previous situations. Let the past go. Allow yourself to be free of guilt and you will find that forgiveness of others will come naturally. When couples take an inventory of their shortcomings it turns out that they often speak of their own much more than those of their partners. No one is perfect! Everyone makes mistakes! Let the past go and free yourself to address the present and the future.
Make small talk
Speaking with your spouse about your hopes and dreams for the future everyday can be exhausting. Rather than putting pressure on yourself to have these deep conversations all the time, focus on consistently keeping the lines of communication open in small ways. Talk about your day, what you liked and what was difficult. Express how you felt in these situations and ask your spouse similar questions. Making the habit of talking about the small things will help you when you need to have those more difficult conversations. Pick a time of day that you’re usually together and schedule a time to just talk. It will soon become second nature.
It would be nice to be able to take a couple’s vacation every year. For many families, it is just not possible. You don’t have to go to some far away land to share an adventure with your partner. Try something new every year together. When I first meet with new clients I have them list some things they have never done but always wanted to try. I encourage the spouses to review their lists and pick one thing from each to do together. Some of the new adventures that have come out of this are trying new foods and languages, learning to garden or starting a workout routine that they have never done. Having the opportunity to go out of your comfort level together builds a strong bond and does not break the bank.