Today is my husband’s and my anniversary. We’re celebrating 14 years of wedded . . . ah . . . marriage. Because as much as I’d love to tell to you that it’s been all bliss, it hasn’t. Oh, I love him and he loves me — there is no doubt about that. But love isn’t what keeps us together.
I hate to burst your bubble, but love is not enough for a healthy marriage. Even people who are in unhealthy marriages can truly love each other. They may not show each other in healthy ways, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel love.
Having a healthy marriage takes work. It’s a daily, even moment-to-moment decision to show your partner love. Even when they are not being lovable. Even when you don’t feel loving. It’s this kind of work on our marriage that keeps us together.
Before I go any further, I want to state that this post is not for couples who are in an abusive marriage. If your marriage is abusive, you can try these tips until you’re blue in the face and they will NOT make your marriage healthy. Both partners must first be emotionally healthy and free from abuse or abusive behaviors before trying these tips.
Do not use these tips to attempt to change your abusive partner. Instead, spend your energy working on a way to find your freedom. If your partner gets the help he or she needs and you come back together as two emotionally and mentally healthy people, then you can try these tips to move ahead in your relationship and to maintain a healthy marriage.
Five Daily Practices for a Healthy Marriage
1. Know Yourself
When you and your spouse come together at the end of a long day or if you are together throughout the day, know what’s on your mind. If you are having a bad day, if you are dealing with illness, if you are upset about something, go in to interactions with your spouse understanding what may be causing you to be in a bad mood.
If you don’t know the reasons behind your sadness, annoyance, or anger you may blame your spouse for those feelings. It’s unfair to rope your biggest ally into being responsible for your big feelings that were caused by someone or something else.
Be mindful about what you’re feeling so that you can interact with your partner honestly. Let him or her know upfront that you are in a bad mood or that you don’t feel well. He or she may be able to help you feel better. But, if he or she can’t, don’t waste time being upset over it. Simply work on helping yourself to feel better so that you can be a better partner.
2. Assign Positive Intent
If your partner is really working your nerves today, take a step back. Try to assign positive intent to his or her actions. For instance, did he leave his laundry on the bathroom floor? Maybe he ran out of time or was distracted. This doesn’t mean you have to pick it up for him, but try to remember the times when you weren’t able to finish chores for one reason or another.
Stop assuming that the annoying things your spouse does are done to spite you. Likely it has nothing at all to do with you! Stop taking it personally and assign positive intent to his or her actions. When in doubt, ask your partner why he or she did the thing that you find bothersome. But do not ask in a rude or blaming way.
3. Give Each Other Space
You can also file this on under “get a life”! This tip is especially important if your spouse is an introvert. There may be some days when you or your partner just want to be alone. This is okay and is not a red flag of a failing marriage.
Give your spouse some space and take space when you need it. As I said in the last tip, assign positive intent to your spouse in these times. He or she isn’t rejecting you by needing some time alone. He or she is simply doing what it takes to stay healthy and for some people that means having some time alone.
4. Say What’s Bothering You
If something is bothering you about your partner, let them know. Do it in a respectful way, but don’t hold it in. Unspoken resentment leads to contempt and contempt kills marriages.
Talk about the little things as they come up. Assign positive intent and be sure to use your “I” statements. Example: “I feel frustrated when you leave your laundry on the floor. Help me understand why you left your laundry on the floor.” Also, ‘What can I do to help?” is a great way to spark a healthy conversation without inciting defensiveness and anger from your partner.
5. Ask for What You Need
Don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader. Not even after many years of marriage should you expect your partner to know what you need if you don’t tell him or her.
Of course, it’s great when our spouses anticipate our needs. Sometimes we hit it out of the park and know exactly what the other person needs or wants — sometimes before they know they need or want it! But, expecting this all the time is tiring for your partner and frustrating for you.
So, just ask. Tell them what you need and don’t play games. It’s not true that if they loved you, they would know what you need. They have a whole life of their own to figure out. Unless you want to be held to the same standard of mind-reading (at which I promise you would fail), stop expecting your spouse to know what you need from them without being told. Use your words and get what you need!
Of course, there are many ways to improve the health of your marriage, but I have found that these five have taken my husband and me a long way toward a better marriage.
A couple of the tips (assigning positive intent and asking for what I need) have been a struggle for me to implement at times, but when I have gotten outside of myself and practiced these things, I have seen the positive effect they’ve had on my marriage.