1) Guard your tongue
One of the hardest things to learn is guarding our tongue with our mate. Instead of always speaking in nurturing, loving, encouraging ways, often we zoom right past the boundary of who our spouse is to God and who our spouse is to us. Even small, negative comments can have a cumulative effect. A good three-step test for anything that needs to be said of a critical nature:1) Does this need to be said? 2) Am I the one that needs to say it? 3) Is this the best time to say it? And of course when it gets down to actually having the conversation, it’s all about speaking the truth in love, our body language, and the tone of our voice.
2) Don’t let the sun go down on your feelings
Love is not a feeling; it is a decision. Like is the feeling, which waxes and wanes. Learn to have a firm boundary between love and like with your mate. It is an important developmental task to learn to continue being loving to your mate when you temporarily do not like them. You can agree to disagree while reinforcing to one another that your relationship is bigger and stronger than any disagreement. Healthy conflict can grow a relationship, and it starts with the knowledge that your mate is not the enemy.
3) Take time to connect
There are a lot of small ways that we can connect on a daily basis with our mates. Some of these include acknowledging your mate, maybe with a kiss, when you first see them in the morning (after brushing!), when they are leaving for the day, and when they arrive home. Another good habit is to give a quick call (always leave a message!) or text every day when you are apart, just to let them know you are thinking of them. Most importantly, come into each other’s worlds. Know what is going on with your mate’s work, family, and other relationships. Take a little time each evening to sit down on the loveseat and give each other your undivided attention and catch up!
4) Have fun together
A good practice is to designate one night of the week as “Date Night.” Husbands, you should take the lead in planning the activity in consideration and consultation with what your wife would enjoy. Or you may delegate the planning to your wife, but it is important for you to take the lead in bringing it up. You can be flexible in case something else comes up on that night, but by default it is Date Night…every week. This is a time to go do something fun together… alone, with no friends, family, or kids. Put aside any expectations or heavy discussions and just have fun!
5) Show grace
It has been said: Before marriage, you should keep your eyes wide open; after marriage, keep them half shut. Show grace to your mate when they have hurt you. Sometimes this is done most powerfully without even saying a word. The Holy Spirit is much better at conviction than we can ever be! It is easiest for someone to show grace that has humbly and thankfully experienced grace themselves. Making it a priority in your life to spend some time alone with God each and every day helps to put into perspective the grace he has shown you. Changing your mind will change your marriage. Always pray briefly for your mate. Besides, it probably won’t be too long before you need your mate to reciprocate in showing you grace!
6) Dwell with understanding
We are supposed to dwell with our mate with understanding. This DOES not mean understanding why, but rather means constantly moving along the path of understanding how our mate’s mind, heart, and soul work. Find out their love language. Discover their top three relational needs (there are 10; the subject of a future post!). In short, study them, pray for wisdom, and, above all, listen to them. Celebrate your gender differences! God has something there for you to learn from another perspective when she is speaking pink or he is speaking blue.
7) Be vulnerable
There can be no intimacy in a relationship without truth. Since none of us are perfect, being genuine always involves being vulnerable. Being vulnerable with your mate will help your mate to feel safe in being vulnerable with you, in turn building trust and bonding your relationship in a deeper way. An important part of truth and vulnerability is to acknowledge when you have hurt your mate. “I hope you will forgive me” should not be a phrase foreign to your mate. And when you have been hurt, make sure you specify how you feel in that circumstance. “When you (action, word), I feel ______.” Vulnerability is very empowering and equally as attractive.
8) Have healthy conflict
Healthy conflict actually deepens the ties between two people, as they realize over time that their disagreement is not as strong as what binds them. Always carefully and deliberately choose the right time and place to resolve issues; start out positively. Pray first, and together, if possible, before getting started. Listen without interrupting. It is always a WIN-WIN situation when you can concentrate on helping your mate to feel: Heard, understood, and cared about. Reflect back to your mate what they have just said. And remember, a soft answer turns away wrath. Stay on point and don’t bring up the past. Never, ever argue in voicemails, emails, or texts. Those are only for logistics or quick romantic messages (see #3 above). Always resolve conflict with your mate face to face.
9) Have firm boundaries
Encourage your mate to spend time alone with your kids, family, and their own friends on a regular basis. Support your mate in hobbies or activities that they enjoy and you don’t share with them. Know your mate’s individual dreams, and always fan the fulfillment of those dreams. Expect them to succeed individually. Believe in and with your mate for the desires of their heart. Take time to acknowledge and celebrate their successes. And freely communicate your own personal desires, hopes, and dreams to your mate.
10) Concentrate on your side of the street
Concentrating on the ways our mate needs to change is usually useless and often counterproductive. It is like trying to push a rope. But we can concentrate on what changes need to take place in ourselves. Maybe not as quickly as we would like, but this will have a profound impact upon our mate being empowered to make their own changes. When we show that we are invested in working on ourselves, while at the same time accepting and loving our mate right where they are, amazing things happen.