As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I have done my fair share of couples counseling. As a wife, I have experienced my own personal ups and downs and learning moments over the past 5 years with my spouse.
There are many ways to enhance your relationship with your partner but here are my top ways to enhance your marriage and tips on what you can do to help lessen arguments!
Communicate. One of the most vital components of a healthy relationship is based on communication levels. The more you communicate effectively, the more intimate you will become, and the higher marital satisfaction you will have. Did you know that communicating with your spouse is intimacy?
Even when you are not communicating with each other, that is still a sign of communication. When you ignore your spouse, give them the silent treatment or don’t initiate contact with them during your day, what does that communicate to your spouse? And please remember that listening to your spouse is just as important, if not more important, than talking to your spouse. Listening goes a long way. I suggest scheduling a time each day (or each week) to have an uninterrupted conversation with each other.
Some research I have done has concluded that couples that spend more time talking with each other about their lives have longer and more substantial marriages. Intimacy doesn’t have to be about sexual intimacy, it can also be spiritual intimacy, friendly intimacy, and playful intimacy. Another way to be intimate with your partner is appreciating them and telling them how much they mean to you. You can do this verbally, in a letter, or even a quick note that you stick on the mirror or in their lunch! Sometimes when couples focus on sexual intimacy they only think of one way – the old fashioned way. But sexual intimacy is so much more. Try reaching out and holding hands with your spouse more often. Rub their arm or leg when you are sitting on the couch. Kiss more. Smile more. You will find yourself more intimately attached to them before you know it! You can also be spiritually intimate, if you both place a value on your faith as part of your relationship. Pray together, go to church together, pray with your children as a family, or even have quiet devotional time together.
You and your partner are different people. Attraction and common interests brought you together and keep your marriage thriving, however, I’m sure you can make a list of things that are different that may not be as desirable. Be patient with those differences. You both may want to go to a different place for dinner or on vacation, but instead of digging your heels in, take turns and compromise. Successful relationships are about give and take. Focus on a common goal. Unless there is something you are very passionate about, be flexible with the little things and see how much better your marriage satisfaction becomes!
We are all human and we all make mistakes. One of the best ways to help forgive your spouse is by accepting them for their strengths and also their faults. Most things can be forgiven and I understand that some things may not be. I’m not saying to forget the things that hurt you, wounds still need to heal, but if it is something that you can move past from, then try to practice forgiving and moving on. Try not to fester and hold grudges and throw the mistake back in your spouse’s face months or years later when you are having an argument. You may think you are letting your partner off the hook when mistakes happen, but in reality, you are actually freeing yourself of negativity that can paralyze your relationship and yourself mentally and emotionally if you have too much built up inside.
We can all be prideful at times, some of us more than others, but in an intimate relationship, being humble is the high road and often will lead to greater marital satisfaction if practiced regularly. Apologizing is not easy. Practice saying you are sorry before you actually say you are sorry. Practice the words, the tone, and the intention. If you are just saying sorry to appease your spouse but don’t actually mean it, it will show. If you are genuinely apologetic, it will shine through and bring you and your partner closer together. I have told many clients to be vulnerable. Vulnerability will assist you in being humble. Hearts can be mended easily with some thoughtfulness, compassion, grace, and humility.
Trust is essential when it comes to any long-term relationship. In my opinion, trust is the fundamental component of any relationship. If trust is broken, it is one of the hardest things to repair, and sometimes might never be fully repaired. That being said, I recommend being honest and open with your partner. Think twice before making a decision you think your spouse would be uncomfortable with, even if you think it is fine. Define with your partner what it means to be loyal. You may find you have different definitions and need to find a compromise on what is ethically and morally acceptable in your marriage. Trust that your spouse is faithful to you and if not, feel comfortable having a conversation with your spouse on insecurities if you have them. Try not to jump to conclusions or accuse your partner of wrongdoing. Hopefully when you express your vulnerable feelings, they will reassure you and comfort you.
When you and your spouse are arguing and can’t seem to move forward and get stuck in a whirlwind of negativity, here are some things you can do to push ahead.
Plan a Time to Argue: When you find yourself arguing often, set and schedule aside an amount of time each day to hash out all of your issues. You will find that over time you won’t need much time or any time at all, that you will be able to manage your emotions and arguments better and will not see your issues as monumental enough to even argue about them at all. You will see each other’s faults differently and move past them quicker.
Take a Time Out: In the midst of an argument, inform your spouse that you need some time to cool off and request a time out. When our cortisol levels are high, our brain doesn’t think as clearly and you may need space to gather your thoughts and regroup. Make sure you give your spouse a time frame of when you both can readdress the issue (I wouldn’t wait longer than 24 hours) and make sure you follow through and come back together to discuss again.
Mix It Up: In the middle of an argument do something your spouse least expects. A very experienced therapist once said at a conference I attended, to get naked in the middle of an argument and it will automatically change the chemistry in both of your brains and stop an argument in it’s tracks. I’m not saying you have to go to this extreme, but mix it up and think of a way you can stop the argument by surprising your spouse with some sort of cognitive distraction.
Visual Imagery: When you are in an argument with your spouse, take a moment and visualize them as a young child. When they were little, they exuded a different type of energy and are often more endearing than when you are starting at them as an adult win the middle of an argument. Picturing them as a child will soften your heart and change your demeanor and tone with them, and the hope would be that it rubs off on them and they will follow your lead and soften as well. This should at least help lessen the time and intensity of your arguments. If for any reason this imagery doesn’t work for you, picture your husband when you first saw him, the first time you fell in love, on your wedding day, etc. Any of these images will let you see your spouse in a better light.
Be Vulnerable: As I mentioned in a few points above, being vulnerable is one of the best things you can do for your marriage. Being vulnerable is not easy and takes practice and time, even with the person you are closest to in life. Vulnerability will enhance your intimacy and your marriage, so give it a shot and especially in the middle of an argument, be vulnerable. Try not to be defensive. Vulnerability often leads to fewer arguments and greater marital satisfaction.
Marriage is not easy. In fact, marriage is quite difficult. A healthy, successful, and long-lasting marriage takes continuous effort, intentionality, mindfulness, perseverance, respect, love, and patience. The suggestions above may be helpful, but if you find yourself in a relationship that needs additional care, please seek out a local therapist in your area.