Five Vital Marriage Habits

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To instantly upgrade your communication routine, make these five crucial habits a nonnegotiable part of your daily repertoire. The goal here is to use the five vitals consistently — and yes, that means every single day, unless your schedule prevents it — to let your mate know that your relationship is your number one priority. Once you get the hang of these five habits, you may want to add other good-manners habits that work for you as a couple.

1. Greetings: “Hello” and “Good-Bye”
Do you habitually say hello or good-bye to your mate as one of you enters or exits the home? It is the least you can do to acknowledge that your mate’s presence means something to you. A simple hello says, “I’m happy to see you. I’m here for you.” A sincere good-bye says, “I know you’re going out into the world now, and I care that you are leaving. I’ll miss you.” When you tell your mom that you’ll call her back because your husband just got home or you put the newspaper down to say hello, you are being kind, responsive, and well-mannered. You are making your mate your top priority.

Whether it’s you or your mate who is coming or going, I challenge you to be the first one to offer a greeting today. Don’t say, “Why should I say it? He could just as easily say it first.” Keep in mind that if you have a race to the bottom, you will end up at the bottom. By taking a little initiative, you will end up at the top.

2. “Good Morning”
When I say good morning to my husband, what I really mean is “It is a good morning because I am alive and you are here with me. It is a good morning because we’re healthy, or if one of us is sick, then it’s a good morning because we can help and support each other.” There are spiritual meanings that come through the two simple words “good morning.” Each of us can uncover our own meanings for those words. What does “good morning” mean to you? And what do you have to lose by sharing it with your mate?

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3. “Good Night”
Do you make it a habit to end your day with the loving words “good night”? You may think, “What’s the big deal about saying that?” Well, folks, it’s a very big deal. We don’t always go to bed at the same time as our partner. So without a “good night,” someone is left alone, possibly watching television, finishing up some work, or reading a book, completely unaware of whether or not his or her partner is awake. This is a rude, cold, and isolating habit. When you don’t bother to say “good night,” you give the impression that you couldn’t care less about your partner or the relationship. What a shame, since one of the nicest parts of living with a partner is being part of one another’s lives in every way. I don’t mean you have to alert your partner every time you open the fridge or take a shower, but ending your day and going to sleep is actually relevant to the mate who shares your life and your bed. Establish a meaningful nighttime ritual as your final loving connection of the day — even if it’s just a quick kiss accompanied by the words “good night.”

4. “I Love You for [Fill in the Blank].”
One morning as I prepared to brush my teeth, I looked down at the bathroom sink and found a pleasant surprise. I’d expected to see the rolled-up, squeezed-out tube of toothpaste that I had left lying there the night before, when I had been too lazy to walk down the hall to get a new one. Instead, there was a brand-new tube, unused and still sealed. My husband had finished the old toothpaste after me and replaced it so I would have a fresh tube in the morning. When I finished brushing my teeth, I told my husband how much I appreciated this small gesture. “I love you for leaving a new tube of toothpaste in the bathroom for me. It was really nice of you.” When I was single, I probably wouldn’t have thought anything about a small toothpaste deed. But after being married and realizing that keeping love alive is a daily choice, I know that forgetting to express my appreciation for such acts of kindness is tantamount to forgetting to tell my husband that I love him.

For most of us, it’s all too easy to see the handful of irritating things our partner does, but it’s much harder to take notice of the many kind, generous, compassionate, supportive deeds he or she does every day. It’s time to adjust your radar screen to pick up on the many small things that make you love your mate — and let him know!

5. A Compliment
You might feel like this is a moot point. After all, how many times can you tell your wife that she looks beautiful or that you love her? How often can you compliment your husband’s choice of sweaters? The answer is: as often as you can, as long as your words are sincere. But just as important, on the days when something visible (such as a new haircut or tie) doesn’t capture your attention, find another way to offer a compliment. For example, “You are so kind to take your mother to the doctor.” Or, “You are such a devoted father. You have so much patience with the kids.” Or, “It was really thoughtful of you to call your friend to see how his job interview went.” People in healthy relationships know that it’s important to compliment good character traits in their mate, while people in poor relationships tend to skip over them.

Reprinted from Fight Less, Love More by Laurie Puhn. Copyright © 2010 by Laurie Puhn. By permission of Rodale, Inc. Available wherever books are sold.

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