“If there were one thing you could do today that would result in immediately improving the health of your marriage would you do it?” I think it would be a fun to ask couples that question impromptu. I wonder how people would respond. How would you respond? Imagine ambushing an unsuspecting couple shopping leisurely at the mall. Having directed the question at him, he freezes like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming freight train. Inside he is panicking, wondering how to tactfully side step. She shoots him a look. Noticing the dangerous interplay beginning to evolve, I quickly intervene and direct the question to her. Without missing a beat she says “I’d do anything. You name it”. Just as quickly I shoot back, “You must, for the rest of your life, enthusiastically join him to watch Monday night football while keeping him well supplied with beer and wings”. Her indignation turns to horror as her delighted husband laughs with glee.
By now you are probably wondering “what kind of a sadistic person is writing this?” But you must admit, if you are standing at my side, you are having a pretty good time watching this drama unfold before your eyes! But for some couples the question really is a bad nightmare. “What if the one thing I have to do to improve my marriage is the one thing I just can’t bring myself to do?” Well I have great news: It actually doesn’t have to be that hard. Chances are that you can improve your marriage today by doing just one or two small and enjoyable things (and they probably won’t involve football or wings).
- Provide meaningful touch
One of the most immediate barometers of the health of a marriage is the presence of physical affection. A warm touch says more than you know. It provides reassurance and acceptance. It says “I like you and I’m glad you’re here”. On the flip side, the prolonged absence of affection indicates the presence of a cold, steel wall. It says, “You have not been living up to my expectations and I am holding it against you.” It’s a quiet and subtle way of leaving your partner feeling punished, even if that’s not your intent, and it’s a burden your marriage simply cannot bear.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for your relationship to warm-up before you start making contact. When you reach out to physically touch your partner the positive results are immediate. Marriage experts agree that couples who maintain daily physical contact, sexual and otherwise, are happier, healthier and work through difficult issues more quickly. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It requires little effort to walk across the living room in the morning to give a kiss goodbye before you leave for work. Marriage researcher, John Gottman recommends a 6 second kiss at each departure, and again at each greeting at the end of the day. 6 seconds. Wow. For some of us that’s the longest kiss we’ve enjoyed since making out in the back seat of a 1975 GTO. Even a simple touch on the shoulder as you pass each other in the hallway speaks volumes.
Marriage expert Garry Smalley states that we need at least seven meaningful touches per day in order to feel connected and loved. Now some of you are thinking “This is a no-brainer…I’ve got seven touches in before breakfast is done!” Great, keep up the good work! But for some us seven touches feels like a stretch. Maybe it’s because a wall has developed between you and your spouse and the hurt in your relationship makes it hard to give or receive a touch. Or maybe it’s that you just aren’t naturally a touchy person. Either way, your marriage simply cannot thrive without a regular diet of warm touch that says “You’re my friend and I’m glad about that”.
- Laugh together
“A cheerful heart is good medicine”. It’s a wise proverb. The more we learn about laughter, the more we discover it’s benefits. Laughing actually results in better health. Physical health, emotional health, and yes, you guessed it, marital health. When you laugh, your brain releases chemicals that reduce pain and increase your sense of pleasure. It’s God’ way of helping you to enjoy your yourself and your partner. When you laugh together you end up feeling more connected. So let loose: laugh a bit, laugh a lot. Laugh at each other…laugh at yourself. Laugh today at something that might otherwise frustrate you. Have you gotten out of the habit of laughing? Learn to inject some humour into your life. Read the comic strip, rent a funny flick and watch it together. Whatever you do, find a way to laugh together. It will pay off in spades.
MA; RCC and Director
Henry provides couples therapy in Kelowna and has been working with Marriages & Families since 1991. This includes 10 years as a foster parent, helping couples prepare for and enrich their family experience, and 25 years of private practice as a couples & family therapist. His wealth of experience and professionalism provide you and your family with the care and direction you need in order to achieve your relationship goals.