10 ways to strengthen your marriage

My husband and I don’t have a perfect marriage. Nobody does! However, we have learned some lessons through our 19 years of marriage that have helped along the way. And they don’t have much to do with the dramatic romantic gestures we love watching on the silver screen. Those things are nice, but just aren’t realistic in daily life.

Treat your spouse like a stranger.
While it’s easy to snap at those we love when we are having a bad day, it’s neither fair nor productive to them. I try to remember when I’m having a bad day that my husband isn’t the cause of it (usually!). I wouldn’t be rude to a stranger for no apparent reason. I shouldn’t be to my husband either.

Say thank you.
I once read a magazine article about a celebrity who said she had a hard time thanking her husband for taking out the trash since it needed to be done. I don’t think you can say thank you enough, honestly. Our theory is that if the other one has done a chore, that’s one less thing we need to do and we appreciate it. I don’t say thank you every time he takes out the trash. He doesn’t say thank you every time I do a load of laundry. But, we do make it a priority to say thanks a few times a week for everyday chores. We all have a need to be appreciated.

Give each other privacy.
I don’t have anything to hide from my husband. He doesn’t have anything to hide from me. For example, if he needs to get something out of my purse or I need to get something out of his wallet, we ask first. But, I appreciate that he asks before barging in. While we are married and we two have become one, we are also still individuals as well.

Talk to each other about problems.
We’re pretty private folks, so this comes naturally to us, but we don’t air dirty laundry, so to speak. We agreed early on that if one of us has a problem with the other, we talk directly to them. So, if I have a problem with my husband, I talk to him about it — not my mom or my friends. He does likewise. We can’t fix problems and make them better if we don’t talk about and work on them.

Nobody is a mind reader.
My husband knows me better than anyone on this planet, but he can’t read my mind. We have to communicate that with one another. Sometimes that means being very specific about what we need without getting upset the other one didn’t know it first. That includes everything from romantic gestures to household chores. I’ve found it’s much more productive to tell him this stuff rather than be upset when he doesn’t do it.

Don’t take everything personally.
I can be a tad sensitive. OK, I can be a lot sensitive. I take things very personally sometimes and take them to heart when I shouldn’t, like when someone gets mad at me in traffic. While I’ve made improvements through the years sometimes I still struggle with this. When my husband and I are discussing an issue that revolves primarily around something I feel responsible for, my first response can tend to be defensive. However, most of the time, I don’t need to take it so personally. I need to get over that so we can move on to the real goal: fixing whatever issue is happening. And that also means I work to not read into things. For example, my husband doesn’t always notice things that need to be done around home, like emptying the bathroom trash. Instead of feeling personally offended that he’s trying to  spite me by not doing it, I just ask him for help. To his credit, he obliges — usually saying that he didn’t notice the issue.

Know when to talk and when to wait.
While communication is important in all relationships, not all communication is created equal. Know your spouse and when best to talk with them about a serious issue. For example, my husband knows just before bed isn’t a time to start a serious discussion with me. I’m a morning person and by the end of the day my energy and mental capacity are not up to par. Any discussions had at that time of day don’t go well. I know the same is true for him in the morning. And we both know when the other one is in the middle of something, whether it’s work or something fun, to ask for a chance to talk before just launching into a conversation. Usually whoever is busy can say something like, “Give me five minutes.” Then when they’re at a stopping point, they stop and give the other their attention. Conversations go much better that way.

Don’t micromanage.
We started the policy when we got married, that if one of us is doing a task, he/she can do it his/her own way. If the other person has a problem, he/she should just do it. So, if my husband is cleaning the bathroom, he gets to do it his way. If I have a problem, then I should do it myself. If I’m doing laundry and Chris has a problem with it, then he should do it himself. The nice thing about that policy is that it feeds into our lazy streaks a bit. Before I criticize or micromanage, I realize that I don’t feel like doing said task myself. I shut my mouth!

Be each other’s biggest fan.
My husband and I have each other’s backs 100 percent. While we are helpful to one another and discuss work and such, we also support one another wholeheartedly. He encourages me in my career. I encourage him in his. I’m his biggest cheerleader, and he is mine. We also remember this in front of other folks. When we are with others, I need to uplift and support my husband all the more. If I have an issue with something, it can wait until we are alone.

Approach life together — the good, the bad and the ugly.
We refer to ourselves Team Shannon (which nowadays includes our kids, but started as just a team of two). We even high-five each other sometimes. Honestly, I think this is my best marriage tip. When you approach life together with a team mentality then you stay working together for the common good of your family. We’ve faced many struggles together. Rather than start placing blame on each other, we stay focus on what we need to do to get through the situation together. We are a team whether we’re working together to get dinner prepared or making major life decisions.

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