Even the nicest homes need maintenance. They need to be cleaned, repaired, manicured and managed. In the same way, your relationships needs maintenance. Because you cannot be perfect, there will be emotional meltdowns, communication faux paus and plain old mistakes in your marriage so you need to be good at recovering, recuperating and reconnecting. To help in the process of reconnecting with your spouse, consider these ways of keeping your relationship in good shape.
1. Test the waters. Don't say a thing, just give her a hug, or squeeze his knee or pat his hand. Sometimes the best things in life are unsaid. One way to remember this principle is this little poem:
To keep a marriage brimming
with love in the loving cup --
When you are wrong, admit it
and when you are right, shut up!
2. Look for a positive. Anything positive -- even, "Sure is nice weather today, huh?" In fact, one researcher discovered that the more positively couples rated their communication, the more satisfied they were with their relationship. John Gottman and his colleagues have found that satisfied married couples had five positive interactions to every one negative interaction . Decide to have a positive attitude and then positive words will flow from it.
3. Try to encourage. Look for something that is good. Say some word of affirmation. Bill often says things like, "That's ok, Pam. I'd rather be here with you in this situation than with anyone else, any place else." When Bill blows it somehow, I usually say something like, "That's ok, you are a really great man and this is such a small thing." Start spontaneously listing off your spouse's best traits. (Who cares if you can't cook if your husband calls you "One red hot mamma!")
4. Look for the humor. This is not the cutting humor that can slice a heart. Instead, look for the inside joke. In our surveys of couples who have long-term happy marriages, nearly everyone mentioned the need for a good sense of humor! King Solomon, known as the wisest man in history, says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine . . ." .( Proverbs 17:2) and "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." (Proverbs 16:24)
5. Keep it in perspective. Real problems are when someone has cancer or you've just lost a loved one. Everything else is just an obstacle to overcome. My friend, Debbie Andersen, a career military wife, gives young, stressed wives great advice when hit with a tough circumstance: "Just adapt and overcome."
We asked the long-term happily married couples in our survey their advice to newlyweds and a number of them used the same phrase, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Before you raise the roof over some issue, ask yourself, Will this matter 10 years from now? Most often in a few hours from now it doesn't matter! I often ask, "If I do it Bill's way, is it immoral or illegal?" (Of course the answer is "No!" so, as often as possible, just decide to defer to your spouse as a gift of love.)
6. "Plan B" it. Offer alternative suggestions and solutions. If things are really tense, you might want to hold your spouse for awhile then ask, "Are you ready to brainstorm some alternatives yet?" When Bill and I were newlyweds, Viva towels had a commercial that tested their towels toughness with others. So in a tight spot when we didn't know what to do next one of us would ask, "What shall we do now?" The other might answer with a smile, "The Viva Towel test?" Of course it wasn't the real answer to the real issue or problem at hand but it usually lightened the mood and made us laugh so we had a better attitude. It gave us the opportunity to regroup, put our thoughts together and come up with a new plan or solution to the real issue.
7. Walk it off! If your mate has a severe emotional meltdown, offer to take the kids to the park (they probably want to escape too). Vacating the premises sometimes gives God some space to quietly work on your spouse. God's healing and encouragement can be pretty powerful. Draw her a bath, light some candles, turn on some soft music and pray for her. Give him a safe place to escape and cool down. The garage, the tennis court, the golf course or the park to shoot some hoops might work to give him time to mentally regroup. Or, find a way to relax and take five together. Take a walk, go on a bike ride, or water the lawn.
An interesting side note from the surveys of long-term married couples is many of them mentioned that buying a Jacuzzi was one of the best investments they made for their marriage. One couple said, "We found out the silent treatment did not work, so we finally learned to communicate and share how we both felt. When we got our Jacuzzi, we would sit in it at night and share how our days went and talk about the things that bothered us before they became big issues."
8. Hey, Look Over There! Offer up a distraction: The movies, a shopping trip, or lunch out. For many women, a trip to Starbucks for a cappuccino, a stop at Crate and Barrel, some lotion from Victoria's Secret and any kind of chocolate might do the trick. For a man who is upset or angry, a trip to the batting cages to let him get his aggressions out might help a bit.
I saw a healthy pattern in my grandparents who were married for over 60 years. The more angry they were at each other the harder they would work. When grandma was really ticked the house became spotless. When grandpa thought grandma was unreasonable, a new barn might just go up! One counselor once said to us at a conference, "If you have to choose dysfunctions, choose workaholism over depression. At least you'll have something to show for it after the emotions are gone!"
9. Mia Culpa. If the emotional meltdown was your fault, apologize. Recently, I helped one of my best friend's husband throw a surprise 40th birthday party for her. He was so stressed over trying to keep it a secret and hide all the details that he just wasn't acting himself. She got all mad in response. In the middle of an argument the night before, she drove off in a huff. She was upset because she thought he wasn't going to do anything special for her birthday! Not wanting to spoil the surprise he just took all the ranting, raving and emotions. He finally offered to take her and the kids to a nice dinner and the movies. To pull off the surprise he said they needed to stop by her friend's house on the way. Well, when my 40-year-old friend walked into her surprise party, she let out an excited gasp of joy. Then she immediately threw herself into her husband's arms and cried out an apology in front of her roomful of guests, "I am so sorry!" That is a wise principle. The bigger the faux paus, the bigger the apology should be.
Guys learned long ago that candy, flowers and diamonds are a good way out of the doghouse. Remember, no husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes! So, if you lost it emotionally on your spouse try to think of a very sincere, very creative way to make amends. I don't know what the guy's mistake was, but I knew it had to have been pretty big when one day while driving down the freeway, I saw a huge white bed sheet with "I'm so sorry, Paula!" spray painted in big bold letters. I hope Paula forgave him because that big a gesture is very rare.
10. Keep Short Accounts. It is not unusual for passionate couples to ride the emotional roller coaster of life together. Couples who choose to let the past reside in the past get a fresh start with each other regularly. Couples who let resentments build up find that even the smallest infractions can create major conflicts. You might be able to make a few points like the husband who proposed a toast to his wife at an anniversary party:
To the two secrets for a long-lasting happy marriage: Here's to a good sense of humor -- and a short memory! May we never forget what is worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten. Now, go reconnect with your spouse!
Originally posted October 2007.
Pam and Bill Farrel are relationship experts who recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. This article is an adaptation of advice found in book, Every Marriage is a Fixer Upper (Harvest House) They are the authors of over 20 books including best-selling, Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti. For more info on the Farrels speaking and writing ministry see http://farrelcommunications.com.