It's that time of year again. Christmas shopping is done, gifts have been opened, you've gotten together with family and friends and now it's time to take a breather before leaping into the New Year. Whew!

As we face a new year, most of us spend at least a few moments reflecting upon our lives. Typically we consider how our lives are going. Are we moving in the direction we want to move? Are our lives filled with the joy we wish for? For just a few moments I want you to reflect upon a few questions concerning your marriage, with the hope that this quiz will help direct you to strengthen areas of your marriage needing attention.

Here is a short quiz:

  • Do you feel positively connected to your mate?
  • Do you feel appreciated and cared for by your mate? 
  • Do you appreciate and care for your mate?
  • Do you share joy and happiness with your mate?
  • Do you have a sense that your mate is your "soul mate?"

Some of my questions may strike you as "mushy" and overly romantic. Who feels positively connected to their mate, you might ask? Can I still feel a sense of appreciation and care for my mate even after years of marriage?

The answer to these questions should be "yes," "yes," "yes." Not only should we feel this kind of connection to our mate, but we must feel this kind of connection if we are to have a vibrant, dynamic marriage.

I want to cite five things you can do now to make 2011 the best year ever for your marriage. Practice these five strategies for the next 90 days and I guarantee you will see a transformation in your relationship. Ready? Here we go.

One, choose rose-colored glasses. Yes, there may be many things to be concerned about in your marriage. There are undoubtedly many strengths to be celebrated as well. You can choose to focus on the things that bug you about your mate, or all the traits that drew you to him/ her in the first place. Furthermore, those qualities which you celebrate and pay attention to will likely grow. So, choose to be thankful for, and attend to, those qualities within your mate that still have the power to excite you. 

Two, bring out the best in your mate. You have the power to bring out the best (or worst) in your mate. Whatever you focus upon will become larger in your relationship. Take note of those qualities you want more of and compliment him/ her about them. Thank them for the extra niceties they do for you. Take note of their caring attitude toward others. Let them know that you notice their generosity of spirit, their sensitive nature, their love and compassion for others. By doing so you reinforce qualities of importance to you, making them feel like a million dollars in the process.

Three, nurture your mate's dreams. There is little more life-giving than noting what is truly important to your mate. What are their secret dreams? What really makes their heart sing? Notice these things and encourage your mate to pursue their dreams. Let them know you are willing to make sacrifices for them to pursue something near and dear to their hearts. If they want to go back to school for that degree, let them know you will support them in their pursuit. If they want to learn a foreign language, take it with them. Nurture their dreams and in that way build an incredibly powerful connection to them.

Four, initiate change by encouragement. It's official. Change doesn't occur with criticism, so stop it. Every issue that arises in your marriage---and there will be many---can be handled more effectively with encouragement. For example: You're bothered about the way your mate spends money. Do you criticize her, or do you let her know you appreciate how careful she was in the way she spent money over the holidays? You can weave in your concern by saying the following: "You know how concerned I am about money, and I sure appreciate how you were careful with spending over the past few weeks." People make changes with encouragement, not criticism.