I was at a cousin’s wedding this past month when someone asked me for a couples therapist’s advice for a great marriage. The question really made me think: How do you teach someone to be a good spouse? Is that something that comes from learning by example, watching your parents for years in their interactions? To some degree, probably. But what about people with less-than-model examples in their lives?
Although many marital problems cannot be solved by adhering to the following three recommendations alone, they can help excited newlyweds as they merge from two individuals to one cohesive unit:
- Be available to each other: You can find someone to help clean the house or have groceries delivered, but you cannot replace the special and unique emotional gift you can offer your spouse. You have the opportunity to offer kind words of love, open arms, and perhaps most importantly, an open ear. When you return from a long day at work, you can put down the phone and close the laptop and ask your partner about his or her day. The loving words and unconditional support are things your spouse cannot receive in the same way from another relationship. Make time to listen and to ask him or her about the things that are going on at work or with family/friends. In addition to the words and emotional support, you have the power to offer your body, if you feel so inclined, as a means to comfort and seal the connection. The intimate bond between a husband and a wife is something only you two share with each other.
- Love (the emotion and the verb): It’s easy to find faults in people. It’s easy to become fixated on the negative or irritating attributes of someone, especially someone you live with. However, you can make a conscious effort to choose to feel gratitude and loving feelings toward your spouse. Concentrate on your spouse’s strengths and positive attributes and connect those to feelings of love. This will help you to make the connection to physical expressions of love. Men often look to sex as a way to express emotional intimacy, and while that is true of many women as well, some need emotional intimacy to have sex. If you offer your spouse emotional and physical intimacy, you increase the chances that you will both have your needs met.
- Keep disputes private and praise public: Children should grow up in an environment where parents demonstrate praise and work out their disagreements privately. Although many people believe they are being “fake” or lying to their children by doing this, there is no need to bring children into marriage issues. This only confuses children and may leave them feeling conflicted about which parent to support. When out with friends or family, do not criticize your spouse. You can discuss your problems with a close friend or confidant, but resist from openly discussing issues in a larger group or public setting. Aside to the ladies: studies have shown that when women sit around together and complain about their husbands, there is a higher rate of divorce. Resolve marriage issues privately with one another or with the help of a therapist. Conversely, you can never give enough praise. Studies have shown that people give less praise than they think they do. You can never give enough. This will make your spouse feel encouraged and loved.
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