10 Daily Choices For Building a Marriage That Lasts

There are a hundred paths through the
world that are easier than loving…
But who needs easier?
— Mary Oliver

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before:

Marriage is not a noun, it’s a verb.

bricks_and_trowelIt’s hard to dispute, isn’t it?

Anyone who’s been married longer than, say, a week, knows that marriage requires effort. Not back-breaking-drudgery kind of effort, but make-it-count, put-your-heart-into-it effort.

We build a marriage the way we build a house: day by day, brick by brick, from the ground up. We build it with love and respect, with gestures of kindness and generosity and expressions of gratitude — along with an unshakeable commitment to keep two feet in.

What happens, though, when that house is neglected, or it’s hit by a hurricane; when the foundation is crumbling; when the house is in such disrepair that it seems too far gone?

A reader recently asked, “What can I do to start every day on the right foot and then keep going in a positive direction? My husband and I set out with the best intentions,” she said, “then some little thing happens and we go downhill from there.”

As I considered her question, I realized that her goal is the same goal we all have in our marriages, whether we’re desperately struggling or doing well: to be happy and thrive.

Each day we have an opportunity to choose, in large and small ways, what we we want to invest in our marriage, how we want to respond to our spouse, how it is that we want to love.

And those daily choices make all the difference.

Starting today, make one, or two, or all ten of these choices and see what happens:

1. Resist the urge to super-size.

One of the quickest ways for things to go sideways is let every hint of trouble mean BIG trouble; to say, see…here we go again, the moment things go off track.

Yes, every couple has problems — some of them may be big ones that need to be addressed.

Still, the worst thing is to throw up your hands or tumble down into hopelessness or start thinking, let’s just call it quits.

When you keep trouble in perspective, you’ll be able let more of the little things pass and you’ll have more positive energy to bring to the big issues that require a collaborative effort.

Young woman watching closely wildlife with his binoculars. Studi2. Quit searching for bad news.

As with loving, there are, at least, one hundred paths that lead to unhappiness.

One of the most frequently traveled: focusing on the ways that your spouse has let you down.

Face it, that imperfect person you married isn’t always going to give you her undivided attention, won’t always remember to lock the back door, will sometimes wake up in a bad mood and have a hard time shaking it.

You can focus on that, or on the good laugh you shared when you learned that the President’s credit card was denied in a restaurant. Or you can note how your wife insisted you take the last square of chocolate even though she hoped you’d say no, or that your husband spent forty-five minutes trying to straighten out the cell phone bill — without raising his voice.

(In my book, that last one deserves an award!)

What we focus on heavily influences how we treat each other. If we’re searching for evidence that we have a bad deal in our spouse, we’re bound to find it.

Seeing the good in each other makes us more likely to treat each other well. There’s plenty of evidence that nice begets nice.

3. Redefine giving.

One of the most powerful choices we can can make is to be generous — to offer love and support, whether or not our partner responds in kind.

Too often, we withhold in response to a partner’s withholding, creating a climate of stinginess, which then feeds on itself.

I’m not suggesting you turn yourself inside out to say “yes” when you really, truly mean “no.” Nor would I advise that you gnash your teeth while extending your hand.

True generosity is not about over-giving, or resentfully giving to a partner who’s consistently unappreciative or selfish.

It’s about genuinely offering what we can, when we can. It’s about reaching out when we have something loving and good to give.

The happiest couples are those who give without keeping score.

4. Jump without a parachute.

Playing it safe isn’t nearly as “safe” as one might think. In our attempt to avoid discomfort, we often side-step important issues or remain silent about things that need to be spoken. When playing it safe, we resist reaching out, being honest, letting down our guard. All of which are needed if we want to truly connect.

It is often said that marriage isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ll second that. Marriage asks us to step towards our difficulties, rather than away from them, to be courageous and resilient, to reach for what we want even when it scares us.

Remember: the risks that we take are the very things that give us our best shot at a satisfying marriage. We cannot stay in our comfort zone and expect to grow.

5. Look through a telescope, not a microscope.

One of the most discouraging things is to think your difficulties are permanent, that what’s happening now will go on forever:

We’ll always fight about money.
We’ll never agree on a vacation.
We’ll never, EVER have sex again.

Why not take the long view, instead?

Think: How can I best maintain some perspective?
Think: What can I do to make things go better tomorrow, next week, six months from now?

Remember: change is not for the impatient. Some changes, especially big ones, take time.

6. Step out of your shoes.

9807ba92e4fe69fd7d41075afc3569df-1Trouble comes when we get so caught up in our own stuff that we forget to consider what’s going on with our spouse. There may be a “good” reason for his or her unpleasant behavior.

A bad day at work? A lousy night’s sleep? A nagging concern about that aching tooth?

I believe most spouses have the best intentions, even though those intentions are sometimes poorly executed or hard to discern.

Before getting irritated or leaping to the worst possible conclusion about the person you married, consider a more generous and forgiving explanation.

7. Carry an olive branch.

One of the best ways to keep things moving in a positive direction is to have a good plan to address the inevitable hard times.

Though every couple needs to devise their own repair strategy, here are the key ingredients:

Repair begins with a readiness to lay down your swords. It calls for shifting from the offensive and defensive to the receptive. It means talking honestly about what happened, without blaming or reigniting the fight. It means being curious about the other person’s point of view, setting aside your grievance so that you can listen. And it means owning up to your part in the mess, whatever it was.

Solutions come from openness, not restating your position.

Though many fights that couples have do not resolve, successful couples find a way to be loving and accepting, even when they disagree.

8. Clean out the garage.

Why hang onto a lifetime of grudges and the misdeeds that preceded them?

Keeping track of every late credit card payment? Every nasty outburst? Every basket of unfolded laundry, or poorly-washed dish?

Got a filing cabinet full of unhappy memories?

Forget the garage sale. I say have a bonfire and let it all go up in smoke.

9. Mind your Ps and Qs.

This was one of my father’s favorite sayings, though as a kid, I had no idea what P and Q actually meant. While the saying’s origin is up for debate, most interpretations offer sound marriage advice.

Some say P and Q are a reference to good manners, as in minding your Pleases and thank-Qs, while others believe it’s a typesetter’s reminder to pay attention to small details — p and q being the same letter faced different ways. Both are wise things to keep in mind.

My point here is to suggest we pay attention to the way that we speak to each other — to choose our words carefully and speak thoughtfully.  Especially when tensions run high.

It’s possible to be kind even when angry, though I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t easy to do.

The happiest couples care for their marriage one sentence at a time.

10. Carry some sunshine.

All the positive psychology research confirms that — no surprise here — positive feelings generate more positive feelings. During hard times, or anytime for that matter, it helps to remember what you love in your spouse.

What made you fall in love in the first place? Her smile? Her sharp mind? How he goes out of his way, with no second thoughts?

Think about what you appreciate and admire in your spouse, what you respect. And if you’re up for the challenge, what you’d miss if they were gone.


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25 Ways to Say “I Love You” Without Saying a Word

Recently, on a cross country flight, my husband and I were seated on opposite sides of the aisle. Several times, LASTchocolate-chip-cookie-bite-taken-97737he leaned my way to ask, Would you like some of my salad? Can I get you something to drink? Once he offered to share the last bite of his cookie. A while later, he reached over and touched my arm, just to say hi. At the end of the flight the woman next to me said, “Your husband really loves you. I can tell.”

And she’s right. He does.

As couples, we often express love through our actions — a note left on the bathroom mirror, a gentle touch, a twinkle in our eye. We say, “drive safely.” “Take an umbrella.” We kiss each other goodnight.

For many of us, these small gestures say I love you more powerfully than if we’d actually spoken those three little words.

While it’s always sweet to hear or say I love you — it is our simple, everyday acts of kindness, the ways we treat each other, day in and day out, that truly communicate our love.

We all have our own tried and true ways. Here are some to add to your list:

1. Be willing to do the stuff neither of you wants to do without keeping score.

2. Receive and acknowledge your partner’s acts of love. The happiest couples are those who notice and respond when their partner reaches out.

3. Strive to be patient — with yourself and your spouse.

4. Clean up, above and beyond the call of duty.

5. Let an un-cleaned up mess go without comment.

2296932_s6. Let down your guard. Vulnerability and intimacy are one and the same.

7. Give your spouse your full-on, undivided attention. Not every minute of every day, but show up when it counts.

8. Flirt. You’re never too old or married too long to make it clear that the two of you have still got it going on.

9. Go out of your way. Be the one who walks the dog in the rain, drives across town to pick up the babysitter or get the best peaches, is willing to make a late night run to the store to get cereal for breakfast.

10. Look for the humor in those less-than-endearing behaviors. What’s not to love about someone who second guesses the weather man?

11. Keep two feet in, even when things are difficult. Commitment is about staying with your challenges long enough to make things better.

12. Assume it’s your job to put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder. Fair or not, this is not an issue worth getting worked up over.

13. Cut your partner some slack. We all forget things, lose things, or screw things up. Why rub it in?

14. Be willing to sleep with the window open a little more than you like.

15. Be willing to sleep with the window closed a little more than you like.

16. Stay in touch. We all lead busy lives, but not so busy that we can’t take a moment to send a text, or leave a quick voice mail. Something as simple as xo clearly says, “I’m thinking of you.”

17. Be sure to leave enough gas in the car, enough hot water when you both need to shower, enough milk for coffee.

18. Decide not to elbow your snoring spouse, at least once in a while. Chances are you’ll eventually snore, too.

19. Make your relationship a priority — have a date night, a weekend getaway, keep work hours within bounds. As an added bonus: turn off your phone.

12383231_s20. Make dinner. You don’t have to be Julia Child. Keep it simple if need be and give it your best shot.

21. Encourage and support each other’s moves towards growth and change.

22. Let your spouse overhear you telling someone how great, smart, beautiful, gracious she is.

23. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally so you have as much as possible to offer.

24. Be the first one to reach out after a fight.

25. Keep in mind that life is short. Don’t waste time holding grudges or focusing on petty upsets that, in the big picture, mean nothing. Why not focus, instead, on what’s good?

Now over to you… What are your favorite ways to show your spouse that you care?
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The Hot Headed Couple’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool in a Fight

Humbling, isn’t it?couple-arguing

There you are, you and your perfectly otherwise sane spouse arguing, yet again, about…what? The quickest route to the freeway? The proper way to stack dish towels? Whose fault it is that you’re even having an argument? Continue reading

4 Reasons to Put Date Night on Your Calendar — In Ink!

510ff0fbe181e_supreme_clientele_concierge_reservationWhether you’ve been married five weeks, five years, or even five decades, date night is a ritual you should regularly observe.

I know. This is hardly a news flash. Read any advice column about how to keep the spark alive in your marriage and you’ll find date night near the top of the list.

Yet, if you’re like most couples, Continue reading

7 Things About Marriage I Wish I’d Known As a Newlywed

wedding-feetMost of us step into marriage hoping for a lifetime of love and happiness, knowing far too little about what might give us our best shot at getting there. Many of us assume that because we’re in love, because we have common values and compatible dreams we’ve got everything we need to have a marriage that lasts.

Sure, lots of couples divorce. “But, honestly…” we think, “how hard could it be?”

The answer: Continue reading