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How can you have a happier marriage? Even the best of relationships probably have room to grow a bit more.
I recently had an opportunity to speak at a local women’s conference about this subject. The idea wasn’t original to me but it certainly makes sense.
No matter how committed you are to the relationship, it can get stale if you don’t put some effort into making the relationship happy.
John Gottman, Ph.D., a psychologist and family researcher, is studying relationships, particularly marriages, to help couples create healthy, successful marriages that last. He wants to counter the trend that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
One of the keys Dr. Gottman found from his research is to make positive deposits in the relationships. He wasn’t talking about money but instead about five positive communications to every negative.
When the relationship is substantially positive, a few negatives now and then don’t pose a significant threat. Positives can be very little things like showing common courtesies such as a simple thank you or smile or more complex such as listening when the spouse is upset about work or the children.
It works when both people are tuned in to what the other views as positives. In other words, we really listen to and respect the other person’s point of view.
Note that this doesn’t always mean that we agree.
This may seem like a game and somewhat uncomfortable to begin with. Maybe you are already doing some of these “couple rituals.”
Perhaps you used to do these things but found they got dropped as family life became busier and work required more time.
The time estimate is here just to give you an idea that it doesn’t take a lot of time to pay attention to the small things in a relationship.
Partings: When you leave home make sure you know something about your spouse’s activity for the day. No, this isn’t snooping, just encouraging and being supportive. Kiss goodbye. This takes about two minutes a day or 10 minutes a week.
Returns: Have a hello kiss and take about 10 minutes to reconnect and share something about your day. This is not meant to be an accounting for what you did that day, just a friendly sharing of whatever you thought or felt was important or of interest to you or your spouse. This is not the time for a major discussion. Just listen to understand and be supportive. Estimated time is about 20 minutes if each spouse takes 10 minutes a day or one hour and 40 minutes a week.
Express admiration and appreciation to your spouse: Find a way to genuinely communicate this. Being specific helps. You may be surprised that your spouse likes something that you were unaware of. It’s hard to put a time on this one but maybe five minutes a day or 35 minutes a week.
Affection: Kiss, hold, and touch each other. No matter how long you’ve been married, this is important. Believe it or not, there are some couples who rarely do this. This seems so simple that I’m sure someone is shaking her head and wondering why this self-evident statement is even here. Make sure you kiss each other before going to sleep. Estimated time is about five minutes a day or 35 minutes a week.
Spend time together that is just for you as a couple, not a family.
Take at least two hours a week for a date, even something that doesn’t cost such as a picnic or walk. Use the time to talk, update each other about important issues, play and enjoy being together. Remember how fun this was when you were just getting to know each other.
If you try to use these five hours as discussed above, I believe that you will have more positives in your relationship.
Commit to doing this for a month and then evaluate it. At first it may seem different but soon it will start to feel really good. Make some adjustments at the end of the month and try it again.
You can read more about relationship research in John Gottman’s book, “The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy” or at www.alabamamarriage.org.
Joan Martin is a consumer and family sciences agent at the Anderson County Extension office.