Marriage, like any friendship, begins with areas of commonality, but the stresses of normal everyday life – children, work, finances, illness, caring for elderly parents – can tax the union and cause it to grow apart. Traditional marriage counseling is one way to deepen your friendship, but you can also engage in some simple practices.
Here are 12 suggestions to cultivate a stronger relationship with your spouse. I've also included quotes from average folks who have successfully built this kind of friendship:
- Recognize that friendship building takes a lot of work – and time. Cut the fat out of your day.
"We've made some significant concessions for the sake of our friendship. Phil lives close to his work so that he can come home for lunch as often as possible. The short commute has improved his mood and energy." —Amy
- Establish a time each week to spend quality time together – then guard that time with your lives!
- Choose to spend time together rather than apart. This may mean sacrificing good things for a season such as small groups, ministry, or bonding time with guys or gals.
- Explore the interests of your spouse be it baseball, art, musical theater, gardening or hunting. Find out what they are passionate about and then join them. Often this takes a bit of sacrifice.
"I intentionally study the things that are having an influence on my wife. If she takes up a new area of interest, or is reading a new book, than I need to do that as well." —Bill
- Take time to find common interests and then engage in them.
"We've tried many things together over the past 35 years. We enjoy cooking and gardening, and for as long as I can remember we take time away from the kids to backpack during summer. Part of the fun is doing research on hiking trails, camp sites, packs, tents, and cooking stoves … it's the planning together that has grown our friendship." —John
- Use conflict to sharpen and purify friendship.
"I thought I was particularly fortunate because my husband and I rarely argued - we agreed on almost everything. The process of recovering from adultery revealed unhealthy communication on both our parts. Now we have more disagreements, but they come about because we're being honest with one another, which is helping us get to know each other more all the time." —Andi
- Nourish and care for one another. Be gentle with one another.
"We lost our first child. We more than comforted one another. We held each other … lifted one another up … and we knew at a deep level that our best friend in the world was going through the same thing." —Glenn
- Accountability and mutual respect, including in the areas of sexuality, finances, and relationships, should be priorities.
"My wife knows everything about my brokenness. I have gone to her first in difficult situations. There's a small circle of people who know me and know my depravity. My wife is in that circle. Having that transparency has given me strength, clarity, and tremendous freedom." —George
- Establish daily habits, especially praying together.
"Praying together every morning not only sets the tone for our day, and releases the burdens on our hearts, but it puts us on the same page in so many areas. God meets us in the midst of our friendship every morning." —Justine
- Affirm one another every day. Be intentional in communicating the other's strengths.
"My wife and I make it a habit to regularly communicate those things we admire or value in the other. This practice has strengthened our friendship." —Al
- Be transparent with one another.
"One activity I suggest to married couples is, at some point during the day, identify an emotional reality to your spouse. Label that feeling in a self-disclosing way such as 'I'm angry, fearful, resentful.' We often limit our conversation to the reporting of events rather than communicating how we really feel." —Bill
- Communication. Most experts agree that regular communication builds a friendship that weathers the storms of life.
"For us, communication, in part, is negotiating the rules that will make our relationship work better or flow more smoothly.
For example, just recently, I had the implicit assumption that my bike tools should be placed on the kitchen table. My wife, Annie, challenged this assumption, and conflict arose. By the end of our negotiation, we had made a new rule: bike tools do not ever go on the kitchen table.
It sounds silly, but her demand felt like a threat to how I operate, and therefore a threat to my personhood, my masculinity. In that encounter I had to learn that I was no less Jason, no less a man, no less a person, to concede to my wife's demands that certain spaces are set aside for certain purposes. My personhood goes beyond and deeper than that." —Jason
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