In my opinion, one of the greatest sources of happiness that we can enjoy in this life comes from marriage. There's nothing else that can compare to the feeling of being in love, and being loved by someone in return. It's painful to be separated from the one you love, even for a day. You think of your spouse all day long, write love notes to your spouse, and hunger for your spouse's presence at your side.
Love in marriage adds beauty to life and gives one cause to love, work, and serve. A healthy and happy marriage requires work though. Here are nine tips I'd share to anyone looking to strengthen their marriage.
1. Draw close to God
I believe God is the source of all that which is good. He's the master at happiness in marriage and family. Through the Holy Ghost, scriptures, good examples around us, etc., I believe he can teach and lead any person on how to love their spouse and enjoy a happy marriage.
Putting God first also means striving with all your might to keep His commandments and to live a pure life. The closer we try to follow the Lord in all we do, avoid and overcome temptation, serve others, and be who God wants us to be, the more of His beautiful and positive influence we can feel in our lives.
2. Strive to be the very best person you can be, every day.
The great commandment is to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. The second is like unto it, to love your neighbor as we love ourselves.
Loving ourselves is an important key to loving others. For years I confused humility with self loathing. I thought if I didn't compliment myself or if I didn't give myself much attention, it would turn into humility. I was very wrong. We need to be our #1 fan and to like ourselves, accept ourselves for who we are.
Once we accept ourselves for who we are, we can then have a healthy desire to become the best we can be. We should continually seek for ways to become better -- more patient, more selfless, more skilled in our work, a better listener, etc. In marriage, continually striving to be better is a great gift we can give our spouse.
3. Learn to love and accept your spouse for who they are
Once we develop a love for God and self, loving our spouse for who they are is the next natural step. There's a beautiful song by Bruno Mars called "Just The Way You Are", where the singer accepts and loves his wife exactly the way she is.
When our spouse knows that we love them just the way they are, criticism (one of the great poisons of marriage) fades away. We begin to appreciate the unique things about our spouse that add beauty to their character.
Another thought along this line is that once I realized that if my wife and I kept God's commandments long enough, one day we'll be perfected through Jesus Christ. One day I'll be married to a perfect person! But until then, I decided to enjoy my wife with all hers and my imperfections. In fact, I choose to celebrate our differences while we can because they won't be there forever!
4. Make intimacy (including sex) a high priority
God's given married people a wonderful, amazing gift. Sex is magical - it has a binding, cementing effect in marriage. There are fewer things I can think of that can bring as much peace, connectedness, satisfaction and joy in marriage!
But sex in marriage isn't like what the world teaches. The world's view of sex is empty and hollow, selfish and lustful. True sex in marriage is a deep connecting, mutually fulfilling, selfless loving experience that brings the very best of two people and makes them whole. It should truly be a love making experience.
My wife and I refer to each other as our "other whole" rather than her other half. Being one in marriage includes being one emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
To keep sex in marriage healthy and strong, I believe variety is important (variety is key to vitality). Try different positions, new locations, new ways to please each other. Make it romantic. Make it spontaneous. Make it fast. Make it slow. Make it more frequent. Sometimes you'll need to make a commitment to put it in your calendar.
One thing my spouse and I did to improve in this area is to come up with a pact of sorts, outlining a minimum frequency and how we plan to add variety to keep ourselves from falling into a rut.
Being romantic and keeping the spark alive in marriage is really fun too. Talk about sex often with your spouse -- share creative ideas of enjoying time together. Send love letters and text messages to each other to let the "other whole" know what you're thinking! :WINK:
One more note about this is that the best sex happens when both are fulfilled. Husbands, this might mean you let your wife come first. It begins by taking care of the dishes "just because", keeping a promise "just because", and listening to your wife share her feelings and facts about her day "just because". It's important that your wife knows you love her and care for her "just because", and that you're not expecting it to lead to anything. Emotional connectedness needs to precede physical connectedness.
When being intimate, it's important for husbands to remember that it takes most women 30 to 60 minutes to climax! Take your time and let her come first. The more enjoyable sex becomes for your wife, the more regular and higher priority it can become in your marriage.
5. Learn your spouse's love language
What is a loving act given by one spouse isn't always received the same way. For instance, I heard about a couple where every the day the husband did the dishes, helped with laundry, and many other household tasks out of love for his wife. But what his wife really wanted wasn't all of those chores done, but for her husband to sit and talk with her with no agenda. Once the husband figured this out, their marriage improved a lot!
There are many free online "discover your love language" questionnaires out there. Use Google to find one and take it with your spouse. It's interesting what you'll discover.
In my case, when I learned that giving quality time and attention to my wife makes the biggest deposits towards my wife's "emotional bank account," devoting my time and attention to her has become a regular part of our marriage. Find what matters to the other in your case and make a commitment to give more of it.
6. Schedule weekly dates
Dating after marriage is critical. Having a regularly scheduled time that you can count on will do wonders for your marriage. This became easier when our oldest child was old enough and responsible enough to be in charge of the younger kids while my wife and I went out for a few hours. My wife could count on Friday night being date night, for us to enjoy time together.
While on your date, turn off your phone's notifications, don't talk about kids (unless your spouse brings it up first), and focus on being present. If conversations get stale, prepare a list of "couple questions" to spur conversation. Share memories of fun things you've done together, and make plans for the future. Most importantly, have fun, relax, laugh, enjoy each other's company, and reconnect.
Putting effort into creative dating also goes a long way in saying "I love you". There are many blogs and websites with thousands of creative dating ideas to keep dating affordable and interesting.
7. Learn to talk and communicate
Learning how to talk about anything, including resolving problems and conflicts, is one of the greatest challenges and skills one can gain from marriage. Some marriages have little trouble in this area, while others struggle.
Learning to talk begins by making time to talk. It might be devoted to date night, or a set time every evening. Learning to talk includes learning how to listen without the intent to reply. Criticism kills communication.
Sharing your feelings and being vulnerable at times is an important aspect of couple communication. Being vulnerable means opening yourself up to your spouse about your dreams, desires, fears, wants, needs, cares, and concerns. It requires a lot of trust to be able to share your inmost feelings, as they're sensitive. Courage is required to be vulnerable. Respect is required to accept the other spouse's feelings. Over time, practicing being vulnerable while your spouse is accepting and non-judgmental builds great trust.
Sometimes a spouse wants to discuss problems, cares, concerns, fears, and so forth. The other spouse immediately counters and begins to offer suggestions to solve the problem. A problem-solving conversation sometimes isn't what the spouse wants and gets defensive quickly. Rather than jumping into problem-solving mode, just listening is what's needed most of the time. Just allowing the spouse to express concerns is enough to make things better alone.
There are times certain conflicts are best resolved in person. Text messages, for instance, don't carry the same tone of voice that speaking in person would resolve. Be sure to make time for face to face communication. Also remember that you can't force your spouse to talk or open up.
You can't force your spouse to change. The best way to "change" your spouse is to change yourself -- to selflessly love them, accept them, persuade them, be patient with them; in short to be meek and humble. If they choose to change, it would be a great blessing to both of you. If they don't want to change immediately, at least you'll still love them more than before anyway!
Communication takes serious effort. The reality is most marriages require a high level of mutual tolerance. Most marriages require a lot of effort to maintain open channels of communication. Most marriages require each spouse to make a conscious and consistent effort to bite one's tongue to refrain from criticism or defensive responses. Most marriages require a lot of patience.
8. Be Romantic
A wife wants a husband that gives her flowers, writes her love notes and hides them in places for her to find, plays love songs on the stereo, winks at her, holds her hand, takes her out, dances with her, massages her, flirts with her, texts or calls her, spends money on her, and remembers special occasions. A wife wants a husband that does romantic things "just because" -- for no other reason than that he thought of her.
With all the negative messages women receive about their appearance in magazines, movies, and social media, it's easy for women to constantly compare themselves to others. It's critical that husbands express how beautiful their wife is to him, and that he thinks his wife is amazing just the way she is.
Men like romance too. For most men, something more direct might be needed to get their attention and to feel loved by their wives. So ladies, don't be shy! Some examples include lingerie, sexts, being open and suggestive towards her husband now and then. Initiating romance, dates, and intimate moments is also very romantic for men.
In conclusion, marriages are meant to last forever. It takes work but the effort is worth it. I hope the tips above about putting God first, being the best person you can be, making lovemaking a higher priority, communicating, and being romantic are helpful in strengthening your marriage!