An acquaintance recently opened up about her strained marriage. I told her about a fabulous book entitled The Empowered Wife, by Laura Doyle. Doyle’s personal story sounded similar to my friend’s and was the premise of her book. Despite being stuck in a strained marriage, Doyle and her husband stopped attending therapy after they saw their therapist berating her own husband one evening in public.

Through interviews, Doyle uncovered the “secrets” of thousands of happily married couples who had been together for at least 15 years. She discovered six common threads which she calls intimacy skills that can help salvage most marriages, and make a good marriage even better.

After teaching Doyle’s concepts with several students, the real life feedback I've received has been tremendous.

Skill 1: Self Care

Esther Perel, marriage therapist and bestselling author, explains that one’s spouse cannot satisfy your every need. It's impossible for your spouse to fulfill the role of confidante, partner, breadwinner, therapist, and best friend simultaneously. This burden is too overwhelming for any one person to carry. She believes it is not your spouse’s job to make you happy; only you can make yourself happy. When we learn to care for ourselves, we remove tremendous pressure from our spouse, and internalizing this precept is the first step to a peaceful home.

The concept of self care is central to marital harmony, and there is a direct correlation between the two. We won't have the energy available to respect each other if we are not caring first for ourselves. Only when your own cup is full can one then pour outward.

Skill 2: Gratitude

Doyle recommends expressing gratitude at least three times daily. The more gratitude you give, the more your spouse will want to do for you. An added bonus is that gratitude cuts out negativity because you can’t feel grateful and resentful at the same time. In Janice Kaplan’s book, Gratitude Diaries, therapists share success stories of couples who consistently expressed gratitude, and after a few weeks, no longer need therapy.1

All of this gratitude pays great returns on the investment of one’s marriage.

You will look more beautiful and lovable to your spouse when you start practicing gratitude actively. Doyle says that most of the time, when a person is no longer attracted to their spouse, it is usually not a physical issue. Appreciation is attractive because being grateful raises your own happiness level, which makes you more fun to be around!

Skill 3: Receive

Receiving a gift can be the greatest kindness to the giver’s self-worth. When one’s spouse takes the time to pick out a gift, we should always thank them genuinely for their thoughtfulness, even if it doesn’t meet our standards.

Receiving is the opposite of rejection, and gives the overall message of acceptance to our spouse. When your partner gives you something beneath your expectations, receive it anyway and thank him or her graciously. When we deflect a gift, or a compliment, we compromise the emotional connection that could have been created had we accepted either with grace. As we receive with this in mind, more acts of love and gifts start coming our way.

Skill 4: Respect

Like oxygen, all people need respect. Aretha Franklin’s famous song lyrics, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me” are exactly the message of this skill. We want to respect our spouses, we try to respect our spouses, but we have to make sure that our actions are translating into what they consider respectful. When a person feels that he or she is getting the respect they crave, they return that sentiment with adoration towards their partner.

One of the most useful phrases in a marriage is, “Whatever you think.” This phrase is a game changer and indicates our trust in our spouse’s decision-making ability.

Many of Doyle’s clients ask skeptically, Yes but what if I don’t trust that he or she makes good decisions? Doyle claims that when we put our faith into our spouse, they will step up to the plate and our trust becomes a “spouse fulfilling” prophecy. When a husband looks into his wife’s eyes and sees that she doesn't think he’s capable, his self-image is diminished. However, if he looks at her and sees reflected back a person who values his worth, he will perform better in every area of his life.

Skill 5: Relinquish control

Giving up control means staying in your lane and staying focused on where your power is. Rather than trying to control those around you, focus on yourself, your needs and desires. When you stay in your own lane, everything else falls into place.

A student of mine recently shared an experience that illustrates this concept. Her husband’s home office was in disorder and she was itching to have him reorganize it. Rather than asking him to make any changes,she decided to focus her energy on her own clutter first. Room by room, drawer by drawer, she started to organize things, and her husband noticed. The house was looking great, and on his own, he started to declutter his office without her mentioning (or hinting) anything! When you stay on your own side of the lane, the overall picture improves.

Giving up control is a vulnerable place to be, but it is also the birthing stone of intimacy.

Skill 6: Strive to be vulnerable

Everyone hates rejection. Vulnerability creates an accepting atmosphere that enables our fear of rejection to dissipate, and allows our spouses to flourish.

The nature of living with another person for eternity lends itself to the fact that our spouses will be insensitive from time to time. Doyle suggests one word for hurtful moments, “ouch.” Using this word indicates immediately that we are hurt, without invoking a defensive response.

Rather than making demands, vulnerability means guiding them with our desires. When being vulnerable we can still express our needs, but we should be mindful of how those needs come across. Doyle calls complaints lazy desires, and claims any complaint can be rephrased as a desire. For example, instead of “It’s a scorching day, I’m so hot!” Try, “I would love to cool off.”

When you express a complaint, the response is stagnant—you are essentially saying, I’m upset and there is no way to please me. However, when we express a desire, the imagination lights up. A person can come up with all sorts of ways to cool down. Perhaps a glass of cold water, a cool shower, or a shady spot would do the trick.

One spouse can single-handedly spark positive change in any relationship. A one-sided effort can be the catalyst to transform the status of a marriage.

Although these tools may be difficult to implement in the moment, they have lasting, long-term effects on a marriage. Laura Doyle’s six intimacy skills are crucial to improving the spousal relationship, and can in fact make any marriage even better.

NOTES

1. Kaplan, Janice Gratitude Diaries, pgs. 30-32