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The Struggle is Real: Priorities

200441388-001In what areas of your life do you operate intentionally? Many people are intentional about their career path, the pursuit of their financial goals, the attainment of their retirement plans, their spiritual growth and even their charitable giving. Far too few of us, however, devote the same intentionality to maintaining and enhancing the relationship with our spouse. Somehow we expect that aspect of our life to take care of itself; but in reality great relationships are created not discovered.

Love is a verb. Being intentional about maintaining and enhancing the relationship with our spouse requires thought, planning and action; but the rewards are well worth the effort. Let’s look at ten ways you can start making your marriage a priority.

Take time to know your spouse. Remember the first few months of dating. Most people say it was a time where you wanted to learn all you could about the other person. During that time you wanted to know what and who was important to them, how they felt about important issues and you may have even sought their advice on significant events in your life. Dr. John Gottman, a noted marriage researcher calls this knowing our spouse’s Love Maps and his research identifies this as the foundation to a sound marital relationship.

Learn your spouse’s Love Language. Gary Chapman in his book “The Five Love Languages” identifies five ways that people need to be loved in order to fill up what he calls their “love tank”. The five “love languages” are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch (intimacy). Often times we give love the way we like to receive love; however it is more effective to learn what speaks to our spouse and offer love in their specific love language.

Develop a Servant’s Heart. Developing a Servant’s Heart means that we choose to give to our spouse not because we expect something in return but because a Servant’s Heart is a value of ours. It is who we want to be. Therefore we do not keep score but naturally help or do where we see a need without first checking whose “job” or “turn” it is. On top of that our behaviors inform our feelings. Therefore we must sometimes behave the way we want to feel. Doing loving things enhances our feelings of love. Try it!

Explore or create rituals of connection. Rituals of connection are the ways that we connect each and every day. It is the way we show our partner that they are a priority and that we think about them. Rituals of connection may be things like getting our spouse the paper each morning or preparing a cup of coffee for them as they leave the house. It may be a kiss or hug when they get home or watching a favorite show together. What are your rituals of connection and how can you intentionally create new and meaningful ways to connect?

Have intentional discussions that create shared meaning or a marital imperative. Implementing your shared goals can help you to be a stronger couple with a purpose. For instance, your goals might include volunteering in the community, raising your children in a positive way or adopting a sustainable lifestyle. Regardless of what your shared vision or goals are, they can strengthen your bond. Couples who take the time to develop shared meaning and goals are more likely to experience mutual admiration — a hallmark of mature, lasting love. It is something not simply arrived at by chance, but is deliberately cultivated.

Intentionally speak positively about your spouse to others. Dr. John Gottman, says, “Love is a conscious decision to magnify and cherish your spouse’s positive traits and minimize the negative.” Make an active effort to focus on the positive qualities of your spouse and occasionally compliment them. Within earshot of your mate, say something sincere and positive about them. This can be about either something they did or a character trait.

Schedule a Weekly Date Night and Bi-Annual Weekend Get Away. There is no way to make our marriage a priority without spending time alone together and making it important enough to push other things aside (at least for a weekend or the night). Take turns planning these trysts including lining up a babysitter. Remember it is the time together that counts. It doesn’t always have to be elaborate. It could be simply an evening stroll at the Avalon.

Put down your Cell Phone. If you are looking for a way to make your spouse feel loved, nothing says you are my top priority like turning off your cell phone and giving them your undivided attention. If you forget to turn off the cell, simply don’t answer it or look at the text until after your conversation or date night with your spouse is over.

Use your Cell Phone to Court Your Spouse. Occasionally check in with your spouse during the day to let them know you are thinking about them. Make it short and do this without expectation of a response. They may be busy and unable to respond but will feel special knowing you are thinking of them. The mistake many couples make is having long conversations or even arguments via text. This kind of communication via text does erode at effective communication among couples. Pick up the phone and call or wait until your spouse and you are together for extended conversations or disagreements.

Find ways to have Fun together. Research has shown that trying exciting new things together can create an increased marital satisfaction among couples. Try a trip to a new restaurant in a nearby town, a bike ride or walk on the greenway, work out together, take a cooking class, or dance lessons.

Start with implementing one or two of these ideas to start intentionally making your marriage a priority. You will be glad you did!

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