Boost Your Marriage 7 Simple Ways

Improving your marriage doesn't necessarily have to involve major changes on your part or your spouse's. Often, it's just the combined effect of small changes that can make a big difference. I've had at least one client who, in a flash of over exuberance, declared, "I know I'm at fault, so I'm going to change everything about me!" As you can imagine, that didn't work out so well. So, rather than focusing on broad sweeping changes that are more often a set up for disappointment, many marriage counselors and couples therapists recommend making smaller changes that can really improve the overall quality of the marriage.

These simple acts can turn negative energy, like resentment and emotional distancing, into positive energy, and help ease the resentment and generate emotional closeness. Once you've changed the energy in the relationship it will become easier to tackle the bigger issues. You'll each become more motivated to reinvest yourself in the union and be more willing to keep trying to improve the feelings between each other.

Here are my seven favorite ways to improve your marriage:

1. Exchange affirmative and positive messages to each other several times a day. People like hearing compliments. Plain and simple. Think about it. We get a boost from hearing compliments. They are easy to give and wonderful to hear. Thank your spouse for the little things that they do that may go unnoticed. Let them know that you did, in fact, notice. Or just simply say, “You are amazing and I am so honored to share my life with you.”

Sometimes the compliments can miss the mark, or we may feel as though we are not getting noticed for our hard work. In those instances I recommend that the two of you sit down and write our a list of 6 to 10 compliments or affirmations we'd like to hear from our spouse each and everyday. That may feel artificial at first, but hey, if you are not getting what you want you'd be nuts not to ask for it. So, ask for it. You can offer your compliments and affirmations face-to-face, by phone, voice mail, or even text a few.

If you don't believe the hearing compliments will make that much difference, then I'd recommend you try the iphone called At a boy! It's completely free, and you can read more about at my link.

2. Give your spouse 100% of your attention. Often, in our multi-tasking society we are used to having our attention divided. We are in meetings and checking our Blackberrys. We are in the car finishing breakfast or putting on eye liner. We are sitting at home zoning out of the television and having a conversation about the kids. Having divided attention may work at times, but mostly it doesn't work. It certainly doesn't work when your spouse is trying to have a conversation with you. So, turn down the volume, turn yourself away from the screen, put the screen down. Turn toward your partner and give him or her your undivided attention. You'll hear more of what your partner says, and your partner will feel good about the attention you are giving.

3. Show respect when you're talking to your spouse. Sighing with exasperation and rolling your eyes are just about the most damaging things you can do to a conversation between you and your spouse. Psychologist John Gottman has conducted research on attitudes that increase the chances of  a marriage ending unhappily. He found that contempt is the most damaging. Gottman says rolling your eyes when your spouse is talking to you is a classic sign that communicates contempt. The non-verbal component of communication speaks more loudly than words at times. So you're giving your partner important information about how you really feel about him (or her) when you show disrespect.

4. Remember to hug your partner each day. Doctors at the University of North Carolina have found that hugging boosts blood levels of oxytocin, a relaxing hormone that is linked to trust. According to Kathleen Light, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at UNC and one of the study's authors, "It is safe to say that oxytocin is linked to emotional as well as physical closeness in partners...."

The kind of hug shared between a couple is not the classic "A Frame" hug that's we might do on our way out the door. Rather, this hug is a deep, full embrace, and one that's savored. In fact, the best kind of hugging is to hug until you each feel relaxed. Relax into each other's bodies, really feel the effects of the full body contact. Hugging until relaxed is an exercise taken from the book The Passionate Marriage, by Dr. David Schnarch. Don't confuse hugging with sex. Just hug.

5. Schedule date nights on a regular basis. Scheduling dates is one of the most rewarding things you can do for your relationship, according to research by Idaho State University. The study involved 132 couples and found that those who went out on dates more often (about six dates a month) were more satisfied with their marriage than those who didn't go out as often, or at all.

In case you're a little rusty at this, you might have dinner in a restaurant, go dancing, see a movie or play, or listen to live music, go for a walk in the woods, or a day drive to the mountains or beach. The main thing is to spend time together and have fun. Having children can certainly make getting out more complicated but not impossible. You can arrange sleep overs or trades, or meet over lunch while the kids are at school. Doing everything with the children and not spending time alone with your spouse can be a way to try to avoid sex or to minimize romance. It's a mistake to think this won't hurt your marriage in the long run--because it will.

6. Ask about their day. Everyone wants to feel important, and giving 100% of your attention is just about the best way to show your spouse that he/she is important to you. At the end of a long day, you may not feel like listening to one more issue, situation, or recap; however, take a few minutes to ask your spouse about their day and really listen—make eye contact and respond. No need to problem-solve, just let them know that you care about how they are doing.

7. Kiss your spouse. Physical affection is an important way to show your spouse that you love them, especially on a day they may not feel particularly attractive or lovable. Take a spontaneous moment to show them that they are still the one you love.

A word of caution about touch. If hugging or kissing equals sex in your marriage, it's time to make a change. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, or snuggling are often the times when husband try to initiate sex. Many times, a wife will try to avoid physical contact with their husband because they don't want to get him aroused. This leads to a pulling away and a lack of on-going closeness and connection. It's important to spend time touching and kissing for it's own sake, not just to get sex.

My name is Dave Ebaugh and I am a couples therapist in Portland working with straight couples, gay couples and lesbian couples. I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Emotion Focused Therapy informed by the work of John Gottman. My therapy is for couples who want their relationship to succeed. I've been helping distressed couples in Portland, Oregon, for over 20 years. Give me a call or scroll down to fill out the contact form below. I can answer your questions or set up a free consultation. I can set the appointment for my office, or in your home. Let me know how I can help you.