Thirty Tips to Build a Strong Marriage
By David Sunshine

To produce a good marriage, you have to work at it. As the saying goes, the only place you find success before work is in the dictionary. Here are some things you can do to help build a strong marriage:

1. Watch Your Relationships
To preserve your determination to make your marriage succeed, don’t get too close or flirt with members of the opposite sex. If you do, in the back of your mind, you might begin to view them as alternatives in the event that your marriage doesn’t work out. This will weaken your resolve. After all, why work so hard when you have an escape route? Also, these types of close relationships are likely to make your spouse feel threatened.

2. Pay Full Attention.
Listen to your spouse when he or she talks to you. It’s a sign of respect. Try to give him or her your undivided attention. Also, nod in agreement occasionally—it tells your partner you’re listening. If your spouse talks to you when you’re in the middle of something important, say so, and suggest a time when you’ll be able to pay full attention.

3. Share Enjoyable Activities.
Do fun things with your spouse. Exercise together, take leisurely walks, or share a pursuit that’s mutually enjoyable. Such activities strengthen your relationship and make it easier for the two of you to endure the hard times that come in every marriage.

4. Learn from Your Experiences.
Learn from the past. For example, if you find that you’re often tense when you’re very hungry, minimize your conversation with your spouse during those times. Similarly, if you see that your spouse gets worked up whenever you mention the name of a certain relative, don’t mention that person’s name unless absolutely necessary. Try to learn from the past.

5. Be Polite.
Be courteous to your spouse. When speaking with him or her, use phrases such as “please,” “thank you,” “would you mind if I....” and so forth. It will make your spouse feel appreciated and respected.

6. Never Say, "I Told You So."
Remove the phrase "I told you so" from your lexicon. Saying these words only causes ill will between you and your spouse.

People say this phrase for two reasons: to show off that they were right or
to get their mates to listen to them in the future. What they don’t realize is that the message that comes across is, “Aren’t I smarter than you?” which is insulting. When you’re proven right after an argument, your spouse will realize this on his or her own. There is no need to point it out.

The poet Ogden Nash wrote the following poem to encourage people to act this way:

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the wedding cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

7. Don’t Keep Score.
Don’t walk around with a watchful eye making sure your partner carries his or her share of the workload. Instead, take the view that it doesn’t matter if you end up doing more than half of what has to be done. Making sure your relationship stays fifty-fifty will put so much tension into your marriage that it’s not worth the effort. So unless your spouse is very lazy or a real responsibility shirker, don’t keep track of who does more.

8. Watch Out for the Little Things.
A family court judge once commented that in 99% of the divorce cases he presided over, the couples were upset about very small matters. Here are some of the types of complaints he was referring to:

“ She never lets me leave the window open at night.”
“ He always wears that loud shirt that embarrasses me.”
“ She never replaces the toilet roll when it’s finished.”
“ He always leaves his socks on the floor.”

These small matters can be very detrimental to a relationship, so watch out for them. There is, however, a silver lining to this cloud: Just as little things can ruin a relationship, they can also build one. A brief call to ask how your spouse’s day is going can make a big difference in his or her feelings toward you. Remembering your mate’s birthday with a little gift can mean a lot. Even just bringing your partner a chocolate bar or a novel you think he or she will enjoy can mean a great deal, because it shows you care.

Women in particular often need small but frequent gestures of love.

9. Greet Your Partner Happily.
Smile at your mate when you greet him or her. It will make your spouse feel appreciated and loved. Even if you’re in a bad mood, be sure to flash that grin. It’s a small investment that can go a long way.

10. Respect Your Spouse’s Privacy.
Don’t go through your partner’s things out of curiosity or in an effort to make them look neater. Privacy is a fundamental need all humans have, so be sure to respect it. Similarly, make it a habit not to repeat your spouse’s words to others. You never know what your mate wants kept secret.

11. Set Boundaries Respectfully.
When you want to refuse your partner’s requests, do so in a quiet yet firm way. For example, suppose that your spouse wants to talk to you about a non-pressing matter at a time when you’re busy with something urgent. A soft, yet assertive “I can’t talk now — I’m in the middle of something” will save you from having to raise your voice.
Learning to talk respectfully but assertively will reduce the decibel level in your home, and it will prevent many disagreements from snowballing into major conflicts.

12. Be Loving.
Be affectionate. Open up and express with words your love for your spouse. People need to feel loved, so be sure your mate hears these words often.

13. Don’t Compare.
Don’t compare your partner to others. There is always someone else who will seem better than your spouse in some way (until, of course, you’ve married that person). So save yourself misery and avoid comparing.

14. Verbalize Your Needs.
Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Instead, verbalize your needs, and give your mate a chance to respond.

In the following statements, the speaker is verbalizing his needs to prevent feeling hurt afterward:

" Next week is our anniversary. I know I’ll be hurt if we don’t go out to dinner or do something else to celebrate it. So could we please do something like that?”

“ I need more displays of affection from you throughout the day—smiling at me more, talking to me more softly, maybe telling me ‘I love you’ sometimes. I don’t know why, I just need it. Could you do this for me?”

Being so direct in asking for what you want might not seem as romantic as having your partner intuit your desires, but it’s a lot better than feeling disappointed and getting into fights!

15. Don’t Criticize in Public.
Be careful not to criticize your spouse in front of others. Doing so will embarrass your mate and will weaken the bond of intimacy in your relationship.

Criticizing your partner in the presence of your children is equally bad since it can cause your kids to disrespect your spouse.

16. Be Careful With the Kids.
Don’t allow your children to disturb your marital harmony. Here are two things you can do to help ensure that this does not happen:
Give your spouse priority over your kids. When each competes for your time, put your mate first as much as you can. Realize that being a good spouse is probably the most important role model you can give your children.

Don’t make your spouse into the family police officer. Avoid saying things such as, “Wait ‘till your father comes home!” or “We’ll see what your mother says to that!” Your partner will not appreciate having to be the disciplinarian in the family because you’re not strong enough to discipline your children yourself.

17. Watch Out in the Beginning.
Be prepared for problems in the beginning of your marriage. Statistics show that the first year of marriage is the time couples are most likely to divorce, followed by the second year. So don’t put yourself under too much stress during those two years. This is not the time to start your own business or change careers. Instead, remove as much outside strain from your life as possible so you can focus your energy on working out whatever problems arise in your marriage. You and your partner have to learn to share a life together, and that’s not an easy task.

18. Minimize Monetary Conflicts
Disagreements about money issues are among the most common causes of conflict among couples. In fact, when the Association of Bridal Consultants asked newlyweds to note which topic caused their most serious arguments during their first year of marriage, 67 percent said it was how their money should be spent.

If you find yourselves arguing over money, work out a system the two of you can live with.

Here is how two couples worked out their money matters.

Brad and Jennifer have three separate checking accounts—one for him, one for her, and a joint account. When they get their monthly paychecks, they deposit these into their separate accounts and then contribute an agreed-upon sum to their joint ac-count. Every time a bill comes in for a shared expense—such as the mortgage or the electric bill—they pay it from their joint account. When they want to save for the future, they both put equal amounts into a joint savings account. This system works for them because they’re each willing to pay a bit more than their share to preserve marital harmony. For example, if Brad thinks that Jennifer is on the phone a lot one month, he doesn’t ask her to pay most of that month’s phone bill. He knows the bill is small and that it’s not worth risking a potential argument over it. And when Jennifer sees that Brad makes a ten-minute overseas call that she feels is unnecessary, she says nothing for the same reason. Thus, although they set up a 50-50 system, each has an attitude of ignoring the little things even if that means their relationship may in fact be 40-60 or even sometimes 30-70. They realize that in fighting for a perfectly fair system, they’ll lose more than they’ll gain.

Kevin and Laura have a joint checking account into which they deposit their monthly paychecks. They worked out an arrangement whereby each may spend $100 a month on anything they want without consulting the other. Although Kevin earns more than Laura, and thus might deserve to spend more than she does, he realizes that she does more of the housework, and therefore agreed that they could spend equal amounts.

19. Have Conflict Resolution Time.
Set aside time to work out the problems that keep recurring in your relationship. This should be a time when both of you are relaxed and willing to discuss these matters. Otherwise, the issues might arise at times when you may not have the patience and goodwill necessary to deal with them.

20. Look for Solutions.
Focus on finding solutions to your problems. Here are some examples:
If your mate complains that you’re making too much noise, don’t argue back and say it’s not true. Instead, find ways to lessen the noise, such as by being quieter or moving to another part of the house. If your spouse likes to leave clothing on the floor, don’t go on the attack and call him or her a slob. Instead, look for a solution. For example, offer to put a box on the floor in the corner of the room where your partner can leave the clothing.

If you concentrate on finding solutions, you’ll avoid many conflicts.

21. Be Forgiving.
When you’re upset with your spouse, be forgiving. Realize that we all have flaws, and that each of us makes mistakes occasionally. It’s part of being human.

Think of all the mistakes you’ve made in the past. Since you can forgive yourself for all of those misdeeds, it’s only fair that you be able to forgive others for theirs as well.

Realize that when you forgive your partner, you’re not saying that what he or she did was okay. You’re saying that you choose not to let it get in the way of your relation-ship.

A wise man once said, “Marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness.” Love by itself just won’t cut the ice.

22. Minimize Criticisms.
Minimize the number of times you criticize your spouse. Marriage researchers Clifford Notarius, Ph.D., and Howard Markman, Ph.D., say one put-down can “undo hours of kindness you give to your partner.”

So look the other way as much as you can. If you feel your mate’s behavior is only slightly wrong or will probably not recur in the future, ignore it. You’ll save yourself many needless quarrels.

It’s been said that the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one often consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid. Keep that in mind the next time you want to criticize your spouse.

Definitely keep quiet if you think your partner knows he or she did something wrong. For example, if your wife breaks a dish or your husband has a fender-bender, it’s not necessary to say, “Be more careful next time.” Your mate realizes that already.

23. Correct at the Right Times.
If you feel that you must criticize your partner, make sure you’re calm before you begin speaking. When you’re upset your words may come out too sharply.

Similarly, don’t rebuke your spouse at a time when he or she is under stress. Your rebuke will probably not be heeded at that time anyway, and you may provoke a major battle. Have patience and wait for the right time.

24. Forget “Always” and “Never.”
When your mate does something wrong, don’t exaggerate the offense. For example, if your husband often leaves a mess in the kitchen, don’t tell yourself, “He always leaves a mess for me to clean up!” If your wife is frequently late, don’t say to your-self, “She is never on time!” Thinking in exaggerated terms is a bad habit. Not only does it make you more angry, it’s probably also untrue. It’s unlikely that someone always leaves messes or is never on time.

So don’t let yourself think this way. Replace words such as “always” and “never” with words like “often” or “sometimes.” You will feel much less angry inside.

25. Don’t Give Up.
Realize that even in the best marriages couples sometimes have conflicts. The “happily ever after” ending so commonly found in our films, theater and literature is not true. A realistic portrayal of a good, happy marriage is one in which two people sometimes argue but are able to work out their differences peacefully.

So if you and your spouse are not getting along well, don’t give up. Try to work on your relationship.

Guidelines for Arguing

26. Stay in the Present.
Don’t raise past misdeeds to score points. It’s not fair to throw back at a person an old incident, something that occurred months or even years ago. If you do, your partner is likely to resent you for it, and you’ll create much ill will. Instead, stick to the issue at hand.

27. Watch Your Behavior.
Monitor your behavior when you argue. Don’t get violent or use sharp language. You can never go back in time and undo what you say or do, so be careful. Realize that a few moments of physical roughness or harsh words can seriously damage your relationship.

Keeping yourself calm will help you control your behavior. One easy way to do so is to take a few slow, deep breaths every few minutes. If you find that you still can’t control your words, be silent until you’re more relaxed.

28. Take Time-Outs.
Be sure to stop a destructive exchange of words. When your partner gets beyond the point of being civil and rational, or when you see yourself beginning to act in a destructive manner, put an end to the discussion. Say something like, “Let’s continue this conversation later.”

But if it’s an important topic, don’t just drop it. Be sure to raise the subject again at a time when you’re both more relaxed. If you wait until you’ve calmed down, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to work out your disagreement.

29. Keep Up Your Responsibilities.
No matter how angry you are with your spouse, don’t stop doing what you’re expected to do. If you’re the one who cooks the meals, continue making those meals. If every Sunday you give your partner two hundred dollars spending money for the week, continue doing so. Don’t change your behavior—it will make your fights much worse. Make a rule in advance with your mate that the two of you will continue your responsibilities no matter how angry you are with each other. And if your spouse refuses to keep such a rule, at least you keep it. When your partner sees you doing so, he or she will eventually follow suit.

30. Seek Outside Help.
If disagreements with your spouse are interfering with the harmony of your marriage, don’t be afraid to seek outside help. Couples therapy has greatly improved many marriages, and is certainly worth trying. Just make sure to find a therapist who’s been trained in counseling couples.

David Sunshine, M.A., is a certified crisis counselor who has written numerous articles to help people build strong and lasting marriages. These tips are courtesy of the Association for Marriage Enrichment. Visit the website at:



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