Although relationships often seem daunting, by following these ten simple steps, you can build the foundation for a strong, happy marriage.
1) Spend time together
The number one cause for the breakdown in marriage today is that couples aren't spending enough time together or making the relationship a priority. Everything else seems to take precedence- work, children, hobbies, relatives, community commitments. And when include children on this list, most people say, "But Michele, we both work, so on weekends or evenings, we don't want to be away from our children." To that I say, "The best thing you can do for your kids is to put your marriage first." Marriages that are time-starved are at risk of divorce because partners stop being friends. This leads to a lack of connection which leads to a multitude of problems. Avoid this by planning time together...alone!
2) Have sex
Sex is one of the most important connections in marriage. Do whatever it takes to keep passion alive. Desire is a decision. Even if you are feeling turned off and tuned out, with what we now know about boosting libido, there is no reason anyone wanting a more vibrant sex life can't have one. Whether the causes for a ho-hum sex life are biological, relational or personal, help is available. Sex-lite marriages often lead to infidelity or divorce.
It's not just about sex. Affectionate touch is important too. Hold hands. Sit together on the couch. Cuddle in bed. If you happen to be married to someone whose "love language" is touch, you can say, "I love you," make delicious meals, work your butt off at the office, or buy expensive gifts and nothing will say, "I adore you," as well as a good hug or kiss. Stay in touch.
Recall how you and your spouse flirted in the early days? Do that throughout your marriage and it will stay exciting. Did you have pet names? Did you tell your spouse s/he looked hot? Were you more playful? Did you surprise each other once in a while? How about x-rated emails or texts? Do what you did when the fires were burning and watch how that heats things up.
5) Talk frequently
Check in with each other daily. Talk about important feelings and issues. Don't shut down when you are hurt. Keep the lines of communication open. This goes for you too, even if you're a guy. While it's true that most guys prefer doing over talking, it's also true that meaningful , heartfelt conversations are truly important when it comes to intimacy. Don't let a day go by without asking about your spouse's day.
6) Give compliments
Everyone likes to be appreciated. Make sure you give your spouse compliments EVERY DAY. It's amazing how resilient relationships are when spouses feel appreciated. They can weather most storms together if they feel that their partners really appreciate who they are.
7) Take a marriage class
Staying in love requires skills that many people don't have. The good news is that there are marriage education classes. Take them together and learn to stay in love. In most marriage seminars, you don't have to talk about your personal problems in public. It's a class, not therapy. You can learn everything you need to know about making marriage work.
So, if you're having problems, don't wait for them to fester, learn how to resolve problems and build connection. And then remember, practice makes perfect.
8) Learn skills to handle conflict constructively
All couples have conflict. It's how you handle it that makes or breaks the relationship. The goal is for both people to really make an effort to understand and develop empathy for your partner's views. Feeling understood is incredibly important to most people. Many arguments escalate because both partners feel misunderstood and unvalidated. If you can't talk about things without fighting, get some coaching. It works!
9) Focus on the positives
Every marriage has good things about it and not so good things. In many marriages, people focus more on what's wrong rather than on what's right. That's wrong. :-) It leads to contempt, defensiveness and distance.
Even if you're unhappy, the best way to get your spouse to be more responsive to your needs is to compliment him or her when s/he is hitting the mark rather than criticizing when things aren't going well. Remember, what you focus on expands.
10) Do real giving
People tend to show love in the way they like to receive love. But that's not really giving. Real giving is when you give to your partner the things your partner wants and needs whether you understand it or not! For example, if you like to be asked, "What's wrong,?" when you are down in the dumps, you might think that your spouse likes it when you ask that question when s/he is upset. But you might be married to someone who likes to be left alone to sort things out when s/he is down in the dumps. So, in that case, giving your spouse space to reflect- even if you feel the urge to ask, "What's wrong,?" is an example of real giving.
If you're someone whose spouse likes alone time to sort things out, but you're a "talker," it might feel unnatural to be silent when you see your spouse hurting. I tell couples that you know you are doing real giving when your actions feel unnatural or when it's challenging. That's because you are caring for your partner's needs, not your own and that often requires personal stretching!
Do real giving and you'll be surprised how much more giving your spouse will be in return.
Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.