As a marriage counselor in Denver, Colorado, I often get asked what it takes to be a good spouse. Most people have read articles that tell them to communicate with their spouses, never to go to bed angry, etc. But being a stellar spouse takes a lot more than controlling anger and talking through issues. There are many other more important traits needed to be a stellar spouse. Here are five:
1. Listen — without judgment
Did you know that babies with more affectionate caretakers have better temperaments and are even more resilient to certain health challenges? It's true. As humans, we all thrive when we know we are cared for. Even as adults, we thrive when we know we are cared for. In marriage, we thrive when we know we are safe in our relationships and that our spouses love us no matter what. But every time you get angry at your spouse for saying something embarrassing, every time you make fun of your spouse, it sends him or her a message: "you're not safe with me." Judgment makes our spouses wonder if we truly accept them for who they are.
We've all been in situations where we've had to be on our best behavior: at work parties, at church, etc. While this good behavior is a part of who we are, it's only a part. There are other parts that we're afraid to let others to see — hence, we don't show them in public. You don't want your partner to feel like he can't be himself in front of you. You want him to know that he can be who he is, and you'll love him no matter what. Listen to him — no matter what he says — and hold off on any judgment. When your spouse feels judged or afraid to say things in front of you, it's more a reflection on you than it is on him.
2. Allow yourself to be known
After years of marriage, your relationship can become routine and mundane. You stop talking deeply with your spouse, and you focus more on the day-to-day things. But to be a good spouse, you should never give up on sharing personal things with your partner. You should always be telling your partner your hopes, dreams, fears, etc. Do you ever get into routine conversations or find yourself struggling to say something more than "how was your day?" If so, it's time to dig deeper within yourself. You'll soon find that your relationship starts to get deeper, too.
Everybody has fears. Everybody worries about whether they're liked by others. Instead of trying to pretend you don't have any fears, show your fears. Talk about them. Allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of your spouse. This gives your partner the opportunity to get to know you — all of you, warts and all. If you're not doing this, your spouse will begin thinking you're "distant" or "unapproachable."
4. Make love often
Intimacy takes many different forms. Sometimes, you're intimate just because "it's been a while." Sometimes, you're intimate because you're stressed. The best kind of intimacy is when you're so romantically and emotionally connected with your spouse that the only way you can show it is in the bedroom. Even though it's impossible to do this all the time, this gives you something to strive toward. Challenging yourself to spend this quality time with your spouse often will bring you closer outside of the bedroom as well. It will do wonders for your relationship.
5. Be independent
Marriage is not a 50/50 negotiation. Being a good spouse means that sometimes you have to carry the relationship while your spouse is going through tough times. It means that you can do all the laundry, fix all the meals, find a good plumber and take care of things that are needed around the house. It's nice to have a spouse who can help, but you don't need her to. You can do it on your own, and there are a lot of times you do, but you invite your spouse along for the ride because you like her company.
Being a stellar spouse means you're emotionally involved with your partner. This is much more than simply talking with your partner without getting angry. Work to create an emotional connection and bond with your spouse. Show your love, and create a deep, abiding, irreplaceable relationship.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.