Marriage 101: It’s the Little Things That Count

By October 2, 2013 November 24th, 2014 General, Relationships

If you polled a hundred happily-married people and asked them to describe what makes their marriage strong and successful, you would likely hear nearly as many answers. But something you would find with great commonality among their responses is this: they have figured out how to do the little things well.

A successful relationship of any kind, including marriage, involves behaviours that support the relationship and allow it to thrive. They are like the glue that keeps the bond strong. Often people do these things early in the relationship, but then they slowly fade off over time, which inevitably causes the relationship to suffer. While behaviours are the most visible aspect of how a relationship is doing, there are also certain attitudes and mindsets that play a role in helping to create and maintain a healthy marriage.

The following are a few suggestions for improving your marital relationship.

Make a habit of communicating about the good things.

This may sound simple, but some couples fall into the habit of communicating mainly (or only) about problems and concerns. This is often referred to as a problem-focused relationship (it doesn’t sound so good, does it?). Part of the reason this happens is that weoften become so busy in our lives that when we do have a spare moment to talk, it tends to focus on something that went wrong or a problem that occurred. I especially hear parents say this, particularly when they are dealing with challenges related to their children. While problems certainly need to be discussed and addressed, it is important to tip the scale in the direction of the positive. Perhaps you and your partner need to create some time and space that allows for discussion of the good things. Positive psychology shows us that focusing on good things and positive events can bring about happy thoughts and positive emotions.

Don’t be a mind reader.

Try to avoid guessing what your partner is thinking or feeling. It is not your responsibility to try and figure this out. If you do find yourself wondering and suspect something may be wrong, then ask. If your partner responds by telling you he/she is upset or bothered by something, ask if there is anything you can do to help. If they tell you they are upset by something you said or did… (See next point)

Try to avoid becoming defensive.

Defensiveness tends to escalate a discussion into a disagreement or argument. Even if you feel you have the right to defend what you may have said or did, doing so will likely provoke your partner to dig in their heels to defend their point of view. Remember this: seek first to understand, then to be understood. You would be surprised how many arguments could be avoided by simply listening instead of defending.

Ask yourself each day, “How can I make my partner’s day a little brighter?”

While it’s great to have positive thoughts and feelings about your partner, the key to this one is action. It doesn’t have to be something big and complicated. A phone call, an unexpected hug or kiss, a compliment, or a spontaneous “I love you” can be the thing that brightens your partner’s day. Doing the little things connects you to your partner and lets him/her know he/she is important to you and is being thought of.

Leave work at work.

While there isn’t anything wrong with discussing work at home if this is something each of you is okay with, the problem arises when you are constantly on your mobile device checking emails, taking calls/texts, etc. When your attention is on your phone or computer screen then it’s not on your partner, or your kids.

Keep in mind that small changes can lead to big results. And while trying something different and new may feel awkward at first, seeing a positive response from your partner will likely reinforce the behaviour and inspire you to continue to do more of the same.

Author Rodney Keddy

Rodney works with adults (individuals and couples) using solution-focused and cognitive-behavioural approaches. He aims to empower clients in becoming more effective at managing life's challenges and difficulties while discovering and making use of strengths and resources. Rodney has experience working with issues related to stress management, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, behavioural health, substance abuse, life transitions, emotion/anger management, work-life balance, and perfectionism.

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