How To Keep Your Marriage Strong
It’s not uncommon that I meet with couples who have come to counselling, but are a little unsure if they should even be there, since they don’t fight, they don’t storm out on one another, they’re not even considering divorce. There’s this perception that you have to be in real trouble before you’d even consider marriage counselling.
But the truth is, waiting can just allow a problem to fest and get worse. We’d never assume there was no point in going to the doctor until our entire arm was infected; we realize that the best course of action for physical ailments is always preventative.
The same is true for our mental health and our marriages.
I genuinely believe that most people don’t walk down the aisle thinking that they’ll stay in the marriage as long as it’s good – they really are hopeful and filled with love and optimism in that moment. Then how can so many of us go from that hope and optimism, to feeling disconnected and alone, or worse, indifferent?
It’s the small things that really make the difference in a marriage, both good and bad. And it’s never too early to nip those negative habits in the bud, and replace them with more positive, loving ones.
So, start small. Don’t worry about booking a weekend away, or even a weekly date night. Those things are both great, by the way, but sometimes life just happens, and if we wait for those big moments, we may go for weeks or months without finding opportunities to connect. Just look for windows of a few minutes each day to have small moments together. Talk about your day. Make a note of anything amusing or amazing or out-of-the-ordinary that happens when you’re not together, and make a point of sharing it when you are.
But if even a few minutes to talk about the weather seems like too much to carve out some days, then here’s another way to create those moments between you. John Gottman, one of the best known marriage researchers, says that one of the best ways to improve your marriage (or divorce-proof it, if it’s already pretty good) is to respond positively to the “bids” that your partner makes throughout the day. Bids are the big and small gestures we use to get attention, affection, and acknowledgment from our partners. Obvious bids include hugging, kissing, making a joke together, or direct requests such as, “Can we talk?” or “Let’s get a sitter and go our for dinner, just you and me.” Sometimes, though, they’re more subtle. Responding positively, even if briefly, when our partner shares a line or two from an article that he’s reading, or when he offers to run up to the medicine cabinet when we complain of a headache, can all be a way of what Gottman refers to as “turning toward your partner.”
These little interactions sustain the emotional intimacy in a marriage. You’re probably already doing some of this at least some of the time. But when people are busy with young kids and busy careers, these little gestures and moments are easy to miss. So put them on your radar, and look for the quick but meaningful ways that you can respond to your partner’s bids and keep your marriage strong.
For any number of reasons, sometimes partners need some outside help to get back on the right track in their marriage. If you feel that’s you, don’t wait. You don’t need to be in crisis to benefit from couple relationship counselling. Investing in your marriage and your family isn’t a sign of weakness or failure; everyone in a family benefits when the marriage is strong.