4 Easy Steps to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
Brooke Randolph, LMHC
When I listened to How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, I thought it was equally directed towards men and women. I recommended it to more of my male clients than my female clients. Yet when I saw the hardcover book, it seems to be directed more towards women. It isn't just the bright colors - the back cover says things like "Men are right." and "You'll never get a closer relationship with your man by talking to him like you talk to one of your girlfriends." Stereotypically it is women who drag men to see a couples counselor to talk, but in truth I have at least as many men as women contact me about relationship issues - whether coming as a couple or individually. Men just as much as women appreciate having a third party translate the intention and deeper meaning behind their attempts at communication. The truth is when we try to talk to the person closest to us, we often fail to communicate effectively, end up discussing peripheral details rather than "the main thing", and unintentionally create more distance rather than finding agreement or even compromise.
This isn't to say you should quit talking to your spouse. That isn't going to solve relationship issues. But there is a point where discussing relationship issues can actually widen the gap between you because it leaves one or both unsatisfied and feeling like you are disappointing your partner. There is a point in relationship counseling where it is necessary to focus on connection and positive feelings before addressing hurt and problem solving issues in the relationship. You can't repair the broken vase if you have let all the glue dry out.
How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It gives information for both men and women to understand why your spouse reacts unexpectedly to things you say or do - and maybe even some insight on why you respond certain ways to your spouse. It is a good general relationship book with several important tidbits. I am contemplating purchasing the audiobook to re-listen to regularly as a reminder and keep things on track as our marriage evolves and suffers through the situations and stressors or life. While our relationships can provide protection and comfort in life's stressors, it can also be bruised as a result and will need its own care and healing.
Chapter 14 of How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It gives the "Power Love Formula", a four-step process to improve your relationship wordlessly. I like that one partner can take on these four tasks and start feeding the relationship even without their partner's participation. If you move toward your spouse, he or she is likely to start moving towards you as well.
Power love formula
- Take a moment to focus on your spouse at least four times each day, including when you first wake up, before you leave the house, upon your return home, and before going to sleep each night. This will likely seem forced at first, but I think you will quickly appreciate the benefits you receive from this new habit. In addition to improving your relationship, you will likely find that you feel more positive about your partner and your life in general. That certainly seems worth a couple of extra minutes in your day. First thing in the morning is the most difficult of the four for me. I generally rise before my fiancé and don't want to wake him. Yet if he is still in bed when I leave before 7am, I still stop in to at least kiss his shoulder; I could easily do the same thing before getting out of bed in the morning. It may not make an impact to him (although he sleeps lightly enough that I believe it does) but it does help me feel more connected and more positive as I start my day. Making sure to take a moment to greet each other and say goodbye is hugely powerful for the small amount of effort it takes to change the habit. Greet each other with a kiss, a hug, or even a squeeze of the hand.
- The authors of this book recommend that you hug your partner six times a day for six seconds. Other sources recommend twenty second hugs and up to twelve per day. If you already hug five or six times per day, challenge yourself to more; if you barely touch each other any more, six is a great goal that may take some time to reach. Hugging is not just a way to connect, it increases serotonin and oxytocin, it may lower blood pressure, improve mood, reduce appetite, increase immune functioning, and increase calm. So really hugging your partner is a selfish act that improves your own mental and physical health while putting him or her in a better mood too.
- Focus on the positive. When I start with a new couple, whether for premarital counseling or for relationships in conflict, I generally ask them to tell me about how they met, what attracted them to each other (I hear physical attributes way less often than you might think), and how they knew they wanted to be together long term. There is a reason you are with your spouse and it is good to remember those things. For many of us our list of reasons grows as our relationship grows and each of us matures. As often as possible throughout the day take ten seconds and remember something you appreciate about your partner. If your spouse's love language is Words of Affirmation then find a way to communicate these positive thoughts to him or her through a card, text, social media, or even *gasp* verbally. You may want to keep a list in your phone or beside your workstation. If you are a social media addict create a hashtag just for you so you can flip through those reasons on tough days.
- Commit to a daily action that demonstrates love. While the authors recommend writing this like a legal contract, the format is really more like a vow, something you swear to do without compensation or cause. In fact, I encourage premarital couples writing their own vows or couples renewing vows to write this into what you say. The idea is for this to be one simple action you can do daily. Something close to this I have included in my vows with both humor and seriousness is to make steak for my fiancé whenever he requests it. It is small and something that takes me less than ten minutes (since he prefers it almost rare); it is unlikely it will be requested daily but I could do it every day. One thing my fiancé does already is to make sure that at least once every 24 hours or so the kitchen is clean even if the dishwasher is broken because he knows it makes such a big difference in my stress management.
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