It’s no secret that countless marriages are in trouble. Many end in divorce. Others that that stay together have morphed into nothing more than compatible roommates.
Obviously there are hundreds of reasons marriages deteriorate, but one thing I’ve observed is that many couples have allowed the “little things” or “basics” to disappear in their marriage. It’s often the little things that lead to big issues. But it’s also true that when couples refocus on doing the little things, they can lead to big improvements in a marriage.
Over the years of being married to Cathy, we’ve continually worked on four little things in our life together, and these have helped to make our marriage stronger.
1. Minimize! There are some issues in marriage that can be so big that they can’t be ignored. Painful issues left unresolved can and will destroy a marriage. But in challenging you to minimize, I’m referring to the little things and specifically in this case, I’m talking about your spouse’s little annoyances that get under your skin.
You likely already know what they are. But here are some examples of common little annoyances among spouses:
• Leaving the toilet seat up.
• Toothpaste that is squeezed from the “wrong” end of the tube.
• Clothes left on the floor.
• Leaving an empty toilet paper roll on the spool.
• Leaving the cap off the shampoo.
Discipline yourself to let these little annoyances go. Minimizing releases the power they have over your attitude toward your spouse. And chances are very high that most of your spouse’s little annoyances won’t ever change. So do both yourself and your spouse a favor and minimize them.
2. Connect: Talk and Listen. Most men I know break into hives and immediately feel the pang of guilt when their wife says, “We need to talk.” I realize this plays into the “females-like-to-talk” and “men-like-to-not-talk” stereotypes. I also realize there are exceptions, so if you fall into the exception category–fabulous! Change the context and you can read this just the same.
My experience is that when Cathy says, “We need to talk,” she isn’t necessarily looking for a long drawn-out discussion, or for me to lecture her. She wants to connect with me.
Cathy and I know that when we get away on a date or share a meal together or have planned pillow time, our connection is going to be much stronger. But, we also realize that life with kids is so busy that we’ve got to steal a few minutes and be intentional to get to the heart of connection.
These are specific questions that seem to fast-forward our connection:
• What happened today that you want me to know?
• How are you feeling about life? Us?
It would be irresponsible to write about “talk” and “connecting” and not comment about “listening.”
No one wants to be in a relationship with a world-class talker. We all want to be with…
• Someone who doesn’t rush to judge or evaluate what we’re saying.
• Someone who isn’t quick to agree or disagree.
• Someone who doesn’t feel the need to express every opinion that flies across their mind.
I have many regrets over things I’ve said. I can actually grieve some misplaced and hurtful words I’ve used. But I have no regrets over listening. I’ve never regretted thinking, “Why did I pay such careful attention to her? Why was I so patient and empathic and understanding?”
But I have regretted checking email and reading my texts while Cathy was talking. Listening on the other hand, has never led to regret. Connecting and listening will lead to more talking. Talking isn’t the end game… connecting is.
3. Regret-Free Marriage: Use Your Words Wisely. While I have no regrets over listening to Cathy, I have lots of regrets over the things that I’ve said to her. Most couples can identify with this. We wound our spouse whenever we say something we shouldn’t and whenever we withhold words that our spouse desperately needs to hear.
Troubled marriages are infused with misguided and destructive words, but healthy marriages are filled with good and life-giving words. The spoken word is free and can be given like a gift. Speaking the right word at the right time can build up, bless, empower, shape, motivate, and inspire our spouse.
4. Touch. Sex is God’s incredible design for married couples! Marital pleasure was His idea! He was the creative genius behind sex, touch, pleasure, and marriage. Thank you, God!
Yet, sexual touch probably isn’t realistic for every day of marriage (except in the minds of 15-year-old boys dreaming of what marriage will be like someday.) But non-sexual touch can and should be present each and every day. Regular touch seems like such a little thing, but it can make a huge difference for your spouse!
People have an innate craving for regular, non-sexual touch. Science has labeled this desire as “skin hunger.” It’s the simple affectionate display of touching your spouse’s arm, holding hands, a hug, a “just because I care about you” back rub, sitting closely, or snuggling. These are all non-sexual touching opportunities that communicate sincere value to your spouse. So don’t be stingy when it comes to non-sexual touch. Your marriage will benefit from it!