Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dan Seaborn and Peter Newhouse's new book, The Necessary Nine: How to Stay Happily Married for Life!, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007).
Now that you’ve found your spouse, you want to stay together the rest of your lives, enjoying a happy marriage. But good intentions alone aren’t enough to get you there. After you say “I do,” there are some things you must do to build a great marriage.
Here are nine factors that will help you and your spouse enjoy a happy marriage that lasts:
Establish cherishing attitudes. Honestly ask yourself what your marriage is worth to you. Once you realize how important it truly is, decide to do all you can to invest in it by showing your spouse how much you value him or her. Think about the ways you’ve invalidated your spouse lately, through disrespectful behaviors like rolling your eyes, name-calling, cursing, mocking, ridiculing, comparing unfavorably to others, being physically aggressive, assuming the worst, neglecting, ignoring, etc. Once you recognize your pattern of invalidating your spouse, commit to stop each specific invalidating behavior.
Ask God to help you respect and cherish your spouse. Let your spouse know regularly that he or she is important to you. Decide to cherish your spouse regardless of whether or not your spouse is currently cherishing you or whether or not you feel like your spouse deserves it. Offer a cherishing attitude to your spouse as a gift given unconditionally. Pray for the ability to refrain from invalidating behaviors, focus on your spouse’s good qualities and express appreciation for them.
Pursue financial security. Keep in mind that your marriage is more important than your money. Consider whether or not your financial decisions are making your marriage better. Ask: “When you disagree about money matters, do you resolve the conflict in a way that reduces stress and arguments?”, “Do your financial priorities foster unity and bring you closer together?”, “Do your spending habits promote honesty between the two of you?,” “Do you each show appreciation for the contributions that your spouse brings to the finances (through income, saving, etc.)?”, “Are you adequately preparing for your future together (children, medical expenses, emergencies, retirement)?”, “Do you challenge each other to be less selfish and more giving with money?”, “and “Do your financial habits reflect both of your individual needs for security?”
Pursue financial security for the sake of a better marriage, but never compromise your marriage for the sake of money. The next time you get into a disagreement about money, hold hands while you talk to defuse tension. Make sure you notice and compliment your spouse whenever he or she does something to improve your finances, such as saving money on a purchase or working overtime. Mutually decide on what amount of money neither of you should spend without discussing it with each other first. Choose one or several charities or other organizations to support financially together. If you identify a destructive pattern in the way you handle finances that continually threatens your marriage, do whatever you can to solve the problem (visit a financial planner, eliminate credit cards, downsize to a smaller house or car, etc.).
Discover sexual satisfaction. Realize that sexual satisfaction always grows out of a loving, nurturing relationship rather than just a quest for personal fulfillment. Think of how you can best love your spouse instead of what you can get out of your relationship. Remember that an extraordinary marriage requires sacrifice and selflessness. Talk honestly with your spouse about what’s good and what’s not in your sex life. Lovingly share concerns. Pursue a sex life that capitalizes on the strengths both of you bring to it. Aim for sex that connects you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you’re a husband, let your wife know why she’s special to you, recognize when it’s not the right time for sex, don’t rush lovemaking, and emphasize the love and connection you share. If you’re a wife, acknowledge the intensity of your husband’s sex drive and enjoy the fact that he’s attracted to you, do your best to be available when he wants intimacy, be playful, and don’t hesitate to initiate intimacy sometimes.
Spend time together. Know that spending significant amounts of time with your spouse regularly is important because it gives you the opportunity to connect with each other in meaningful and fun ways, strengthening your bond. Realize that if you don’t make spending time together a high priority, you’ll naturally drift apart. Be disciplined about including time with your spouse in your schedule. Aim to have one-on-one time together as often as you can. Take an interest in what your spouse enjoys doing, even when it’s different from what naturally interests you. If your spouse loves a certain activity, give it a try so you all can hopefully do it together. Be willing to compromise on activity choices to be able to spend as much time together as possible. Be creative when thinking of new ideas for activities you and your spouse can enjoy together. Simplify your life to eliminate activities that steal time you could be spending with your spouse (like too much work or TV) and free up time to be together on a regular basis. Every day, try to spend at least 20 to 30 minutes to touch base with each other on what’s going on in your lives. Try to go out on dates each week or every other week.
Use your dates for one of two purposes: either to develop your friendship through fun activities and light conversation, or to deal with one or more issues or problems that have surfaced in your marriage. About every month or two, try to go on an extended date for several hours or a full day. Once or twice a year, plan an overnight, weekend, or week-long date.
Develop genuine friendship. Seek to make your spouse your best friend. Put enough effort into the friendship you share to truly enjoy your time together. Try to make the activities you engage in together exciting. Laugh together. Look forward to spending time together. Make sure you build a friendship that has great depth, where both you and your spouse can fully know each other and be fully known by each other. Ask yourselves: “How deep is our marriage?”, “Have we ever been deeper or shallower?”, “How much of ourselves do we share with each other?”, “What don’t we understand about each other?”, “Is there a topic that’s off-limits in our relationship?”, “Have we kept secrets from each other?”, “Do we keep conversation on the surface, or have we dug further than that?” and “Does one spouse dig more than the other?”
Strive to be more open with your spouse than with anyone else. Support your spouse by being there whenever he or she needs you, and listening well to him or her. Develop strong listening skills by giving your spouse your full attention when he or she speaks, using body language to convey your interest, asking questions, being patient to encourage your spouse to open up, following up later on specific details, and avoiding easy answers or unsolicited advice. Rather than depending too much on your spouse, make sure each of you have some strong same-gender friendships as well. Allow each other time to invest in those friendships, but make sure that your spouse is your absolute best friend.
Value physical attraction. Take care of your body and appearance as a way of respecting both yourself and your spouse. Don’t let your health or hygiene slide, even during periods of high stress. Understand that you don’t need to worry about looking perfect or projecting an unrealistic image (expect your appearance to change in natural ways as you grow older, after you have a baby, etc.), but you should take care of the body you have. Know that putting forth your best effort will help your spouse stay attracted to you, despite the inevitable changes that come through the years. So lose weight, dress nicely, get a haircut, and do whatever else will help you naturally look your best for your spouse. When talking with your spouse about his or her physical appearance, be sensitive and encouraging. Be committed to both staying attractive for your spouse, and staying attracted to your spouse.
Choose to focus on your spouse’s good qualities instead of letting your eyes wander to other people. If you find yourself attracted to someone else, limit your contact with that person. Make your spouse your standard for what’s attractive. Expect that as the love between you and your spouse deepens, you’ll become more attractive to each other over time, since true attractiveness is about the whole person rather than just a certain image.
Chase emotional connectedness. Try to be in a good mood most of the time when you interact with your spouse, but feel free to be honest about how you feel whenever you need to talk to your spouse about something tough you’re going through. Be positive as much as you can (avoiding hurting your spouse when you’re upset), but also create an atmosphere of emotional safety in your marriage so you can talk about issues freely. Give each other space and grace when dealing with emotionally challenging situations. Get to know the values that are important to both you and your spouse, and be willing to compromise to respect a value that matters a lot to your spouse, even if it doesn’t matter much to you. Ask deep questions in conversations with your spouse, to discover his or her feelings about whatever you’re discussing. Pay attention to how various situations affect your spouse emotionally. Listen carefully when your spouse talks about his or her feelings. Support your spouse as you go through life’s emotional journey together, from joy to grief and everything in between.
Guard home harmony. Create an atmosphere of peace in your home. Work to improve your communication skills so you and your spouse can clearly understand what each other says and how to interpret it. Pay attention to using accurate and non-threatening words, listening carefully and respectfully, and using body language and tone of voice well to convey messages. Don’t let unresolved conflict sap the strength of your marriage. Learn how to solve problems and end disagreements calmly and in mutually beneficial ways. Apologize whenever you hurt your spouse, and forgive your spouse when he or she apologizes to you. Express your affection for your spouse regularly through loving words, kind actions, and hugs and kisses. Make your home a welcoming place to which both of you look forward to returning each day.
Build spiritual fusion. Realize that the factor that can make the most profound impact on all the other areas of your marriage is a relationship with Jesus. Expect that the closer you and your spouse each grow to Him, the closer you’ll grow to each other, as well. Invite Jesus to use your marriage as a powerful tool to help both you and your spouse grow into the people He wants you to become. Pray together regularly. Talk together about your spiritual lives often. Read the Bible together and discuss what it means to you. Actively participate in a church together. Instead of relying on just your own limited strength to make your marriage work, rely on the unlimited strength that God provides.
Adapted from The Necessary Nine: How to Stay Happily Married for Life!, copyright 2007 by Dan Seaborn and Peter Newhouse, with Lisa Velthouse. Published by B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tn., www.BHPublishingGroup.com.
Dan Seaborn is the founder of Winning At Home, Inc., an organization that produces media resources and host special events to develop marriages and families. He and his wife have four children and live in West Michigan.
Peter Newhouse, Ph.D., is the Winning at Home director of family wellness, providing leadership in the areas of family restoration, marital conflict, and individual family growth and development.