Whether a couple is recently married or nearing their 50th anniversary, there is almost always room for improvement in any marriage. Among the things that can strengthen a marriage are having realistic expectations, cultivating a friendship, improving communication, and learning how to resolve conflicts that inevitably arise. The steps for strengthening a marriage should begin even before the wedding day; engaged couples can begin building a good foundation by developing healthy habits early on.
One of the best tips for those who want to have a healthy marriage is having realistic expectations and making those expectations known. It is crucial that each person in the couple be aware of his or her own needs and desires in the marriage, and that they express these needs to each other. It might not be possible for each spouse to know what the other is thinking if nothing is said about marital expectations, so it is important to be open and vocal about them.
Another key to strengthening a marriage is cultivating friendship between spouses. Part of this is setting aside quality time to spend solely with one another. "Quality time" means that the spouses are both mentally present and focused on each other. Couples can use this time to enjoy common interests together or just have genuine conversation. As a married couple's life becomes ever busier, time together often falls by the wayside, so effort needs to made to make it a priority.
Communication is perhaps the most important aspect in strengthening a marriage. Healthy communication involves using "I" statements rather than "you" statements, in order to express feelings without being aggressive. For example, it is better to say "I feel angry when you forget our anniversary" than simply "You make me so angry!"
Another key to healthy communication is active listening. This means attending to the speaker and responding in a way that lets him or her know that he or she was understood. Healthy couples also tend to be aware of their own nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, stances and physical touches.
One of the most valuable opportunities for strengthening a marriage occurs during times of conflict. Conflict in marriage is unavoidable, but it actually can be healthy for a marriage if a couple knows how to handle it well. One key thing to remember about conflict is that complaints regarding behavior are OK, but criticisms regarding a spouse's personality are not. Married couples also should make it a point to avoid blame and to apologize when necessary.
Even in the heat of conflict, couples should speak to one another with respect, without resorting to name-calling or mocking. If one spouse seems to be overwhelmed, it is sometimes appropriate to "table" the topic to allow both partners time to cool down and recharge. Couples can even decide on a set time to return to the conversation. It is a good idea to avoid discussing difficult topics after 8 p.m., when emotions can run high because of the stress of the day and when both spouses might be getting tired.
Couples also should be intentional about being kind to one another. A husband or wife could try saying "thank you" more often and make it a point to offer a compliment at least once a day. Small, purposeful touches, such as a hand on the arm, a hug or a kiss on the cheek can go a long way. The little, day-to-day interactions add up and play a huge role in the tone and health of a marriage.
Nearly every couple is capable of working and strengthening a marriage. It takes intentionality, focus, and hard work, but both the process and the outcome can be incredibly rewarding. If a husband and wife feel that they are unable to work through the process by themselves, they should not hesitate to seek professional or pastoral counseling.