What would make your marriage happier? A three-week vacation to the tropics? Your husband putting the toilet seat down? Your wife putting her cellphone down? You might not have the budget for traveling overseas, and you certainly can't control your spouse. But you can do little things to make your marriage happier, and many are surprisingly easy and inexpensive.
The Focus on the Family editors asked couples to reveal one thing they have done to make their marriage happier. We received a wonderful collection of creative ideas, and we hope these stories will inspire you to do one thing to make your marriage happier.
"Tell me a secret." My husband knows he's going to hear these four words from me at least once a day. In our house, "tell me a secret" loosely translates to "tell me something I don't know about you."
The secret can be a story from childhood I've never heard before or perhaps an amusing thought he had but never shared with me. It can range from serious ("I was really depressed when you were traveling for work this week") to comical ("You've been talking about that celebrity podcast for weeks, and I was too embarrassed to admit I don't know who that person is").
Regardless of what he shares with me, the "tell me a secret" request keeps us invested in our relationship because I'm always discovering small things I didn't expect. When he tells me thoughts he wouldn't have otherwise, I can better understand how he sees the world. This practice reminds me that marriage is a lifelong commitment, and you're never too old to learn something new about your spouse.
When my wife and I got married, my mother-in-law gave us a notebook to write letters back and forth to each other. That notebook has become the storybook of our relationship.
Sometimes the letters we write mark momentous occasions, such as the day we became foster parents or the day our twins were born. Other times I write my wife a letter on a random Tuesday morning or she leaves the notebook on my nightstand with an entry written on an otherwise uneventful Friday.
Some of the entries are love letters and some are letters of apology. Some of them consist of a few hurriedly scribbled sentences and some span several pages.
Occasionally we look at the entries and marvel at where we were and how far we've come. It's amazing that a $2 notebook has become a prized possession that reflects the value of our marriage.
Eliminate Annoying Habits
I sighed with frustration, and I could immediately tell that my wife, Jenny, was hurt by my nonverbal communication. "I'm sorry, hon. That sigh wasn't for you. It's a bad habit that I'm trying to quit." Jenny's face brightened as she graciously accepted my apology.
My pattern of sighing began innocently enough. Deep breaths are a calming skill that I teach in a weekly therapy group. Soon I was practicing them at home. However, Jenny took them personally, as if I were sighing at her. Although I tried to explain, my efforts didn't improve our relationship. For nearly two weeks, our pattern was the same. I would sigh, Jenny would be hurt, and I would rationalize.
Happily, I caught on to the negative impact of my behavior. I learned that eliminating annoying habits is better than trying to convince one's spouse to accept them.
Prayers for Pet Peeves
Instead of seeing the irritating things my husband does as reasons to fuss, I'm using them as prompts to pray. So when his socks land near, but not in, the laundry hamper, I say a short prayer. Same with the shoes that don't make it into the closet and the crumbs left on the counter.
Choosing to pray a blessing over my husband, instead of nagging him, makes me happier. Those short prayers remind me that those little annoying things he does really are little things.
Laugh It Off
Bang! The bedroom door slammed. Hard. I heard my husband stomping down the stairs.
Well, I've done it now! I thought. In our, um, disagreement, I'd pushed my milder-than-you'd-ever-believe husband into the anger zone.
I wasn't quite sure what to do. Then my eyes landed on a glow-in-the-dark hockey mask he'd given me as a silly gift. That's it! I pulled my hair into an elegant chignon. Then I put on my most appealing, lacy lingerie. And for the pièce de résistance, the dollar-store plastic hockey mask.
I carefully maneuvered down the stairs and stepped behind him in the kitchen, where he was raiding the freezer for his comfort food, ice cream.
"Don't bother apologizing," he told me, still facing the fridge.
The only response I gave was heavy breathing, which was natural behind the half-suffocating mask.
He turned around. His eyes took me in, and he burst into laughter.
That night I learned a key to a happier marriage — laughter. Sometimes just plain silliness is the best approach. It breaks down barriers and brings us joy.
—Jeanette Gardner Littleton
Just Say Yes
I have no interest in drag racing, but my husband enjoys it. When he suggested going to a weekend drag racing event, I said yes. I knew that was an easy way to make him happy — and that makes me happy. I also knew I had power over my attitude, so I set my mind on finding joy in the experience. Perhaps I'd learn something new or at least discover something I could enjoy while there. And I did. We had fun, and we grew closer.
But then an amazing thing happened. As I continued to say yes more than no to my husband, he began to say yes more than no to me. When I wanted to see a sappy romantic comedy at the movies when a blow-'em-up flick was also playing, he didn't hesitate to tell me yes. When I wanted to go to an all-day auction, he nodded and cleaned out the car to make room for any bargain finds we might bring home.
Of course, we shouldn't say yes to our spouse just so our spouse will say yes to us. The idea of saying yes is so simple — and so profound for our marriage.
My husband, Robbie, went fishing almost every Saturday, and on the few weekends he stayed home, he focused on fishing prep. To make matters worse, I'm a talker and he's an introvert, so he was perfectly fine with our lack of connection. I was trying to punish him with the silent treatment. He didn't notice.
One day during one of my prayer rants, God spoke to my heart: You haven't told him what you need. I had told Robbie my need to feel loved, but never my specific expectations. When he called from the road, I told him my heart — that I was lonely when he was gone and I needed his attention at home. I told him I wanted wildflowers from the lake, photo texts, anything that says, "I'm thinking about you." And I need it every day!
When I finished sharing, Robbie said, "I knew you needed those things, but I thought every now and then was enough. I didn't realize how often you needed them." By hearing my specific expectations, he gained clarity on how to love me, and my bitterness diminished.
—Sabrina Beasley McDonald
My Best Self
When I was a young military wife living far from family, my husband was my world. My day revolved around his work schedule, caring for our home and raising our young children. It was wonderful, yet I found myself consistently discontent.
Something was missing, and I didn't know what. It took years to discover a lasting solution: To be content in my marriage, I needed to invest in myself. I scribbled my interests and aspirations in a notebook. Writing them down made them seem real and attainable.
Losing my sense of identity to the busy day-to-day stressors of life and marriage was easy. But devoting consistent time to self-development made me much more content. In turn, it made me a better wife.
My wife, Christi, would research lake houses and vacation destinations. She'd even ask me to go for rides through the country looking at properties on a Sunday afternoon. I struggled mightily with this. Of course I knew better than to say it aloud, but come on, hadn't the apostle Paul told us to be content in all things (Philippians 4:11-13)?
I thought her daydreaming was an indictment on the lives we were living. After numerous "conversations," I came to realize that Christi really was content. Her research and love for exploring vacation properties had nothing to do with discontentment but everything to do with her love of dreaming. She loves to anticipate. She enjoys when I plan a date or vacation and she can look forward to it. So, the one thing I did to make my marriage happier was throw my self-righteous attitude out and begin dreaming with my wife.
—Dr. Joshua Straub
Date Night Rules
My husband and I have established a few rules for our weekly date nights, and these simple rules have helped us get the most out of our time together. First is "no TV." We have to do something together that requires interacting and making memories. Second, we both have to think of some questions to ask each other on the date. Often, we end up printing some from the internet if we can't think of anything new. Third, we read a chapter of a marriage book out loud together at the end of the date. That helps us have new tools to make our marriage even stronger and opens up the door to conversations about how to strengthen our relationship. We have grown so much closer every week!
Bonus Story: A Change of Heart (and Shoes)
My wife, Lisa, hated it when I wore my running shoes into the house after a run. I was careful about not tracking in mud, but even when I ran on streets and sidewalks, she’d point out that dogs had walked — and done other things — on those sidewalks, and she wanted me to take my shoes off at the door.
A previous bout with plantar fasciitis had led a doctor to tell me to never walk barefoot, so I used the doctor’s order as an excuse to wear my shoes inside, but really, I just thought Lisa was being too fastidious.
Then it hit me: I was going to take my shoes and socks off when I showered in a few minutes anyway, so why not just keep my running shoes in the garage, and put on flip flops as soon as I get in the house?
For some stupid, selfish reason, changing footwear in the garage felt like a major inconvenience, and I thought that I was making a big concession on Lisa’s behalf when I first started doing it. Now, it makes more sense to me to do it her way. I’m ashamed that I waited so long to “give in.” Lisa’s happier; I’m happier; and yes, our floors are happier, too.
Based on research and experience from Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Focus on the Family has created valid and reliable questions that evaluate the strength of your marriage. Take our free assessment now.