1. Remind your partner (and yourself) that you appreciate them.
After you've been married for many, many years, that passionate kiss when your partner walks in the door can easily morph into a peck on the cheek that can then morph into an inability even to look up from your computer. Over the course of our marriage, there are times when I've felt my own husband and I were starting to become so familiar with each other that we were settling into a stultifying -- albeit comfortable -- routine. But there's a real danger in that. Studies show that nearly half of men who have cheated say it was because of emotional dissatisfaction -- and not sex. When men don't feel connected or appreciated by their wives, they are vulnerable to the advances of any attractive woman who casts a lustful glance their way. And fellows, it works the other way as well. Remind yourselves often what you love about each other. When I’m folding my husband’s clothes I reflect on his work ethic, patience, strength and generosity. I smile as I remember his jokes and his quirky humor. I’m amazed at the relationships he has grown and nurtured. When you spend time reflecting on the good qualities of your spouse, your love, affection, adoration for each other will grow.
2. Say thank you for the little things.
I've been guilty of keeping score, constantly calculating who had done what. "I cleaned out the closets, so you have to clean the basement." "I moved for your job when we first got married, so now you need to move for mine." "I initiated sex last time, so now it's your turn." But playing tit for tat is childish and will do nothing but chip away at the trust and connection you've built with your spouse. If you are so inclined, keep score of all the positive things your partner does in a day -- and then thank them. Hopefully they'll get the hint and do the same for you.
3. Practice honesty, even when you're ashamed.
If you have maxed out a credit card or two and find yourself hiding the bills each month, you can bet it's going to come back to bite you. Eventually, whether you're applying for a home loan or simply talking about the costs of summer vacation, these kinds of money issues will either be brought to light by a credit report or by the simple fact you can't afford a trip away. Although infidelity usually happens in bed, it also can happen with money. And it will be a tough road gaining back your spouse's trust if you've lied about overspending.
Along that same vein, if you feel you aren't connecting with your partner the way you used to, you need to say something -- now. Maintain a fundamental belief that your spouse is worthy of honor and respect. Never put each other down. Be kind to each other. Watch your tone of voice when you are frustrated with each other. Learn to sing each other’s praises. Build trust by always telling the truth. Let go of expectations. Practice accepting each other in the present moment.
4. Take care of your appearance.
With many years and sometimes kids under your belt, it's easy to let your appearance slide. Think about when you first met your partner. Would you have walked around in stained sweatpants and without brushing your teeth? My guess is no. I'm not saying you have to look like Julianne Moore every time you settle in for a night of TV. But I've seen too many couples transform from Cliff and Clair Huxtable into Dan and Roseanne Connor -- with disastrous repercussions.
5. Foster your relationship and those relationships outside your marriage.
Swapping stories with others and enjoying new experiences make me -- I hope -- a more interesting person for my spouse to be around. Your marriage should be your primary relationship -- but it needn't be the only one. Be interested in and share each other’s world. Be in touch with each others lives. Stay connected when you are apart. We have always checked in with each other when we’ve been apart. While pregnant with Garrett Tim spent 7 months in Phoenix while I was home in Ohio. Through out it all we stayed in touch with each other. Today it’s easier than ever with email, texting and cell phones.
6. Watch your words.
There are many things you should never say to a longtime spouse, the first being: "Don't you think our new neighbor is attractive?" That's a question you just think you want to know the answer to. It's also never a good idea to start a sentence with: "You know it's always been your problem that..." Who wants to hear that from their partner? We hopefully all have a pretty good sense of ourselves at this point and having someone you love point out a failing in this way does little to engender a loving relationship.
"You always..." or "You never..." Think about it. Neither of these is true. If you start a sentence with these words your mate is certain to shut down or start a fight. Stop for a minute and think about what you really mean to say -- and then say that instead.
7. Put away the jumper cables yourself.
In life, there are big things and there are little things. The big things -- draining the bank accounts to support a gambling habit, forgetting to mention that he's in the federal witness relocation program living under a false identity or that he has a second family stashed in Queens -- are of course one-way streets to divorce court. But most of us don't have problems of that magnitude. Most of us have problems that are more like petty and repeated annoyances which when fed resentment and anger, balloon up.
Most of our problems start out small enough -- he borrows the jumper cables from your car and then leaves them sitting in the driveway just waiting to get run over -- and from that sprouts a giant festering sore. It leads you to utter words like, "If you loved me you would have put the jumper cables back in my car so that when I get stuck in a bad neighborhood with a dead battery I could save myself," which, in my household, generally results in a reply like "When do you ever drive in bad neighborhoods?" It is the small annoyances that, if left unaddressed, do us in. For a happier marriage, address them right away and keep it simple. "Honey, did you put jumper cables back in my car?"
8. Relish the silence.
Sometimes the best way to address a problem is to just walk away from it -- as in seriously let it go. Not every slight must be addressed. Know that not every insult is intended. Practice letting go as much as you can. Forgive more. Forget more. Bite your tongue until the tip bleeds. And once in a while, remind yourself of why you married this person. Focus on those reasons and let stuff pass without mention.
The trick to successful silence, however, is that you really let the problem pass. If you stay silent and still harbor bad thoughts, well, that's where ulcers come from. As the Beatles told us, "Let It Be."
9. Recognize the ebb-and-flow.
Relationships aren't flat-lined; that's death, actually. Life has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We all go through periods where the mere thought of life without our partners can bring tears to our eyes and then a week later we can't stand the sound of their breathing next to us. We've all been there. The trick is knowing that you won't stay in either place forever. Truth is, in a marriage, you spend most of your time in an emotional middle ground. It's not songbirds chirping, nor is it considering which poison in his pasta will cause the most painful demise.
This middle ground isn't the couple who sit in the restaurant across from one another without conversing. Those people have actually flat-lined and just don't know it yet. No, the middle ground is when months meld into years and you know what the reaction will be before you say something. It's when the book you finished last night just migrates automatically to the nightstand on his side and he tells you about the recorded "Vampire Diaries" episode you slept through. It's the every day ebb and flow without the waves.
10. Be kind.
We tend to take advantage of those we love the most -- probably because we know they love us and we can get away with it. It's the old kick-the-cat syndrome. You have a bad day at the office and come home and take it out on your mate. A much healthier pattern is to start out each day by asking yourself, "What can I do today to make my partner happy?" And mean it. Doesn't it make more sense to put your best face on for someone you love? Look for ways to say "yes." This rule applies to parenting as well, but in a happy marriage, people are busy trying to please each other. That sometimes means sitting through endlessly long ball games, putting on a tie, watching a horror movie with your eyes closed, and traveling around old Civil War battleground sites when you really wanted to be vacationing on a beach in Hawaii. It's doing things for your partner.
11. Maintain intimacy and passion, both inside and outside the bedroom.
Intimacy isn't just sex and passion isn't just doing it on the kitchen counter. Bedroom habits age along with the marriage. There may be no stronger aphrodisiac than a moonlight walk on the beach that ends in a kiss. There may be no greater display of passion than the zeal of a partner in a hospital room trying to get the nurse's attention for an ailing wife. Don't let others define what is a "normal" or "healthy" amount of sex for your marriage. Know that things change, but that doesn't make them less exciting or fun. And intimacy comes in many shapes, including conversation and cuddling.
12. Focus on what works for you and the strong points you both have.
One of our strengths has always been working well together. If we didn’t learn to help each other and work together we would have never moved forward. To this day we can still count on each other. No burden is too heavy when shared.
13. Teach each other.
Share your knowledge with each other. Don’t doubt the others capability. Offer encouragement, advice and wisdom in a loving manner. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Spend time talking and take an interest in your spouse’s point of view. Everyone has the right to be and think differently. Two sentences we both use that have helped us avoid conflict are, “Would you rather be happy or right?” And “Did you forget I’m on your side?”
14. Be there when you are needed during the insignificant moments of life.
Picking up groceries, helping with the dishes, filling a car with gas, paying bills and communicating in the car. These sacred moments and gestures are the heart and soul of your relationship. Make these events count. The little things you do to connect emotionally add up and get you through difficult days, sickness and other life transitions.
15. Bring enthusiasm and bring newness to the relationship.
Avoid a routine life. Turn off the television. We’ve danced, biked, hiked, rollerbladed, and walked together over the years. When you get tired of something try something different. The opportunities are endless!
16. Know your spouse’s likes and dislikes.
Do you know how your husband likes his steak; can you name his favorite baseball team? Do you know her favorite song and restaurant? Know each others dream, worries, fears, doubts and joys. Know what the other is thinking, feeling and their hearts desires. The more you know and understand each other’s personal world the stronger your friendship will be.
17. Friendship is the core of any good relationship or marriage.
When you maintain a deep friendship and take loving and caring actions you establish a sense of closeness. Your positivity in your relationship will significantly outweigh your negativity. You will go to sleep showing love and affection.
18. Be grateful.
Don’t take each other for granted. Do I need to say more.....
19. Make joint goals. One of our goals was to start Travel Nursing in a RV as a family. When you have goals as a family it makes you appreciate them that much more as you accomplish them.
20. Rely on the power of prayer.
We have prayed together from the beginning. We’ve always had a strong faith that things would work out. Our relationship is a gift from God.
21. Tough it out.
There were times we both felt like running away. Calling it quits. We never did. We took our marriage vows seriously. No matter how bad things got or how tired we were we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Bad days and bad times come to an end. Sad times and hard times were our teachers. We learned to be strong, resilient and courageous. We have been blessed!!!