Building a strong and healthy marriage is an investment that takes a lot of time and energy.  Happily married older couples don’t end up this way by accident.  It takes resolve and commitment from both people to create this relationship.  Fortunately, there are clear ways to create such an envy in our community.  Here are ideas to build a stronger marriage.

1) Learn your spouse’s story

One important lesson happy couples tell us is they have listened over the years to their spouse’s story.  From the trials of growing up to the mundane daily activities, happily married spouses take the time to listen to each other.  They take an interest in what is going on in each other’s lives.

I know one spouse who could secretly care less about darts, but you wouldn’t know it the way she talks about it with her husband.  She knows different types of dart games and how they keep score.  She has a rough record of her husband’s wins and losses over the years, and she can tell you a detailed story of a comeback he made in a big tournament.  Not surprisingly, their marriage is very strong, and her husband will tell you how special he feels to his wife.  This couple knows one very important secret ingredient of marriage counseling: know your spouse.

2) Foster happy moments together

It’s a rainy Thursday evening, and Jim has just gotten home from work.  On such a gloomy and typical weekday, it is easy to change into something warm and turn on a favorite Netflix show.  But before doing so, Jim flips on the radio, grabs his wife and dances with her to a couple songs.  Feeling a bit more energized, they both are smiling more through an otherwise boring evening.  Multiply these little activities by 100 or even 1000, and you have a lot of special memories that add up to a very special relationship.

Marriage counseling teaches us that creating these happy moments is another important ingredient that separates happy couples from distant or worse-off couples.  Lord knows it doesn’t always work, but the more that couples work at it, the more successful they become at having fun together.

3) Look for what your spouse needs

You don’t know what you don’t see, and in marriage you don’t see what you don’t look for.  If you do not make it a priority to learn your partner’s wants and needs, you will never find them.

Alex bursts angrily through the door, “You wouldn’t believe what Darryl did today!”  “That jerk!” says his wife Mary. “What stupid decisions did your boss make this time?”  Mary has learned through experience that her husband is not actually going to act on his anger towards his boss.  He just needs a few minutes to vent his frustrations about work, and he needs a cheerleader to side with him against an “enemy.”  After Mary listens to her husband and agrees that his boss is incompetent, Alex is able to settle down and feel empowered again.  Mary has given Alex an ally at his work, making it easier to tolerate the frustrations of working for a difficult boss.  It took a while for Mary to figure out that Alex just needed an ally to support him, but it was well worth the efforts.  Now Alex feels more confident at work and does not let work place frustrations build up.

Other people may need a loving push to be active when they get bored or discouraged.  Some spouses have a poor self-esteem and need built up from time-to-time.  As a spouse if you pay careful attention, you can learn ways to assist in meeting their obstacles in life to live a better life for themselves.

4) Let you spouse influence you

I’m going to especially pick on guys here.  Males have a much harder time accepting influence from their partners than females.  Researchers believe this is mostly due to societal pressures on females to “get along” and males to be “strong and independent.”  Marriage counseling teaches us that males who have the ability to allow their spouses to influence them have much happier and healthier relationships in the long run.

This makes sense.  When one partner makes most of the decisions and the other subverts their opinions, they begin to feel unimportant and marginalized.  When this happens hundreds of times over decades, they may feel they have no place in the marriage.  I can often tell this is a problem when the husband says, “I thought everything was going well.  This is a complete surprise to me.”   This happens because he has not been open to his spouse’s influence, and she has given up trying to be heard.  Eventually, she feels suffocated and emotionally detaches from the marriage.  When she decides to leave it’s because her attempts to work on the marriage were largely unheard for so long.

These are some important marriage counseling ideas on ways to improve and build a strong-healthy marriage.  If you are young in your marriage, it is much easier to get help early on.  If you have been married ten or more years and didn’t practice this way, you may have work on your hands.  It is far from impossible to overcome such distance , but you and your spouse must be committed to the work.

Here are more articles on marriage and marriage counseling.

Marriage counseling

Attachment in Relationships

How to Forgive

Resolving Conflict