This can drive any person crazy: once you finally realize that your spouse wants something, and you make an attempt to do it, you are met with the words, “You should have known what I needed, and since I had to ask you, forget it, it’s just not the same.” Wow, sounds crazy, right? Actually, it is not so crazy. I have learned that there is a deeper meaning behind these words. What your spouse is really saying is that they want you to be more proactive, more attentive and more in tune to what is going on around you. The good news is that I have never seen a marriage work well without both people making an effort to keep it strong. The bad news is that I have never seen a marriage work well without both people making an effort to keep it strong. And that is where all of this falls apart. Great relationships don’t just happen, they take effort. And it is this effort that separates the good from the great. Here is what I mean…
Early in my marriage, I thought I had it all figured out. My goal was to make sure my wife and I had a “date night” at least once a week. I would do my best to listen to her needs and work towards reaching a mutual decision on important matters, and I would make every effort to put our relationship above hobbies and personal interests. Well, these were all noble goals, and actually, they are some of the same goals I have today. But after a few years of being married, all the stuff that makes life complicated came rushing in. The idea of being married became more appealing than actually being married. We were stuck. And getting unstuck seemed impossible. It wasn’t long after this that a good friend of mine gave me some great advice. He said, “Doug, the way you get unstuck is by remembering what works. Having a great marriage is not rocket science. It’s actually just knowing the right things to do and doing them over and over again.” I didn’t have the wrong goals; I just had forgotten to do the things that had helped me reach my goals in the past. Now these weren’t overly profound things, actually they are very simple. Like most things in life, it boiled down to just getting back to the basics and putting in practice the three, life-changing relationship principles that had worked so well in the past.
Stop and Listen.
We all know how to listen, right? Actually, the research says otherwise. I know for me, when I am tired and distracted, it is really difficult to listen to what I am hearing. Listening actively is all about being disciplined and taking the extra time to truly listen, and to look like we are, as well. One easy acronym that some people use to describe this is SOLER. Here’s what it means: Sit facing the speaker, with an Open posture (no folded arms or hunching). Lean toward the speaker. Make Eye contact. The last letter stands for Relax…be in the moment and listen fully to the end of the conversation. Doing this practice makes it clear that you are physically and mentally present; giving yourself the best chance to actually hear what is really being said. If you practice this, over time, you will become a much better listener.
Show you Listened.
One really terrific way to show your affection for your spouse is to act immediately on something they mentioned (see why it is important to be a good listener). If your spouse says, “I would love to go out for dinner” (hint – hint), and all you hear is that she would like to have dinner sometime, and it is weeks before you ever get around to respond, you are not taking advantage of a great opportunity. If you delay, your spouse might appreciate the gesture, but you may get more ribbing than praise. On the other hand, if you make every effort to act immediately on what they mentioned, showing that you were listening, you’ll remind them how much they matter to you. A little bit goes a long way.
Remembering what Matters.
This is really important. We should do our best to remember (or write down) important details from previous conversations. This may not always be easy to do but let me assure you, it will help prevent a lot of “petty” and unnecessary arguments. For example, if your spouse has mentioned to you in the past that they appreciate being greeted at the door with a warm hug after being gone for a few days of work, and you consistently forget to do this or choose not to for whatever reason, you may be telling your spouse that what they have expressed to you is not that important to you. You may not understand or agree with them, but that really is not the issue here. What we need to remember is that if your spouse has shared something that is important to them (e.g. being greeted at the door with a warm hug after being gone for a few days), then you do your best to make it happen. If the roles were reversed and you had expressed something to your spouse that is important to you (e.g., having 10-15 minutes each day to share how your day went), wouldn’t you want them to do their best to make this happen?
These life-changing relationship principles — taking time to stop and truly listen, offering small gestures that show you listened, and remembering your spouse’s preferences and honoring them— are acts of love that are just as good for your marriage as a bouquet of roses or a box of chocolates. Better, in fact, because the trust and love that develops as a result of these actions accumulates, affirming your affection for each other and your marriage as you go about the work of your daily lives. Remember, any marriage can struggle, but if you stay focused on doing the things that work and doing them over and over again, you will go a long way in taking your marriage from good to great.
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