The El Al security line looked endless. My family and I were on our way back from Israel; each one of us navigating our heavy luggage carts while trying not to bump into people. We finally settled in and waited for our turn to answer the usual questions. We hadn’t noticed the couple in front of us until we heard an angry outburst.
“I don’t believe it! All our suitcases just fell off the cart and it’s your fault!” The woman was gesturing indignantly at her husband. “You said I should listen to you and just pile them on. Now look at this mess. You always do this to me. You think you know best, well you don’t. Next time I am not listening. That’s it. I had it with you.”
Husband and wife glared angrily at each other. While we tried to help the couple with their luggage, the monologue continued. The husband waved a dismissive hand in his wife’s direction.
I don’t know if this couple had a wonderful holiday but their trip home was definitely ruined.
No one begins marriage by wanting to be nasty or unkind. It is just that we forget how to be gentle. Somehow we slack off and grow less sensitive. We neglect to use charm and laughter. We become thoughtless with our words. It does not take much effort to cause pain.
Even if we stood under the chuppah thinking that we’ve met the person of our dreams, we soon realize that no one is perfect. Every human being has their flaws. We need to work together to establish a strong foundation so that this bond will endure.
There is incredible potential in every marriage. How can we bring out the best in our relationship and make the potential our reality? If we view our marriage as a lifelong project of building love we come to the understanding that marriage requires constant care. A good project manager knows that we need the proper tools, time, effort and team to reach our goal and make all the pieces come together successfully. If we want a marriage that will endure we must think of a plan to help make our marriage strong.
Here are 7 steps to strengthen your marriage:
1. Create An Atmosphere of Affection
Many couples say that physical intimacy is the first to go when a marriage begins to crumble. It is important to remember that a physical connection is maintained by expressing and showing affection. We cannot allow stress and responsibilities like work and raising children to lessen our ability to demonstrate that we still care for one another. Sending warm and funny texts, concluding phone calls with ‘I love you’, and placing notes in a bag of a spouse who must travel are all great ways to display affection. Express gratitude often especially for the little moments that may often get overlooked. Be careful not to start taking your spouse for granted.
2. A Daily Dose of Kindness
Happy couples make sure that acts of kindness are a daily part of their lives. Being nice should not be left for special occasions. It also does not mean that we need to spend lots of money. Pick up a favorite chocolate bar or cappuccino, allow your partner to sleep in on a Sunday morning, fill the car up with gas to help save your spouse time. Judaism teaches us that the more we give the more we will love. We mistakenly have come to believe that the more we receive, the more we will love. We wait for the other person to give and forget that love grows when we invest and devote ourselves to making the relationship work.
Recognize that every person has their limitations. We all make mistakes. Everyone has a habit that will drive us crazy. So what? Stop trying to change your spouse. Accept him for who he is. Stop focusing on what drives you mad. It will only make you madder. Work, instead, on seeing the positive traits your spouse possesses. We need to focus on the good so that our love will grow. He may be awful at buying gifts but he is great at clearing the dinner table. She may not be the best organizer but she doesn’t lose it under pressure. Once you accept your spouse and zero in on the blessings, the foundation of your marriage will be strengthened.
4. Revive Your Romance
Letting ourselves go becomes easy through the years. Work on making yourself look and feel attractive. This goes for men as well. Positive changes bring positive reactions. Lose the baggy sweats and stained t shirts. Commit to a weekly routine of spending time together. Be sure to turn off your phones and devices. Remember that this is not about spending precious time discussing problems or the kids. This is about rekindling the spark.
5. Look Away
We don’t always have to be right. We don’t always have to get the last word in. Everything that upsets us does not require a speech or ‘I told you so’. There are times that we do not choose a situation but we can choose our reaction. And that reaction can either build or destroy. If I can sometimes look away, the little daily mess-ups will not throw me off course. Consistent reactions of irritation and stretches of silent treatments threaten to eat away at the bond that keeps a marriage together.
6. Remember your Goal
When you are upset or angry ask yourself: What’s my goal? It is more than just paying the mortgage, getting the kids through school, or going on vacation. My goal is creating a ‘mikdash me’at’- a mini sanctuary. This means that I live in a home filled with peace. I strive for harmony. Always ask ‘does this action, does this reaction, help me achieve my goal?’
7. Cultivate Friendship
Beneath the chuppah we bless the bride and groom and say “Grant abundant blessings to the beloved friends…” Develop the friendship side of your marriage. Remember that true friends don’t betray confidences or put each other down. They protect their friendship, make time for each other, and don’t jeopardize their relationship.
You may realize that it is time for a change from the ‘same old same old’. Talk together with your spouse and get on the same page. Say: We need to change how we treat each other. Let’s try to find time for each other. Let’s tone down the negative and the frustration and work on being positive with each other.
We can all work harder to show how much we love each other.