Are You Feeling Strain in Your Marriage? 4 Simple Ways You Can Invest in Your Relationship

The more I realize how mature (or rather immature) I have been in our relationship, the more grateful I become for the love and companionship of my wife, Suzanne.

29 years ago last December we knelt across the altar from each other to pledge our lives together. Not long thereafter the kids started coming; work became demanding; life kicked into high gear and our marriage was just something that I took for granted. We have gone through challenges together; miscarriages; the loss of loved ones; scary illnesses with our children and with each other; and yet through it all we have been faithful together, though we too, have our differences.

In reflection, I feel such gratitude for the devotion of my dear companion. I also feel much regret that I haven’t been a better spouse through all those years.

We are down to one child living at home, and it won’t be long before I’m the only person she has to put up with on a daily basis. That point in life has always seemed so far away.

Now I’m realizing that I have opportunities to improve her experience with me, and the happiness in our relationship overall. With some effort on my part, perhaps we can become post-parent newlyweds!

Over a year ago I published my first book, and began teaching workshops on the principles covered in the book. It’s a self improvement book covering four areas; Finances, Health, Goals and Personal Development. It is largely the summary of lessons I learned and applied in my life over the previous 10 years.

After giving a presentation about some of the financial principles in the book, the event organizer suggested that I create a workshop for couples and their finances. I took her up on her suggestion.

A few months later I held an evening workshop in the small town where I live with 7 couples. That has lead to a 7-week live online course that continues to grow, Couples Finance Breakthrough.

I was comfortable with the financial principles, but knew I had to add content and value relative to relationship improvement. I am quickly learning how simple it can be to enhance a relationship, and how amazing it is that I haven’t done more of it in the past. The adage, ”The teacher always learns the most” is proving true for me in this case.

Here are four relatively simple things you can do to enhance your relationship:

  1. Smile when your partner enters the room
  2. Express genuine appreciation
  3. Learn the skill of acknowledging your partner
  4. Add relationship skills to your ongoing personal development efforts

Smile When Your Partner Enters the Room

When you get home from being at work all day, and you see your partner for the first time, do you stop to think about how you’re going to show up? In his book, High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard shares how people who identify as high performers have the practice of re-calibrating between activities for greater effectiveness.

In the case of your relationship, when you have been apart from your partner for a significant period of time learn to develop the practice of resetting your thoughts to focus on him or her. When you arrive home after work, before going in, take a minute and ask yourself, “How do I want to show up for my sweetheart?” Take 30 seconds and think about something you appreciate about him or her before you go into the house and when you do, make sure to have a genuine smile on your face when you see your partner. That smile will communicate a message that you’re glad to be with them. It will probably communicate it with much greater power than the words you might normally speak. Certainly it will give more power to those words when spoken.

I have a distinct memory of coming home from a rather hectic day at work and coming through the front door, still frustrated and feeling the tension of my responsibilities and work pressures. When I came through the door, I was the recipient of a genuine smile and welcoming expression from my wife that did so much to remove the stress of the day; to help me feel loved and welcomed and to reset my attitude to a much better place.

You have that power within you, to make your partner’s life better and to strengthen the bonds of your relationship, simply by greeting with a genuine smile when reuniting after being apart for a significant period of time.

Express Genuine Appreciation

When listening to Darren Hardy some years ago, he mentioned that he kept a journal for a year where he would write down one thing he really appreciated about his wife. After a year, he gave the journal to her. For most spouses or partners that could be the most valuable and loved gift they might ever receive.

While it’s not difficult to take a minute at the end of the day, reflect back over the day and think of the things that you are grateful for, I don’t believe it is a common practice.

Whether you take the time to write it down, make sure you take time each day and express your appreciation to your partner for something he or she did for you, or does for you on a regular basis.

Be genuine.

If you know your partner’s love language, take the time to express your appreciation in their language. (For example if their love language is quality time, don’t just say you appreciate him or her, but take time to be with them as you express your appreciation).

Learn the Skill of Acknowledging your Partner

One of the greatest gifts a human being can give to another is to listen to them.

Steven Covey taught that being understood was emotionally analogous to having air to breathe. If we don’t feel understood, we feel suffocated.

It is most natural for us to be thinking about how we will respond when someone is talking to us. This may be true for you in your relationship. Depending on where you’re at with your partner; in general agreement; transactional; on an eternal honeymoon; or barely hanging on you are not likely to have developed the rare skill of listening not only to understand, but listening to the point of them feeling understood.

In his book, Communication Miracles for Couples, Jonathan Robinson teaches a technique that even a recovering engineer can utilize.

When your partner is sharing an experience that may trigger your defenses, before you go into response mode, develop the practice of acknowledgement by saying,

  1. “It sounds like you…” [Paraphrase what your partner’s experience seems to be]
  2. “That must feel …[frustrating, disappointing, maddening, etc]”. Guess as to how such an experience must feel
  3. “I’m sorry you feel….” Guess as to what they’re feeling

When you develop the practice of restating in your own words what your partner just expressed to you, it is as if Steven Covey taught, that you are giving them air to breathe.

You are acknowledging them, which validates their importance as a human being.

Practice this to the point that it becomes a natural habit, and the words don’t feel like a script, but flow out effortlessly.

Add Relationship Skills to your Ongoing Personal Development Efforts

If you’ve read this article to this point, you are already committed to personal development and growth. Learning from others is a shortcut to our own improvement.

Many husbands and wives or committed partners spend thousands of dollars and hours each week learning skills around improving efficiency, specific software programs or computer skills, sales and negotiation techniques, leadership and management, but how much time and effort do you put in to being a better spouse or partner?

In this article I have linked a number of books that can be purchased, read, and when applied, greatly enhance your ability to improve your personal development within your most important relationship.

If you have not had the practice of doing this, I encourage you to start now.

It Starts with You

When we feel differences with our partner or spouse we may be inclined to justify our responses and rationalize that we will do better when he or she starts changing. We may say to ourselves, “I’ve made my feelings clear and if I matter to her, she’ll act differently.”

I was at a weekend workshop last year and one of the presenters asked the question, “How many people does it take to fix a marriage?” My initial response, which seemed obvious to me at the time was “Two.”

He answered his own question. “One.”

You have the power to make a huge impact for better in your relationship as you focus on the one person that you are in total control of in your relationship…you.

Start applying the principles outlined in this article, and see what a difference it can make. Be ready to persist, as deteriorated relationships didn’t get that way overnight, and they’re not likely to be healed in a matter of days, but they can heal, and you can be the reason they do.

James Stephenson is the author of Small Steps, Big Feat. You can download the FREE booklet, 7 Steps to Financial Success for Couples, here.

Author, Mentor, Coach