From my perspective, once you enter into the realm of marriage, building and maintaining a successful marriage is actually a big part of personal and financial success. A solid marriage not only results in people sharing resources together, but a marriage also provides a lot of emotional support, cheerleading, and encouragement to succeed.
In the most recent reader mailbag, I answered a question about marriage from a reader named Sally: You and your wife seem to have a very strong marriage. Can you give me some tips on how to keep my marriage strong? What do you do to keep it that way?
After I posted the question and my response (which I quoted below), I received a small flood of emails from readers telling me about their troubled marriage at length and asking me for more suggestions along these lines, something that I was happy to oblige in the first email, but by the time the twentieth or so arrived, I realized that this would make a better standalone post than simply reiterating the same ideas in a long string of emails.
First, a general note: my belief is that a successful marriage is built one moment at a time. From what I’ve learned, a marriage is like a stone wall: it’s a mix of big things and little things, all assembled together to form something strong. Sure, there are a lot of big rocks in that wall (the big moments in your marriage, like your wedding day or some other big, key moment), but those rocks don’t fit together without a lot of little rocks to fill in the gaps and make them strong.
Most marriages seem to have little problem with their big moments. It’s easy to think back and think of big, happy moments in the marriage. I tend to believe that most marriages fail because of the small moments. Our individual lives get so busy that we fail to spend the time and effort to put those little stones in place, and when a bit of pressure is applied, the wall falls apart easily. On the other hand, when the little stones are there to fill in the gaps, the wall becomes strong and able to withstand anything that comes along.
I also believe that the little things are hard. Often, it’s not a matter of desire – almost all of us genuinely want to make our marriages work and work well. The challenge for many is that we get wrapped up in the complexity of our own lives. Others simply have difficulty expressing or showing what we feel.
What follows are twelve little things I do quite regularly to put those little pieces into my marriage. Please, use as many of these as seem reasonable. The first five are quoted from my response to the original question in the mailbag.
I tell my wife I love her every single day. I usually do it in the morning before she leaves the bedroom, and on weekdays I’ll also tell her when I see her in the evening for the first time. I usually couple it with a kiss. It’s so simple, but it’s a constant reminder of the fact that I do love her, no matter what.
I ask about her day, listen, and ask follow up questions. I do this not only so I can keep tabs on her professional life, but also to give her a great chance to vent about her situation. Everyone needs to talk about themselves sometimes to someone who is interested – I try to provide that for her as often as I can.
I try to surprise her on a regular basis. I’ll spend an hour preparing a really excellent supper when she doesn’t expect it. I’ll spontaneously give the kids a bath when she’s comfortable on the couch under a blanket, even if it’s her turn. Doing these little unexpected things not only shows her I care, but also often compels her to do similar things for me.
I hold her hand. I do this all the time, whenever it crosses my mind and seems appropriate. I’ll just hold her hand gently while we’re talking or we’re riding in the car or we’re waiting for an appointment or we’re sitting on the couch in the evenings.
I talk about EVERYTHING with her and let her determine what’s interesting. If something is concerning me, I don’t hide it from her. I tell her about it. Most of the time she’s interested and we’ll discuss it – sometimes she’s not and I let it drop (this is key – if she’s not into the topic, I don’t push it). Either way, though, she gets the message that I’m making an effort to share and be open.
I work on building a positive relationship with her family. Whenever I visit or see anyone in her family, I make a special effort to try to establish or build upon a strong relationship with them. This accomplishes several things: it makes her more at ease in a family situation, it helps me to build stronger ties with people that are important to her, and it helps me to understand the influences that were around her as she grew up.
I send her messages during the day. About once a week, during a time where my wife is really present in my thoughts, I send her a little simple note by email. All it says is something along the lines of “I was thinking about you just now. I can’t wait until I see you this evening.” It’s just a very simple way of letting her know she’s on my mind and in my heart.
I put careful thought into gifts I give her. Sure, it’s easy to just run out and get a generic gift to cover yourself during an anniversary or a birthday. However, a gift with some real thought behind it means substantially more than an obviously off-the-cuff gift.
I encourage her to follow her passions and interests, even if they don’t inspire or interest me. If my wife chooses to spend significant time on a project, it’s obviously something that’s important to her. That doesn’t imply at all that it has to be important to me. If she’s involved in her own project, I give her positive encouragement and then work on my own interests instead of saying things like “that seems like a waste of time.”
If she needs me, I willingly contribute to those passions. If something genuinely excites her and she wants me to experience it, I willingly involve myself in whatever it may be: a particular type of art, a craft project, a yard project, whatever. Even if I don’t enjoy it, I do have the opportunity to learn more about my wife and what she’s passionate about, which means that my understanding of her grows.
I look for opportunities to build mutual friendships. The idea that there is a group of people that are “my” friends and another group that is “her” friends can be a big dividing factor between us. Instead, I often focus on building friendships and relationships that we share with others so that something of a community of friendship and love grows up around us.
I hold her every night, even if it’s just for a moment. I might be completely exhausted when I go to bed in the evening, but I take a moment to move close to her, put my arm around her, and hold her close, even if it’s just for a minute or so. That moment of physical contact to end the day is a simple sign of love.