On my 11th wedding anniversary, I’ve decided to share 11 tips for a healthy marriage that has worked for me & many couples that I’ve seen for marital therapy…
1. Me-Time vs We Time
Happy couples often maintain a healthy balance between solitary and joint activities. Time apart is healthy and helps achieve a sense of independence so you do not lose yourself in the marriage – it also gives you more to talk about. It’s unhealthy for couples to do everything together. Having said that, both partners need to be satisfied with the amount of quality time spent together (watching TV does not count) and the activities engaged in during this time.
2. Compliment more than you Criticise
It’s human nature to pick on things that our partner’s do that upset us, but we need to form a habit of showing appreciation, expressing gratitude and ‘catching your partner doing something right’. No-one wants to feel taken for granted. As human beings, we are more likely to repeat things that we feel appreciated for.
3. Communication is Key
My number one rule of communication is ‘Say what you mean & mean what you say’! Do not expect your partner to be a mind-reader. Don’t say you’re not upset when you clearly are. Make your expectations clear, instead of being disappointed when your partner hasn’t lived up to them (just because they didn’t know). It’s vital to be a good listener, which means paying attention to your partner and understanding what they may be feeling. If you are uncertain, clarify with them. Once they have finished, you can take your turn to speak.
4. Fight Fair
Arguments are inevitable in any relationships. The fairest fights are those where one partner expresses how they feel in any particular situation – e.g. ‘I feel like frustrated when you do not assist with chores like you promised.’ Give your partner a fair chance to respond. Then ask for what you would like – e.g. ‘It would make me feel less overwhelmed if you could help the kids with their homework while I prepare dinner.’ Don’t criticise, name-call or bring up past issues. The key is reaching a solution.
There are some things in marriage that are non-negotiable (e.g. faithfulness), but there are some areas we can compromise on. Compromise should never feel like a sacrifice, but is rather something you do to accommodate your spouse (even though you’re not thrilled about it), expecting they would do the same. E.g. joining him for an action movie sometimes knowing he will attend family functions with you (that he’s not usually keen on).
6. Trust is more Important than Love
Relationships cannot survive without trust. In order to increase trust, there needs to be honesty (in word and action) and transparency. Mistrust creeps in when there is secrecy (e.g. with phones) and when one partner has been caught lying. Even if you lie once, your partner will have a hard time trusting again.
7. The Power of Sincere Apologies
The strongest marriages are between individuals who acknowledge when they are wrong and apologise sincerely. A sincere apology is not just saying ‘Sorry’. You have to say what exactly you are sorry for. It shows that you are accepting responsibility. Then state how you will resolve the issue before asking for forgiveness. Some people apologise even when they do not feel that they are wrong – simply to keep the peace and move on. This can do more harm than good in the long run.
8. Sharing Responsibilities
Resentment can easily creep in when one partner feels that they bear more responsibility than the other. Responsibilities such as finance, parenting and household chores need to be discussed and agreed upon. Money matters are not easy to discuss, but essential to ensure that both partners are comfortable as well as to ensure your individual and joint financial goals.
9. Knowing your Partner’s Language of Love
Many patients tell me that they love their partners, but when I asked how they express this love, I’m often met with a blank stare. Know what makes your partner feel loved and do more of that. While some prefer quality time, others require physical affection while some feel special by acts of service such as being welcomed home with a cup of coffee. Realise that what makes you feel loved may differ from your partner’s needs, so it’s an important topic to discuss and implement.
10. Be a Team Player
When couples present for therapy, many appear to be on different teams as if they’re fighting a battle against each other. Unfortunately in such instances, no one wins! As husband and wife you are on the same team and if you support each other and stand together in facing challenges, you strengthen the marriage.
11. The Little Things bring the greatest Joy
Little acts of kindness show your partner that you care. It’s the little things you do on a daily basis that strengthen the marriage the most. E.g. cooking your partner’s favourite meal, making them a cup of tea/coffee without them having to ask, doing a chore for them that you know they don’t enjoy, or even a text in the midst of a busy day to say you’re thinking of them. These little acts show your commitment to your partner and send the message that you care.