As a marriage counselor, couples come to me for help every day—and I don't just mean people who step in my office. I get questions from friends, neighbors and even people who randomly sit by me on the bus. I don't mind the questions. Honestly, I don't (I guess that's what happens when you love what you do). But I sure do get a lot of them.
Of all the questions I get, there's one question that comes up perhaps the most often: "So, any tips to make your marriage stronger?" I usually then go off on some long monlogue about all the many things couples can and should do and how there's a new trend in society that helps in some ways but hinders in others. And by the time I'm done, they're looking at me with a blank stare probably regretting they ever asked. So instead of getting my monologue, you get it here briefly.
Here are 6 scientifically proven ways you can strengthen your marriage.
1. Create rituals
Growing up, one of my Boy Scout leaders would bring his wife and 4 daughters up to our Boy Scout camp on the day of the big hike. He did this every year. They were the only 5 girls we saw for that entire weekend, and it could have been awkward for them, but they didn't care. Hiking was an important ritual for their family, and they didn't let anything come between them and this important time hiking.
In marriage, couples need to make important rituals with each other, too. Create something that is uniquely yours and don't let anyone/anything get in the way. This could be a sport like softball, a hobbie like re-finishing furniture or it could be camping at the lake during summers. Whatever it is, make it uniquely yours and make sure you do it often.
2. Talk positively
Marriage researcher John Gottman discovered that couples who fight more aren't actually at more risk of divorce. In fact, he didn't find much correlation between arguing and divorce at all. What he did find, though, was that couples who didn't talk positively with each other were more likely to divorce. In his research he found happy couples had 5 positive communications to every 1 negative communication with each other.
What this means is that instead of criticizing your partner for not cleaning up after himself/herself, try to find something positive to say instead. You can thank him for something he did, congratulate her for getting that account at work or tell him he looks nice, just to name a few.
When you see your partner sad or in a bad mood you may be playing with disaster to ask what's wrong. It might even cause a fight depending on what he/she is sad/mad about. But marriage researcher John Gottman says not to ignore it.
Addressing your partner's emotional state instead of ignoring it is a behavior called "turning towards." Turning towards your partner is a scientifically proven method to make your marriage better.
4. Make quality time for your marriage
Michelle Weiner Davis, a marriage counselor and author of Divorce Busting, states, "I'm convinced that the single biggest contributor to the breakdown in relationships today is the fact that couples aren't spending enough time together."
She states that couples make other things priorities like work, kids, career, etc., but they dont' make each other a priority. If you want to make your marriage work, make sure to take time to work on your marriage.
5. Wait to get married
Research shows couples who marry later (age 25+) are less likely to get divorced. So, if you're in love, take your time. Don't rush it. The rest of your marriage will benefit if you do.
6. Show your spouse he/she matters
Whenever you're having a bad day, there's a piece inside everyone that tries to tell you you're unimportant and you don't really matter. But in good relationships, the opposite happens.
Relationship researcher and founder of emotionally focused therapy, Sue Johnson, shows how strong relationships happen when both spouses are trying to show each other they are important and they matter. This creates a strong attachment and deepens intimacy. So, go ahead, let your partner know how important they are to you. Your relationship will flourish if you do.
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.