Marriage 101: Getting Back to Basics to Strengthen Your Relationship
I don’t know if your parents are anything like mine, but when I got engaged to be married to my husband, they loaded me up with approximately eight pajillion marriage books. Don’t worry, they had already given me all the “child rearing” books years earlier. While overwhelming, all of the books were fantastic in their own way, with at least a few snippets that were very helpful to my husband and me.
Now it’s time for a little refresher course and remind myself of all the things I SHOULD be doing. Let’s talk about the different aspects of a marriage or relationship and what the pros suggest to stay happy together. Here are several ways you can get back to basics and strengthen your relationship.
First thing’s first; let’s talk about the emotional aspects of our relationships.
It’s impossible to talk about relationships without also talking about communication within the relationship. Both verbal and nonverbal, communication is an integral part of a happy marriage.
Here are three different levels of communication to be aware of within a marriage/relationship:
- Superficial—This type of communication is exactly like it sounds. It’s not the kind of conversation that builds trust or emotional closeness; it’s what most of our daily conversations are with acquaintances or casual friends.
- Personal—This level of communication is all about personal opinions, ideas, values, and thoughts. “This level of sharing involves more risk on our part than a superficial level does.” 1 Because risk is involved, you want to make sure your spouse’s views are treated gently, even if you disagree.
- Validation—This level of communication is always positive and complimentary. “You look great tonight,” is an example of verbal validation. Nonverbal validation can be a wink, a smile, a kind touch, a little love-tap on the bum, etc. Intimacy is also a form of nonverbal validation—just throwing it out there. (1)
Happy couples are those who are able to risk sharing deep feelings with each other and validate each other comfortably. Try communicating on both personal and validation levels with your sweetie today.
You and your Love Nugget should take time regularly for Pillow Talk. Yep, regularly watch the Rock Hudson, Doris Day classic. Wait, not really. This is a time when you share your personal thoughts with each other. Don’t talk about the kids or finances or anything else that may be contentious—discuss hopes, dreams, and feelings. (3)
Zip Your Lips
Remember, there are two parts to communication: talking and LISTENING. Take time to listen to your partner. Just close your mouth and open your ears. The most important time to keep your mouth shut is when you have something critical to say about your spouse. The philosopher Thumper once said, “If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” This gem works in your marriage, too.
Passive-aggressive behavior is something that exists to some extant in many relationships. First, let’s talk about what passive aggressive behavior is:
It is the expression of aggression in non-assertive, subtle ways. This kind of behavior can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, hostility masquerading as jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate/repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible. (2)
So how do you deal with passive-aggressive behavior in a spouse? Here are some tips from a past Mom It Forward Post by Signe Whitson about how to deal with a passive-aggressive spouse:
1. Recognize the Warning Signs
The most common passive-aggressive behaviors include:
- Sulking & the silent treatment
- Intentional inefficiency (performing tasks to unacceptable standards)
- Excessive excuses & feigned misunderstanding
- Shutting down conversations with “Fine” and “Whatever”
2. Make Friends with Your Anger
Self- awareness and self-talk are essential to managing your responses to passive-aggressive behavior. Try not to let yourself get angry and yell or react negatively. Decide that you will not participate in the unproductive passive-aggressive conflict cycle.
3. State Requests Clearly
Set specific expectations, including time frames, for any request. Never assume that a passive-aggressive person understands your needs. Use care not to allow sarcasm or condescension in your voice as you detail the request. Rather, make your expectations as clear as possible in a neutral, assertive tone.
If you want more info on passive aggressive behavior in marriage, check out these two posts on Mom It Forward: Behavior: Strategies for Responding to a Passive Aggressive Spouse and Habits: Signs of Passive Aggressive Behavior in a Marriage.
No matter how perfect your marriage, there is bound to be some conflict. Dealing with conflict isn’t complicated; it just takes some effort, thought, and inspiration. Remember, men tend to be more LOGICAL and like dealing in facts when it comes to resolving problems, while women are usually more EMOTIONAL and prefer dealing with feelings that accompany the facts.
Here are simple steps to resolve conflict:
Step 1: Deal with Facts
- State the problem.
- Don’t attack the person.
Step 2: Deal with Feelings
- Use “I” statements and own your feelings.
- Have your spouse state your feelings back to you.
- Let your partner know if they have stated your feelings correctly.
Step 3: Resolve the Concern
- Ask your partner what they think would resolve the issue.
- Commit to the solution. (1)
This just in: you and your spouse are different. I know. I was just as surprised as you are. The other crazy thing is that your spouse might not express their love the same way you do. Sometimes these differences can make it hard to understand each other. Here’s the good news: if you can learn to understand each other’s personality types and love languages, you can speak each other’s languages.
The People Code
The People Code by Dr. Taylor Heartman is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the people around them and themselves—I’m hoping that’s everyone. The “Color Code” personality test comes from this book. It focuses on personality types as they relate to innate motives and categorizes them into four colors:
- RED (Motive: POWER)—These are the power wielders. Power: the ability to move from point A to point B and get things done, is what motivates and drives these people. They bring great gifts of vision and leadership and generally are responsible, decisive, proactive, and assertive.
- BLUE (Motive: INTIMACY)—These are the do-gooders. Intimacy: connecting, creating quality relationships, and having purpose, is what motivates and drives these people. They bring great gifts of quality and service and are generally loyal, sincere, and thoughtful.
- WHITE (Motive: PEACE)—These are the peacekeepers. Peace: the ability to stay calm and balanced even in the midst of conflict, is what motivates and drives these people. They bring great gifts of clarity and tolerance and are generally kind, adaptable, and good-listeners.
- YELLOW (Motive: Fun)—These are the fun lovers. Fun: the joy of living life “in the moment”, is what motivates and drives these people. They bring great gifts of enthusiasm and optimism and are generally charismatic, spontaneous, and sociable.
*Descriptions from colorcode.com.
This book will give you insights into why your spouse thinks the way they do and how to interact with them in an effective and healthy way. You’ll also see how your color should interact with people characterized by other colors. You’ll be shocked how much better you understand your partner and what motivates them after reading this book.
If you haven’t read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, put it at the top of your must-read list…along with The People Code. This book analyzes how you give and receive love: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.
There is a good chance that you and your spouse have different love languages; you may express love through gifts, while your husband expresses love to you through physical touch. You can see how that might cause some confusion.
To close the gap, read the book, determine your own love language, and then learn your spouse’s language. If your spouse’s language is Quality Time, make sure you set some time aside for them. Don’t insist on expressing your love to your spouse in your own language if they have a different language; this will just perpetuate miscommunications.
Just like a spoken language, you need to learn the language of the person you’re speaking with in order to effectively communicate. You can take a quick quiz to find out your love language here.
Our own Jyl Pattee said it best, “Selflessly serving your partner with no strings attached helps you fall madly and unconditionally in love with him or her.” Love and service are inseparably connected. If you’re having a hard time with your spouse, do something nice for them and see how your feelings change.
It’s important that your spouse knows you appreciate them. Whenever possible, you should share your gratitude for each other. It can be as simple as saying you appreciate it when they put their shoes away or you like when they kiss you good-bye in the morning or that you’re thankful that they’re so good-looking.
Tip: One of the best pieces of advice my husband and I received before getting married was to express our gratitude for one another in our nightly couple prayer. If this is something you and your spouse do together, try throwing in some things you’re thankful for about your spouse in your prayer and see how much it means to them.
Your physical relationship can be anything from holding hands to sex to just spending time with each other. And the thing is, your relationship needs all of those things.
I know we’ve all heard this a million times, but just because you have a ring on your finger, it doesn’t mean you have to stop dating. The time you spend alone together becomes increasingly important when the kiddos enter the picture.
While getting out of the house for dinner and a movie is nice, sometimes that’s not in the cards, especially if you are low on funds or have a tinsy baby at home. Your dates could be as simple as a walk in the park, a picnic, or a drive around town. You don’t even have to leave the house if you aren’t able to; make dinner together or create your own movie theater in your living room. The important thing is that you have regular time alone with your spouse talking and enjoying each other’s company.
Playtime is just as important for you and your Lovebug as it is for your little ones. Act like kids together. Be silly, play on the jungle gym, play games, ride scooters, get out the old roller skates… laugh together… flirt. Having fun together will do more to spice up your relationship than you would think.
Yep, we’re going there. “Couples who take time to cultivate and maintain healthy and satisfying sexual relations tend to be more connected with each other and do not suffer from depression, heart problems and other health maladies, experts say.” (4)
Tip: Let’s be serious, we’re busy. And for most women, sex is not their number one priority. In order to ensure both you and your spouse are getting the intimacy you need, it may be helpful to set up a schedule. This is what my sister affectionately calls the “sex-dule.” While setting a schedule for your sexy times sounds super unromantic, it can be very helpful. The ladies probably want more cuddle time and the fellas probably want more sexy time, so throw them both in the schedule. This can help both of you set expectations each day (and night), relieve anxiety or uncertainty about frequency of sex, and can offer added stability to your relationship.
If you find that either you or your spouse is regularly easily irritable or angry, the solution may be as simple as getting more sleep. This goes for the kids, as well. We all know that if your babies aren’t sleeping, you aren’t sleeping either. Try to set up a good sleep routine for you, your spouse, and your kids to make sure you are well rested for your day.
Tip: There are great resources available to help you establish healthy sleep habits for your family. My personal favorite is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby; it has been a life-saver for many of my friends and family.
Conclusion: Work At It
Marriage can be wonderful, stressful, happy, sad, and hectic all at the same time. Again, Jyl Pattee said it perfectly, “Unless the relationship is toxic and unhealthy, don't give up! Fake it til you make it with a goal to improve your marriage. And remember... marriage takes work.”
I hope you found this post helpful. I know it was great for me to take out all my marriage books and remind myself of things I can do to be a better wife. ☺
What advice has been most helpful in your marriage/relationship?
1. Ogletree, M. D., Brinley, D.E. (2005). Then Comes Marriage. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, Inc.
2. Wetzler, Scott (1992). Living with the passive–aggressive man. Simon & Schuster. pp. 35–37. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
3. Brotherson, L. M. (2011). And They Were Not Ashamed. (8 ed.). Boise, ID: Inspire Book.
Cari Thompson—the artist formerly known as Cari Stewart—is a wife, copywriter, online marketer, and blogger. She currently lives in the mommy blogger space as an editor, SEO specialist, and account manager. Her three greatest accomplishments: beating Super Mario 3 in one night without a whistle, drumming for tens of people, and licking an ice sculpture at the Versace Mansion. Check her out at caristewart.com, dougandcari.com, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Couple cooking image courtesy of Flickr. Family in sheets image courtesy of Flickr. Windy couple image courtesy of Flickr. Couple at arcade image courtesy of Flickr. Couple apart image courtesy of Flickr.
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