One year from today, your marriage could be better than it is now.
It’s not a matter of willpower, trying to “be a better spouse.” It’s not avoiding tough conversations or trying to ignore the things that bug you.
It happens when you’re intentional about your relationship.
It’s kind of like investing.
Some people buy stock that looks promising, but only check them once a year to see if they’ve made money. Other people study the market consistently, analyze their investments, and make corrections to maximize their return.
Your marriage is the greatest investment you’ll ever make. It’s not “day trading.” It’s “buy and hold.” The more you pay attention, the greater will be the return.
Awesome marriages happen by design, not by default.
So, what can you do in the next 365 days to get the greatest possible return?
1. Attend a marriage conference together. People pay for classes to improve their fitness, correct their golf swing or learn a hobby or skill. Why not invest in a solid seminar or coaching to learn how to improve your relationship or communication? My wife’s parents went to a marriage seminar at their church when they were in their 70’s. I love that.
2. Pause before responding. We’ve all said something hurtful during conflict that we regretted. Develop the habit of pausing during tough conversation and choosing your words carefully. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say really the response I should give?”
3. When things get tough, don’t quit. A good friend told me, “When you’re in the middle of a pile of manure, you feel like giving up and going back. But it’s the same distance to get out if you move forward.”
4. Give your spouse more attention this year. Count up (seriously) how many hours you spend watching TV or working on your hobbies, and how much time you spend eyeball-to-eyeball with your spouse. Do a little bit less of the first ones, and a little bit more of the last one.
5. Treat your spouse better than anyone else in your life. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s a cliché, but tends to be true. It’s easy to take each other for granted over time. Keep pursuing your spouse the way you did when you were first dating, and never lose the sense of wonder.
6. Don’t compare your spouse with others. Your neighbor’s grass always looks greener when you’re viewing it from your own yard, because you only see the green tips of the blades. All you see looking down on your own lawn are the bare spots and the weeds. There are a lot of nice lawns out there, but there’s only one that belongs to you. Take care of it, and it will flourish.
7. Don’t insist on being right. There are a lot of battles that aren’t worth fighting, because they take energy away from the ones that need our attention. Learn to disagree without disrespect.
8. Give each other a 15-second kiss daily. I read about this a few months ago, and found it valuable. You can’t rush through it, and it reminds you to slow down and reconnect.
9. Set financial goals together. Money is often the biggest source of conflict between couples. When emotions rise because of money issues, use them as a trigger to get help. Determine to face finances as a team, rather than letting it divide you. Go through a good book or course together, with the goal of unity.
10. Pay attention to their day. Develop the habit of curiosity, wondering what their day was like. Don’t just say, “How was your day?” Take the time to explore the journey they’ve been on while you’ve been apart.
11. Surprise them occasionally. Do something unexpected for no reason or holiday. Drive out before they’re awake and bring home their favorite mocha so they have a treat when they wake up – or wash their car when they’re not looking.
12. Don’t complain to friends about your spouse. That’s sacred territory, and needs to be kept between the two of you. Talk with your spouse, not about your spouse (except when it’s positive).
13. Hang out with people you admire – together and separately. It’s true that we become like the people we spend the most time with. Find a couple that you want your marriage to be like, and simply do life with them occasionally. Do the same with your individual friends.
14. Value the differences. That’s what attracted you in the first place, and what brings the richness into your relationship. If you both felt exactly the same way about everything, one of you would be unnecessary.
Having the best year of marriage ever won’t happen by accident.
It happens by intention.
Whether your marriage is solid or shaky, make the investment. You can’t always guarantee what the return on that investment will be. But there’s one thing you can be sure of:
If you don’t invest, there will be no return.
Start investing intentionally.
It’s your best chance for the best year of marriage ever!