Getting and Keeping the Marriage You Want

Have you ever heard advice from people online about finding love? For most of the people that read this blog, love has been found at some point. Love is why you got married after all. But, there are many couples who wonder what it looks like to have more love and intimacy in their marriage. I’ve written about having a more intimate marriage here and here.

I’m certainly not the only one to write about this. Just earlier today I actually read an ad on Facebook from a woman saying, “Don’t go to marriage counseling! Follow my advice to have the life you want and make your partner fall in love with you over night.” Yes, that’s right. She promises that you can do something now that will revolutionize your relationship over night. Sadly – I just don’t believe that’s possible.

I didn’t sign up for her program and listen to her tips, but I’ve worked with marriages for long enough to know that whether or not you go to marriage counseling, change doesn’t happen over night. Marriage can be pretty difficult for a number of reasons, but it can still be really great as well. Having a positive perspective of your spouse will help you have a more fulfilling marriage.

Your perspective of your spouse matters!

One of my earlier blogs talked about the need to change your focus if you’re going to enjoy your marriage. It talks a little about the trap of focusing on problems and encourages you to focus on solutions. I still believe this to be true. But now, I would add that we need to change our perspective – not just our focus.

Perspective taking is a concept from social science. The idea is that we believe a particular way about someone else’s behaviors and our beliefs inform how we act. For example, let’s say that last week I try to say hi to a acquaintance in the hallway and she grunts and walks off. If I see her response as mean, I’m likely to change my behaviors and ignore her the next time I see her. If I just see her as in a rush that day, I’ll likely try to talk to her again in the future.

Now let’s apply that to marriage.

Let’s just be real and say that your spouse has an annoying habit. I’m guessing you don’t have to think long about this because all of us are imperfect and a bit annoying at times. You may see this annoying habit as evidence that your spouse is a bit of a workaholic, OCD, messy, or lazy. Then, it may turn into a habit of silently grumbling about their character.

Now, please don’t hear me say that you should play like flaws don’t exist. They exist. You will notice them. But, you can decide how to handle these annoyances. If you choose to get upset about the habit, you’re likely to react in a way that says, “Hey, I’m upset with you!” For example, maybe the dishes are not done so you make sure to be really loud while you do them and let your spouse know that your expectations were not met.

A better choice would be to go against that natural instinct and act lovingly toward your spouse even if they’ve disappointed you.

Marriage calls you to love well…always.

Anytime I think about what it means to really love, I can’t help but think of Jesus telling his disciples to love their enemies. Jesus basically tells his disciples that anyone (even the tax collectors!) can love the people who treat them well. But, to love someone and pray for those that persecute you…well that is the true example of love.

I’ve had many couples tell me how their spouse doesn’t match up to their expectations, but few have come to me telling me how determined they are to love their spouse no matter what. And, I’m by no means perfect at this myself. It takes diligence and perseverance to act lovingly toward a spouse in all circumstances. But, for the Christian, it really isn’t an option not to love well.

Reading a few blogs will never be enough to change your marriage.

Yes, that includes this blog. 🙂

While I was working on my ideas for this article, I read a blog about how to make a man fall in love with you and how to make a woman fall in love with you. I just wanted to see what the articles might say. Both blogs mentioned talking about your past so the other will feel close and connected. On the make him fall in love blog, women were encouraged to cuddle with him, stay close so he can’t help but think of you, and mimic his behaviors (plus others). On the one to make her fall in love, the blog recommended looking her in the eyes, telling her she’s special, and listening to her (along with other thoughts). These are all helpful, for sure, but they are extremely limited in their staying power and point only to the appearance of interest. Cuddling one another or sharing your past is only the beginning stages of generating love.

In fact, reading a blog about improving your marriage so you can feel greater happiness is sorta like going to a restaurant when you’re hungry. Going is a great start, but you don’t actually begin working on your hunger until you’re eating. In the same way, reading advice from others is a great start, but a truly great marriage can only come from putting in the hard work.

Why does marriage take so much work?

I’ve written before about the sacrifice required for marriage and you can reference that article if you’d like. All in all though, to truly love one another well, we have to be more other-focused than self-focused. This attitude is super simple when you first fall for someone. In fact, falling in love causes a person to have chemical reactions in the body that compels them to act lovingly. During those early months, you literally cannot help but think of your newfound love interest throughout the day. You’re driven to meet their needs and treat them well.

Unfortunately we grow a little desensitized to one another when several years have gone by. We slip up and think more about ourselves than the object of our desire. This can lead us to feel that we are stuck in a relationship where we’re not getting out needs met. And, when this becomes the thought, it becomes more and more difficult to see your spouse as someone worthy of your affection.

There’s good news though. Even if you’ve been struggling to feel loved by your spouse or to act in loving ways yourself, there are some practical steps you can work on to bring happiness and love back into your relationship.

1. Take an honest assessment of your marriage.

There are actual tests that you can take to see what the status is of your relationship and often marriage counselors can offer these to you. But, a simple way of assessing your relationship is to sit down with your spouse and talk about how you’re doing as a couple.

Each of you can place a number value on the satisfaction in your relationship. 1 is completely unhappy and 10 is extremely happy. If you’ll each be honest with where you are and listen with some empathy, you can start to discuss the trouble areas.

If you’re anywhere between 6-8 you’re doing pretty okay. It’s normal to have phases of difficulty where you are not as happy. Stress from work, the kids, finances, school, and general life difficulties can lower your satisfaction. The higher numbers (9-10) are more like the mountain top experiences. This could be finally finding out that you’re pregnant or your last child is finally moving out. These are the moments when you’re celebrating an anniversary or going on vacation. The 9-10 can come in marriage, but it’s not the norm. If your spouse is lower on that scale (between 4 and 5), ask, “what can I do to raise that number for you?”

2. Learn what your spouse needs to feel connected.

While the “fall in love blogs” that I mentioned earlier talk about ways that you can make others feel connected, these are generalities. There are specific actions that can help your spouse feel connected to you. You can and should ask for specifics to know how to love your spouse well.

Try answering the following questions as a jump start to learning how to love your spouse well. Have them do the same.

~ What is one thing I can do today to remove some stress from your life?
~ Is there anything going on that you haven’t felt like you could share with me?
~ What can I do today to show you that I love you and want to connect with you?
~  Is there something you’d like for us to do more of?
~ Tell me one thing you’d like for us to do less of?

There are many ways to connect with your spouse. You may feel a need to connect with your spouse in playful ways, or connect emotionally, intellectually, or physically. All of these ways are important and each will have its turn as priority in your relationship at some point. Your goal here is to learn how your spouse feels connected to you so you can put the right steps in place.

3. Make time to connect with your spouse.

It can be really tempting to put our marriage on the back burner and think, “I’ll get to that when this busyness lets up a little.” The problem with that thinking is that most of us never get to a place where life isn’t all that busy. Most of us live with little meaningful time to ourselves or for others because of the many, many responsibilities that we hold.

One of the most important things you can do for your marriage is to prioritize it above your career, your kids, and your hobbies. This can’t really be done if you only have an hour each weekend to connect. Unless you are truly unable to connect with one another (deployment that keeps you from phone access for example), you should do everything you can to spend time with one another. This time can be for talking, playing, resolving issues, dreaming and making plans, and so on. Your time can be for anything that makes you feel connected. I encourage you to set aside time now just to connect if you’re feeling at all distant.

Blessings on you, your marriage, and your intimacy!

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