Focus on the Family

Reset Your Marriage by Spelling Love L-I-S-T-E-N

Couples who have stood the test of time have developed relationship glue — big and small acts of kindness, respect, and thoughtfulness extended to one another on a consistent basis.

“The tension between me and my wife, Keri, got so bad that going out on book tour became a relief,” described New York Times bestselling author of more than 40 books, Richard Paul Evans. “We became perpetually defensive, building emotional fortresses around our hearts. We were on the edge of divorce.”

After spending a day signing books for doting fans, Richard returned to his hotel and called home. “We had another big fight and Keri hung up on me. Alone, lonely, frustrated, and angry, I turned on God. I don’t know if you could call it prayer — maybe shouting at God isn’t prayer, maybe it is.”

Finally, hoarse and broken, Richard began to cry. The pain of being together had become too much. Why wouldn’t she change?

Listen Without Interrupting

Marriage is designed to be the place where each of us connect and belong. And connecting and belonging is a core need for humans. Couples who have stood the test of time have developed relationship glue — big and small acts of kindness, respect, and thoughtfulness extended to one another on a consistent basis in the midst of good times and during the difficult days. Those connections, memories, poignant moments, and laughing until milk comes out your nose shape a shared history and confirmation that we belong.

Healthy marriages nurture these 12 positive characteristics:

  1. Value and respect one another. Our words and actions are kind. Even when love is thin, respect for one another is powerful relationship glue.
  2. Communicate openly. Couples fare better when they can talk about any topic. There are no secrets.
  3. Listen without interrupting. Hear the other person’s words. Feeling heard is more valuable than having the other person agree with you.
  4. Give unconditional love. Even when spouses don’t agree, they understand, and are comfortable with differing opinions.
  5. Trust each other. Partners feel secure when confidences are protected and they know their spouse will not purposely embarrass or shame them.
  6. Commit to each other. Husbands and wives stay connected rather than isolating, engage rather than practice the silent treatment.
  7. Show appreciation and affection. Courtesies such as saying “please” and “thank you” are common to daily life. While we tend to act our best in public settings, relationships thrive when we consistently give our very best to our partner.
  8. Solid values. Character qualities including integrity, honesty, honor, and respect are descriptive of how spouses treat one another.
  9. Share a spiritual focus. Couples believe there is a loving and benevolent God who cares about them, brought them together, has their best at heart, and is involved.
  10. Have family holidays and traditions. By nurturing consistent touch points, couples connect and celebrate life together.
  11. Pull together in times of stress and crisis. Through communication and companionship, spouses navigate challenges as a team.
  12. Exercise calm problem-solving skills. “People before things” is a motto that reminds husbands and wives to be tender with each other through disagreements and adversity.

Spell Love L-I-S-T-E-N

Richard returned home to a cold wife who barely acknowledged him. “That night, we lay in bed, inches from each other yet miles apart and I knew what I had to do.”

The next morning he asked, “Keri, how can I make your day better?”

“You can’t,” she said. “Why are you asking that?”

“I mean it,” he said. “I want to know what I can do to make your day better.”

She looked at him cynically. “You want to do something? Clean the kitchen.”

He did and the next day asked the same thing. “What can I do to make your day better?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Clean the garage.”

With an already busy schedule, he felt tempted to blow up at her request, but instead invested the time and got the task done.

The next day she responded angrily to his question. “Nothing! Stop asking.”

“I can’t. I made a commitment to myself. What can I do to make your day better?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I care about you,” he said. “And our marriage.”

After two weeks of asking and following through on what his wife said would make her day better, Keri’s eyes welled with tears. “You’re not the problem. I am. I’m hard to live with. I don’t know why you stay with me.”

“Because I love you,” he said. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“I should be asking you that.”

“You should, but not now. Right now, I need to be the change. You need to know how much you mean to me,” he said. “How can I make your day better?”

She laid her head on his chest. “Can we spend some time together?”

He put his arms around her. “I’d like that.”

After more than a month, the fighting between Richard and Keri stopped. She asked him, “What do you need from me?”

Listen To Understand

To make an immediate positive and effective change in your relationship, practice listening. We certainly don’t have to agree, but people feel valued, honored, and respected when we feel heard.

Think about it, when have you been the most frustrated, hurt, and even angry? How often was the root cause connected to a feeling of not being heard?

Politics was a heated topic for Mary and John until they called a truce and listened to each other’s heart. They realized each had legitimate reasons for how they felt. “Decades later, we often cancel out our votes because one of us votes conservative and the other liberal,” she said. “We don’t always agree but we respect each other’s viewpoint.”

Arguing a point and pressuring your spouse to change how they think or feel is the antithesis of truly hearing another’s thoughts, experiences, and heart. After all, people don’t have differing opinions because they are not as smart, or because they don’t know all the facts. Our opinions are born from our experiences.

Richard’s experience involved valuing his wife, asking what she needed, and listening to her response. “The question everyone in a committed relationship should ask their significant other is, ‘What can I do to make your life better?’ Real love is to truly desire their happiness, to actively seek their well-being — sometimes even at the expense of our own.”

Strong marriages do not boast an ideal, problem-free lifestyle. They do handle struggles as a team with the understanding that life is full of the unexpected. “Marriage is hard,” Richard admitted. “I’ve also learned that the institution of marriage can help heal our most unlovable parts. And we all have unlovable parts.”

There is a reset button for relationships. That vital refreshment, and even a new beginning, is initiated when we take responsibility for our own emotional healing and then relate in healthy ways with our spouse. Relationship glue begins with listening to truly hear the heart of our life’s partner. “We began having meaningful discussions on what we wanted from life and how we could make each other happier,” Richard said. “Keri and I have been married now for more than thirty years. I not only love my wife, I like her. I like being with her. I crave her. I need her. Our differences have become strengths. To have a partner in life is a remarkable gift.”

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