The famous idiom goes “it takes two to tango,” and in fact, much of the success of a marriage or any relationship is based on what each party brings to the table.
However, there are countless times when couples feel like their marriage is on shaky grounds and there is nothing they can do because their partner is unwilling to make changes or successions.
If you are feeling like your marriage is not where you want it to be, there are many things you can start to do right now that can contribute to the overall relationship improving. So rather than waiting for your partner to come around, begin by taking some of these first steps towards making your marriage a stronger one.
1. Express your feelings openly, productively, and often
We are constantly reminding our kids to use their words to express how they feel rather than acting on feelings and impulses.
Yet how often do we appropriately express our own feelings?
If we didn’t grow up with role models for how best to do this, it can be a difficult one to practice ourselves.
When you feel angry or frustrated with your partner do you vent to a friend? give them the cold shoulder or silent treatment? do you engage in something else that makes you feel better like going shopping or turning on a favourite TV show?
Or, do you seek out your partner and verbalize how you feel?
Successfully verbalizing our feelings begins with making “I” statements such as “I feel [insert feeling word] when…” rather than saying things that blame or generalize such “you always” or “you never.”
Conflict becomes an opportunity for growth in a relationship when we verbalize how something specific that our partner did affect us and what we would like them to do differently.
2. Replenish your relationship with love and affection, continually
We all have an inherent need to feel loved and appreciated and nowhere do we want that more than in our intimate relationships. Yet how often do we verbalize our love and appreciation for our partner?
All marriages begin with a great deal of love and affection and somewhere along the way the demands of children, work, finances, etc. begin to take a toll.
Marriage is like a savings fund that you have to continually replenish with new deposits in order to earn interest.
What you get out of it can only be as good as what you put into it, so we need to take time each day to give our partner a statement or two of appreciation and love. If you begin to do this, your partner is likely to begin to return the favour.
We are most open and willing to give of ourselves when we feel connected to others.
3. Realize the importance of self-care
The importance of self-care can become a hackneyed expression that diminishes its true value and meaning.
Self-care begins by recognizing that the only person responsible for your happiness is you.
Our partners can fuel and enhance our happiness, but at its core, it can only truly come from within. Being happy in a marriage begins with taking care of our own mental health which can happen on a multitude of levels.
It can range from seeing a therapist on a regular basis to have a place to sort out our thoughts and feelings, to ensuring that we have downtime for quiet reflection or exercise or connection with friends. This is a gift that no one can give you but you are definitely entitled to ask for.
Identify two or three practices that would truly rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit and then make them a priority in your life.
Seek out the support of your spouse in order to do so and return the favour to ensure they also have time for the self-care they need to be their best self.
4. Date nights
Date nights are meant to be about creating space to reconnect with your significant other and yet couples can often fall into their regular routine of talking about kids and activities and daily frustrations.
Approach date nights with a mindful intention to connect with your partner.
Use the time as an opportunity to ask them questions that go a little deeper into their mental and emotional state of mind. After being together for many years, we often assume we know all there is to know about our partners.
Ask more questions and you may be surprised by what new things you learn. Ask what’s on their bucket list, what recent accomplishment they are most proud of, what is something they wish they had more of in life or did less of, ask them to recall a favorite childhood memory, or simply ask them to share something they want you to know or recognize about them at this time.
5. Be aware of your own triggers and biases
We each bring into every relationship a template of how we relate to others based on our past and upbringing.
We each have blind-spots of things we do without awareness or without a recognition of why we do them.
We assume certain things to be truths, we make assumptions, we draw conclusions, all without awareness of our how automatic and deeply rooted our own biases and beliefs can be. The best gift we can give ourselves and our partners is the gift of self-awareness.
Find an avenue for ongoing self-exploration.
Continue to develop a better understanding of who you are and what you bring to the table and how these attitudes and behaviours originated. Once you gain awareness you have the freedom to choose whether to embrace this aspect of yourself or make changes.
Our capacity for self-awareness and ongoing growth is one of our greatest assets across all relationships in our life.