Sometimes I overhear couples say or do things that really are a bit disturbing to me.
For example, it's sad to be standing with a group of husbands and wives, and to hear a husband cynically remark about how his wife can't keep anything organized or stay on top of anything. I look up to see the wife cringe a little, while the husband carries on, never realizing he has said anything that hurt her at all.
Or, to sit at lunch with co-workers and to hear one woman go on and on about how her husband doesn't have any of the qualities she needs in a spouse, and how clueless he is about how to be a good husband.
When I hear comments like this, I often think that these well-intentioned people don't know about these three marriage rules that someone should have told them long ago:
1. Your job is to help your spouse "become."
It's true. Once married, life isn't about you anymore. It's about you and your spouse; the two of you, and the life that you are building together.
Your most important job as a husband or wife is to help your spouse "become" the person they are meant to be. To help them grow, progress, achieve, overcome, and endure.
Your job isn't to criticize, control, belittle, or make snarky remarks about them. Your job is to build him or her up. To always see the best in them. To compliment, adore, applaud, encourage and buoy them up.
You have to be a builder to make your marriage work. At all times, you will need to be found standing up for your spouse, supporting your spouse, and encouraging your spouse- even when no one else does.
You need to always revel in admiration of all your spouse has accomplished, but most of all, in who he or she has become. You need to compliment him or her in private and public, overlook small weaknesses and personality quirks, and regard your spouse as the most stupendous person in your universe.
Sure, you can be realistic too, but your first job is to believe in your spouse and to be their best cheerleader, their best listening ear, and their deepest and truest friend.
2. Selflessness is for when times get rough
I know you may be thinking all these warm and fuzzy ideas are nice and all, but your marriage is hard and sometimes you just don't want to be there for your spouse.
Sometimes your spouse ticks you off, bugs you like crazy, or really makes you mad. And then you just want to let him or her have it, and tell them what you really think.
Well, rule number two is going to be eye-opening, because it is all about selflessness. The kind you heard about before you got married: "be selfless," i.e., typical pre-marriage advice. It's easy to follow, right? Or, only when things are going well?
It's easy to bring home flowers when things are going well. It's easy to secretly clean his car when things are going well. It's easy to be thoughtful, kind and selfless when things are going well. You're just a good person like that.
It's not so easy when you are in the middle of a disagreement about how much money he spent the other day on that thing that he didn't need. Or when you are fighting about how she never wants to have sex anymore, or at least doesn't put any effort into it like she used to.
Yes, this my friends, is when marriage rule number two, selflessness, comes into play. Right in the middle of all your nasty, bitter, and horrible feelings about your spouse.
It's when things aren't going well that you need to look inward, think about changes you could make, focus on the good in your spouse, and find a way to lift their load. Find a way to do something for them, or say something to them that requires you to be the bigger man or woman.
That requires you to put your relationship above whatever fleeting emotions you may be feeling right now. It requires apologies and forgiveness- even when you feel you aren't at fault. Now, that kind of selflessness will go a long way in healing a relationship and keeping your marriage alive and well.
It's not going to be easy, but next time things are a bit bumpy, the answer is selflessness. Not selfishness.
3. A tight hug is often the right answer
That being said, a little physical affection is going to be the third important marriage rule that someone should have told you.
This is what I'm going to encourage you to do: hug your spouse. Tightly. For one minute a day on both good days and bad.
Let that hug lead to kisses, or tickles, or sweet whispers, or simply a few kind words and a friendly bum tap.
Let that hug invite forgiveness after something unkind has been said, or after someone's feelings have been hurt. Let that hug become a ritual in your marriage - something that happens day in and day out. The hug is something to look forward to- to cherish, and to enjoy.
Being physically close to your spouse, like rule number two, is a good way to be selfless during good times and bad. Being physically close does all kinds of positive things for your hormones and attachment levels too - that release of oxytocin literally bonds you two together. So hug often - every day. For at least one minute. And let it be a close, meaningful, real hug.
This is simple marriage advice, really. But it's good stuff. For one little hug a day can change your marriage.
This article was originally published on Nurturing Marriage. It has been republished here with permission.
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.