How do you know how strong and healthy your marriage is? Doctors help us to know whether our bodies are strong and healthy.
I love getting a good report from the doctor after a check-up:
Mr. Ownby, your lab work shows your cholesterol is at a very healthy level.
Mr. Ownby, your heart rate is strong and your blood pressure is perfectly normal.
Mr. Ownby, our tests show you have the abs of a Greek warrior.
(I haven’t actually heard that last piece of news yet, but I’m working on it…)
How do you get a marriage check-up?
In her book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Couples, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn uncovered a number of things that highly-happy, healthy couples do. Here are four of those signs from her research that you can use right now in your marriage:
Couples in healthy marriages remember that little things go a long way.
It’s easy to think the big, overarching gestures we give our spouses (like expensive gifts or a surprise trip) keep the marriage glue strong. In fact, while there’s nothing wrong with these big gestures, Feldhahn’s research indicates regular, small actions of love are really what keeps the relationship robust.
More specifically, Feldhahn pinpoints five of these “little things” that each person in the marriage can do to help their spouse feel more cared for:
What the wife can do for him:
- Notice his efforts and sincerely thank him.
- Make it clear you desire him sexually.
- Let him know that he makes you happy.
- Say, “You did a great job at _________.“
- Affirm him in front of others.
What the husband can do for her:
- Reach out and hold her hand.
- Leave her messages during the day to let her know you are thinking about her.
- Pull yourself out of a funk/bad mood (rather than withdrawing).
- Put your arm around her in public
- Sincerely tell her, “You are beautiful.”
Couples in healthy marriages spend time alone with each other.
Two keywords here are meaningful and regular. Happy couples talk or share an activity when they are alone together. And these couples report doing this at least weekly.
One goal you may shoot for is having a weekly “date time.” This is an intentional time you plan for just the two of you, and it can be any time of the day that’s convenient. You don’t necessarily have to leave the house or even spend a lot of money on a fancy dinner. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Play a card game. Send the kids to their rooms, turn the lights down low, and enjoy your favorite TV show over a box of Oreos. Simplicity often makes for the most meaningful times together. The idea is to have meaningful alone time with the one you love most on a regular basis.
Couples in healthy marriages believe the other person is the reason their marriage is so happy.
Most people in a “highly-happy” relationship said that what their partner contributes to the relationship is why they are highly-happy. Conversely, a majority of the individuals in “so-so” happy relationships indicated they were the reason for their (so-so) happiness. Developing a sense of gratitude for the value your spouse gives to your marriage is fundamental. Recognize the great things they do for your relationship and show them your appreciation.
Couples in healthy marriages believe the best of each other and don’t let negative thoughts get the best of them.
Even in the midst of disagreements, couples from healthy, happy marriages still knew that they were both on the same team and that their partner deeply cared for them. When negative thoughts about their spouse began to creep in, couples were quick to intentionally change their thinking around. They realized the power they had over these feelings and trained their brain to think the best of their partner. When you feel these kinds of negative feelings coming on, don’t let them boss you around; decide to believe the best about your spouse.
Keeping your marriage strong and healthy takes intentionality on a daily basis. But with these four keys, you can be sure that your marriage check-up will merit a clean bill of health.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***