Marriage is a beautiful thing. But it takes work to keep it that way, Amen? It takes time and attention, considerable effort, and some TLC. But often crazy schedules, work, kids, other requirements and expectations, and the minutia of life can get in the way, and the marriage relationship gets neglected. And before you know it, it starts to suffer.
Maybe you’re there. Maybe your marriage is just starting to feel it. Or maybe it’s been that way for a while, and you are seeing it start to run off the track. Or maybe you’re not there yet, but you want to make sure it doesn’t get to that point. Whatever your situation, there’s a simple and fantastic way to strengthen and recharge your marriage, and I want to share that with you and challenge you to try it.
Start by getting two pieces of paper—one for you, and one for your spouse. Each of you should write down 15-20 things that you would like for the other person to do, to show that they love and care for you. The more things you can think of, the better—if you can do more than 20, go for it. Sky’s the limit on this, so be creative, but don’t get too elaborate because they need to be things that can be done pretty easily. It might be something as simple as a welcome home kiss after work, a back or foot rub, a love note on the mirror or in a lunch box, or even surprise flowers or a bottle of wine. You could include something like a date night, or a weekend getaway. You could even add things like loading the dishwasher, vacuuming the floors, or cooking a special dish. If there are things your spouse already does regularly that you love and appreciate, that’s great, but don’t put those on the list. Go for some different ideas.
Next, hang both lists on the refrigerator or bulletin board, or somewhere in a place you look every day. If you have kids at home, you’ll want to keep your lists “clean” so if there are things you want to add that are more intimate, you may have to use code. 😉
Now, for the (still simple, but) slightly harder part. Each of you is to commit to choose one thing from the other person’s list to do each day. As in EVERY day. You need to decide on a timeframe for this activity. I would recommend no less than 2 weeks, and a month would be even better. Put a reminder on your phone or computer calendar that will help you not to forget. You could also take a picture of your spouse’s list to keep on your phone so that you can refer to it away from the house, if need be. The important thing is to try and do at least one thing from your loved one’s list EVERY DAY. It’s OK to do some of the things more than once, but try to do as many things from their list that you can in the timeframe you set.
So how does this help? Well, even if your marriage is strained and feelings have started to wane, just going through the actions of caring for your spouse in ways that they have requested can rekindle feelings of love and closeness for both of you. The person on the receiving end feels loved by the consistent behaviors, and the person on the giving end will often feel a closeness that comes from consistently doing nice things for someone they love. If your marriage isn’t strained, doing these things for each other will just further strengthen your relationship. Basically doing these “caring behaviors” for each other should help to draw you closer together. It really is amazing how well it works.
I know—some of you have questions. What if your spouse makes a list, but doesn’t reciprocate? Or what if your spouse refuses to participate altogether? What if your marriage is so far off track that you don’t feel like doing nice things for each other? Well, I have good news! This activity still has the potential to help your marriage. How? One of the basic premises of behavioral therapy (and this activity is very behavioral) is that you can “act your way into feeling.” The idea is that the more you do something nice for someone, whether you feel like it or not, or whether it’s reciprocated or not, the more you will have positive feelings about doing it, and the more you will want to do it. And when you do nice things for someone, it will often make them think differently about you, and can even stir up some good feelings in them for you that may have been dormant for awhile.
So first of all, work on your attitude. Decide that you want to work on improving your marriage and that you are going do this all the way. If your spouse doesn’t reciprocate, do it up all the more and show him or her that you are all in. They may get on the ball when they see how seriously you are taking it. And if your spouse refuses to even make a list, make a list for them and include things that you know would be well received by him or her. You never know how this might change the relationship for the better.
Now, go forth and recharge those marriages! And please come back and share with all of us how this works for you!
For more information on using Caring Behaviors to enrich marriage, check out the following articles/books:
Loving Isn’t Easy: A Complete Guide for Understanding, Improving, and Saving Your Marriage
58 Caring Behaviors for Couples
Handbook of Structured Techniques in Marriage and Family Therapy