Relationships are complex and messy. After all, they involve two human beings, who by virtue of being human, are naturally complex and messy. But when it comes to nurturing your marriage, there are many simple things you can do that make a big — and positive — difference in your relationship.
Last month we explored three surprisingly simple keys to a happy marriage: time, friendship and stress management. This month we talked to Zach Brittle, MA, LMHC, a certified Gottman therapist, who shared three more keys and tips.
Key #1: Be Nice
“Nothing changes a relationship more than basic kindness,” Brittle said. Showing gratitude toward our partners goes a long way in fostering our friendship and navigating conflict.
However, there are many times that we don’t practice basic kindness with our spouses. Part of the reason is the inherent safety of committed relationships, Brittle said.
“We don’t get to scream at our co-workers, criticize our friends or roll our eyes at the person helping us at the grocery store. So we direct all that energy toward our partners, which is annoying, but understandable.” Thankfully, it’s something we can fix.
Consider making gratitude a value in your relationship. “Would that change the way you looked at your partner?” Brittle said. Consider ending each day with what you were thankful for when it comes to your partner. Start saying “thank you” and “I appreciate it when…” to your partner.
Even if you think that you shouldn’t thank your spouse for doing something they’re supposed to, there’s no cost in expressing your gratitude. “I know that when I feel appreciated, I want to do more to please my wife, and I want to appreciate her in return. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of positivity,” Brittle said.
Key #2: Make Out
It’s rare that couples just “make out,” said Brittle, author of the book The Relationship Alphabet: A Practical Guide to Better Connection for Couples. Instead, “most couples kiss in a perfunctory way before or after the work day. Or they kiss only on the way to sex.”
He encouraged couples to kiss for a full 6 seconds every single day. This reminds you of building anticipation, and you get to enjoy the sensation of your spouse’s lips, he said. Plus, “you’ll be surprised what it does for your sex life.”
Key #3: Be Open to Adapting
People naturally change over time. Relationships naturally change over time. As Brittle said, “this is a good thing.” But sometimes change sneaks up on us and we don’t adapt. A common complaint Brittle hears from clients is that they’ve become roommates—and they have no idea how it happened. He believes it occurs because people “let life just sort of sweep them up and dictate their routines as they move through time.”
That’s why it’s important for couples to pause regularly and take a close look at their lives. Specifically, Brittle suggested planning monthly meetings “so that you don’t one day wake up surprised that your life doesn’t feel like it should.”
In your meeting talk about and write down your goals; and make decisions about the next steps you’ll be taking. This might concern everything from your financial goals to your relationship goals.
In fact, Brittle suggested starting with a meeting about your mission and vision as a couple. Ask: What do we want to be about as a couple?
This gives you vital information for moving forward. “If you knew, for example, that your highest goal was hospitality (or generosity, or adventure, or wealth), you’d have a lot more clarity about how to make decisions. [And you’d have] a stronger ability to adapt when those values become less (or more) important over time.”
Brittle also suggested asking your partner what you can do to show them that your relationship is a priority. For instance, your partner might say it’s working out together, cuddling up on the couch every night or putting your phone away during dinner.
Again, relationships aren’t easy. But there are many simple things we can do to cultivate a happier union. And surprisingly enough, sometimes, it can start with something as small as a “thank you,” a kiss or a chat about your goals.
Kiss photo available from Shutterstock