For service members, a loving, resilient marriage is both a matter of personal happiness and family readiness. When family relationships are strong and healthy, service members are better able to focus on their mission and their day to day duty requirements. Even if you have a good relationship with your spouse now, good relationships can often be even better, and great ones generally need care and attention to stay that way. There are many things you can do, from making time to talk to planning regular "date nights," to make your marriage loving and lasting. Read on to find out more about what makes relationships thrive and for ideas to help bring you and your spouse closer together.
Strengthening your connection
What makes you a great couple? It may begin with knowing yourselves and not trying to change each other. Loving, long-term partnerships aren't born; they grow from acceptance, commitment, ritual and empathy. Try these strategies to help you strengthen your connection:
- Adjust your expectations - Accept yourself and your spouse as you are now. It's natural to want the "honeymoon phase" to last forever. But over time, you and your spouse will probably change individually and your relationship will as well after you start a family, move to a new installation, or experience your first long deployment separation. If you accept that relationships evolve, you won't be disappointed when the honeymoon phase ends and another stage in your life as a couple begins.
- Date each other - Spend time alone together to keep or re-ignite the intimacy and romance in your relationship. It will help you remember what brought you together in the first place. With the unique demands of military life and family demands, you might have to actually schedule time to be together. If you do, follow through as you would for any other appointment. Your marriage is important enough to be prioritized.
- Take turns planning your activities together - Romance should be an ongoing part of your relationship - and not just on Valentine's Day or anniversaries. Be thoughtful in your plans - consider what your spouse likes to do and where he or she likes to go. And throw in some surprises from time to time!
- Create rituals - They can help hold a relationship together. Rituals take many forms: a goodbye kiss before work, breakfast in bed with the crossword puzzle on weekends, weekly date nights or shopping trips.
Maintaining your relationship
"Maintenance" might sound like something for your car, but marriages need care to run smoothly and last a long time too. And since your marriage is more valuable than your car, it deserves at least as much time, thought and effort. Here are a few practical tips for a happy, "high-mileage" marriage:
Take the pulse of your relationship. Look carefully at your relationship from time to time, figure out what's working and what isn't, and decide together on the changes and compromises each of you is willing to make.
Discuss how you feel about your time together. Is it enough? Do you wish spending time together was a higher priority for your spouse? Are you communicating clearly, honestly, and frequently about things that bother you? Put all the issues on the table and begin making the changes that will bring you into more harmony.
Make a habit of talking frequently. Just a quick phone call to touch base can help give you both a sense of continuity. Some people use a phone call during the day as a way to settle family business, so that when they do get home they are freer to simply enjoy each other's company.
Plan ahead for roadblocks. Think about and discuss situations that you already know cause friction. For example, you may have disagreements about who stays home from work when a child is sick or how to celebrate the holidays. Preparing a game plan in advance can ensure that you're both on the same page and avoid conflict when such occasions arise.
Share household chores. Research shows that women spend more time on household chores than men do. The result can be a mountain of resentment. Running the household together takes work on the part of both partners. Be willing to pull your weight or to work out who does what so that you're both satisfied.
Be flexible. No matter how well you and your spouse talk about your differences, you won't agree on everything. In fact, your differences are probably part of what attracted you to each other in the first place. Recognize that not all differences of opinion have to be resolved. Sometimes you just need to agree to disagree.
Give each other space. Your relationship will be stronger and more interesting if you give your spouse time and space without you. Remember that one person can't possibly meet all your needs. Both you and your spouse must keep and nurture outside friendships and interests.
Conflicts and disagreements are a normal part of a healthy marriage. Expect to have differences of opinion and sometimes major eruptions. The disagreement is less important than both of you knowing and being willing to fight fairly.
Don't say hurtful things when you fight. It's hard to show restraint in the heat of an argument, but your discussion will be more productive if you're able to say what you mean without being mean-spirited.
Schedule a time to talk about what happened when you've had an argument. Choose a time that's convenient for both of you and a place where you can really concentrate and hear each other.
Be respectful. Listen courteously while your spouse expresses feelings and needs, and acknowledge them.
Make "I" statements that express your feelings. For example, try "I feel hurt when you leave the dinner table without thanking me for cooking," instead of "you" statements, such as "You're selfish because you leave the dinner table without saying thanks."
Keep your focus on the issue at hand. Avoid the temptation to resurrect events and evidence from your history as a couple.
Finding good solutions to conflict
Learning to fight fairly is an important skill in a relationship. Learning to resolve conflict is another. Here are some other ideas that may help:
Trade off a bad habit. Are you always running fifteen minutes late? Is your spouse a world-class procrastinator? Do you leave magazines strewn around the living room floor? Over time, these kinds of "small" annoyances can cause big problems. Strike a deal with your spouse-each of you will drop a bad habit that bothers the other.
Remember your spouse's good qualities. In the hubbub of everyday living, it's easy to dwell on the negative. But for every dirty dish left in the sink, your spouse has likely done a dozen wonderful things you simply couldn't live without. Get into the habit of looking for your spouse's positive traits.
Notice and acknowledge what your spouse is doing for you and your family. Saying thanks will remind you of your spouse's efforts. Hearing it will make your spouse feel valued and encourage more of the same actions. Make showing and giving verbal appreciation to your spouse a daily habit.
Seek professional help
If you feel stuck, your relationship may benefit from professional help. Therapists and counselors are trained to help you develop new perceptions of yourself and the way you relate to others, which can lead to a renewed understanding of and closeness with your spouse.
Military OneSource can help provide you with resources and help connect you with a non-medical counselor. Additionally, Military and Family Life Counselors (MFLCs) are available to provide non-medical counseling services. You can contact them through your installation's Family Support Center.
Good, rocky, or somewhere in the middle, the current state of your relationship is less important than you and your spouse's willingness to work to get closer and grow. If the desire and commitment are there, then together, you and your spouse can keep your relationship fresh, strong, and close.