Author: Tom Tyndall (www.greatmates.org)
1. Listen. Actively.
We’re not kidding here. Research from PREP, Inc. says THE Number One Killer of marriages today is NOT LISTENING. Ever heard your spouse say, “Honey, you’re just not listening”? Then you are a carrier of this killer (so are Tom and Betty by the way). Even if you just ask your spouse, “What did you just hear me say?” and your spouse mouths back nearly word-for-word, “I heard you say that you were unhappy at work today because….”, just do that much and you’re working at listening. Most often we do not have to “fix” what is wrong with our partner, just try to understand how they feel about an incident. Want more help? Check out “The Floor” at www.prepinc.com.
2. Handle conflict safely.
Most people think that fighting, or even disagreeing, leads to divorce, so they work to avoid conflict. Research says the opposite. ALL couples (including the couples you admire most) have conflicts. The biggest predictor of divorce is the AVOIDANCE of conflict. Ironically, the biggest predictor of success in marriage is how you choose to handle conflict. There is a time to handle disagreements but it’s NOT when you face a deadline, are out in public, you’ve got an event staring you in the face or when you are tired or confused. Dates, fun times, romantic times are also NOT the time to solve conflicts or even discuss them. Schedule a calm time to solve a problem when you can give it full attention. Keep conflict time separate from other activities in your marriage or eventually you will dread being around each other.
Try to separate problem discussion from the time to work on problem solutions. We’ve also found, again research based, that hurried solutions to conflicts are often poor solutions. Most of us have lost the fine art of negotiating, a skill we need for getting a job, buying a car, raising teenagers or getting along with office colleagues and your spouse. You may even have to draw up your own list of rules (avoid yelling, profanity, getting off topic) and post them on the refrigerator if that helps.
3. Compliment and encourage each other.
It’s just too easy to pick on each other’s weaknesses or faults, but harder though more rewarding to say, “Hey, that’s a very creative idea!” “Boy, you did that well.” “I appreciate your sense of humor.” We thrive on compliments, which is different from flattery (”Wow, do you look great in THAT!” Flattery is okay at the right time). Most of us remember the compliments from friends, even total strangers, but we do well to hear affirmation first from our partner.
4. Have a weekly date.
Why does the wedding ceremony end the one activity that got you to the altar? You need dates even MORE after the wedding when chores, house duties, bills, eventually children, pets, and deadlines quickly take the time away. Keep a “Great Date” list if you have to of things you have loved doing together or would like to try. Betty and Tom have expanded this to even give permission once in a great while to ask for an “emergency date” with an hour’s notice, usually when one of us is exhausted and needing a meal out at a favorite restaurant. Consider also a weekend away as a couple or go on a marriage retreat together.
5. Surprise each other with treats.
Something as simple as a favorite coffee or tea, decoration, movie rental, or a brief book to read together says, “I’m thinking of you; I value you.”