Turning to the World Wide Web for marriage advice will likely yield numerous lists and tips like "7 ways" this and "100 things" that. Although those lists can be helpful, building a strong marriage is not as simple as checking boxes off a to-do list. Fulfilling marriages start with compassionate desires in each person's heart that are then acted upon.
To have this kind of marriage, there's one question you need to ask your husband: "What do I do and say that shows you that I love you?"
Before you ask such an important question, set the stage for some bonding time. Put the kids to bed, pull out his favorite dessert, turn off electronics, and cuddle on the couch. Don't interrupt and show him that you are listening by giving him your full attention. If your husband struggles to answer your question, be patient. Allow him to frame his thoughts. Remember,his conversation is not a harsh inquisition; it is an opportunity for you to make sure you are doing and saying the things that help him feel loved.
When your husband eventually answers, continue the conversation. Allow him to explain more fully about why those words and actions feel loving. Reassure him that you will continue to show your love for him in those important ways.
Knowing what your husband needs to feel loved is a powerful tool. But a tool that sits on the workbench gathering dust is ineffective. Tools are meant to be used; use your knowledge to strengthen your marriage. Form habits that consistently show him that he is important, valued, and loved.
Thinking kind, considerate, and compassionate thoughts about your spouse will improve your relationship even more. Thoughts can influence your actions. When you choose to let those positive thoughts mature into healthy patterns of behavior, then a real sense of fulfillment will be found in your marriage.
As said by the American writer Barbara de Angelis, "The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It's a choice you make—not just on your wedding day, but over and over again—and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife".
It's also important to know that compassionately serving your spouse will often be reciprocated. As you follow through with your husband's answers to your question, he will start to serve you. He will show you through his words and actions that you too are important, valued, and loved. What a satisfying pattern for your marriage!
Instead of stressing about the "100 ways" to improve your marriage, as found on Pinterest, ask your husband one simple question. Ask him one question that shows him that he is worthy of your time and attention. Listen to his answers and follow through with your promises.
Have these conversations regularly. Marriages need these selfless and compassionate conversations more than you think. As spouses work in tandem to meet each other's needs, serve each other, and praise each other, fantastic bonds of love are forged. Although it takes work, a fulfilling marriage is worth the effort.
Nicci Bontrager, MA, LPC-Intern, NCC practices counseling in the Austin, Texas area. On her blog, www.joyfulfamilylife.com, she writes about strengthening families, marriage, emotional health, & finding joy. She graduated from Texas State University.