After working all day, feeding the family, cleaning the kitchen and putting the kids to bed, the last thing on your mind is how to build a happy marriage. But a happy marriage is the foundation for your family's well-being. It deserves your attention.
If you take a few minutes every day to focus on keeping your marriage happy, everyone will be better off -- including you.
Date Night Works
It's the oldest piece of advice for a reason -- date night really helps keep your marriage happy.
You don't need to have a standing babysitter every Friday night, like Barack and Michelle Obama, but you must devote one-on-one time to your spouse on a regular basis.
The work of raising children and supporting a family is all consuming. It's easy for your marriage to become an afterthought. When you have a regular time set aside, you're forced to build that connection.
If you're concerned about the cost of child care for a weekly date night, get creative. Can you ask a neighbor to sit in your house during the kids' nap on Saturday afternoon so you can get out for coffee as a couple?
Or consider having a regular date morning -- breakfast after the kids get on the school bus. You can negotiate flexible hours at work to accommodate arriving an hour late. As a bonus, you'll be alert and fresh. You may even find conversation flows more easily and you have more energy for your spouse compared with dinner at the end of a long week.
Think of Your Spouse First
Imagine if every morning you woke up asking, "How can I make my husband's day as special and wonderful as possible?" And if he woke asking the same question? You'd be guaranteed a happy marriage.
Now I realize that's not a realistic daily occurrence. We so often wake up thinking, "Is it my turn to bring snack for soccer practice?" But if you at least try to put your spouse or partner first, and he does the same for you, you'll be a step ahead.
And those times when you each think of the other first? It's as beautiful a moment as reading a classic O. Henry story.
Communicate With Words
A happy marriage would be simple if we all could read minds. Unfortunately, my husband communicates best by hearing words that I speak. I'm betting yours does too.
Don't expect your spouse to guess why you're upset or to know what will help you. You have to ask for what you need, whether it's time alone or a big hug or for him to pick up his dirty socks from the floor.
Trust me, he'll thank you for spelling out the solution to your bad mood. He loves you more than anyone in the world -- he wants to fix the problem.
When you ask for what you need, whether it's emotional support or household chores, it helps to use the manners mama taught you. The same request comes off very differently if it's done with a smile and a hug, as opposed to a whiny tone or angry face.
Say Thank You and Sorry
And while I'm on the topic, many a marriage has been saved by a well-timed apology.
Even if you don't think you did anything wrong, can't you honestly say that you're sorry to see your spouse so upset?
When your partner is furious or hurt, the most important thing is to hear his anger. Don't get defensive and launch into explanations. Let him know you are listening by giving the gift of empathy. It won't kill you to say "I'm sorry," and it may just take the wind out of his sails. Certainly, it allows him to admit he might have been in the wrong also.
And when your husband does something special for you, even if you had to ask for it, make sure to say thank you. There are other much-appreciated ways to reward a man, so consider one of those too.
Touch Each Other
That brings us to the bedroom. Yes, a fulfilling sex life is an integral part of many happy marriages. But just as important are the hugs, kisses and casual touches that remind you of the time when you met and fell in love. Before kids, before the mortgage, before the bills.
When you're raising babies and young children, their physical demands can be exhausting, especially for moms. So you need to make a conscious decision to save some energy for a physical connection with your husband too -- even if it means leaving the laundry or the email or the thank you notes for another day.
You may not be in the mood. You may feel uncomfortable with your post-baby body. But if you start to let your sex life slide, you can quickly become little more than roommates with the man who was once the love of your life. And you may find that once you start feeling romantic and enjoying intimacy again, you tap into your pre-mommyhood libido.
Assume Good Intentions
Our society is so focused on grievance and complaint. It's easy to develop a narrative in your head about what your spouse has done wrong and how put upon you are.
Keeping mental lists of wrongdoing is a sure recipe for drama and turbulence in your home. Instead, try to think of a positive reason that he might have for acting the way he did.
Maybe he forgot to pick up the kids at daycare because he was working hard to support your family. Maybe he ignored your mother-in-law's nasty comment about working moms because he didn't hear it. Maybe he was going to get to the dirty dishes in the sink after the kids were asleep, and then he got distracted by the bills.
Your made-up explanation may not be the right one, but thinking through the alternatives gives you space to imagine that there are valid reasons for his actions. The next step -- ask him what was going on. You can even have the conversation on date night!
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