People undoubtedly warned you that marriage is tough, but you probably thought that yours would be different, that it wouldn’t be so hard. While marriage is an awesome part of life, it’s not an easy one. If you’re in the trenches of never-ending grocery lists, balancing your children’s many needs, and attempting to pay your mortgage while also maintaining some sort of sanity and romance, you’re not alone.
And even if you think you and your husband are pretty happy, it’s normal for a relationship to gradually evolve. Not only because of all the time you spend together (during which those little things that were once cute become rather irritating), but due to the fact that you’re two individuals who are continuously changing and shifting, too. As Courtney Geter, a licensed marriage and family therapist explains, “A relationship is like a building or structure. Over time, buildings and structures experience wear and tear and need ongoing maintenance as well as intensive repair.”
But before you schedule a therapy session, give your relationship a week. As many therapists and marriage experts agree, you can actually strengthen your bond, deepen your connection, and reconnect by challenging yourselves for just 7 days. What do you have to lose? (And while you’re riding that self-improvment wave, here’s how to take off 25 pounds in just 2 months—and feel more radiant than ever—with Prevention’s new Younger in 8 Weeks plan!)
Day 1: Stand in front of the mirror and be honest with yourself.
- A major part of this challenge is realizing that you have to put in the work to get results. And that means looking inward. “Making a marriage stronger begins with the conscious decision to improve yourself,” explains Geter. “This is about what you are going to do, not what your spouse needs to do.”
- Geter says to stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and get real about what you want to change inside. Ask yourself what needs to shift for you to become stronger, better, and happier as a person. Becoming the best version of yourself will strengthen your marriage more than anything else. If you need to, make a list.
Day 2: Greet your partner like you do your best friend.
- When you see your bestie, do you roll your eyes in their general direction, make some sort of grumble of ‘Hi,’ or instantly launch into a to-do list? Probably not. Sure, acting overly excited to greet the same guy that you see day in and day out seems like overkill. But according to couples therapist Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT, it’s worth a shot. “You may be surprised how this relatively small, new, and easy behavior steers your marriage in a different direction.”
Day 3: Talk about how your last fight would have been covered on “Law & Order.”
- The difficult part about taking advice from friends or family is that they’re biased. Your mom is probably always going to think you’re the bee’s knees, and your best friends might be brave enough to tell you when you’re wrong, but maybe not. That’s why Feuerman suggests trying the “emotional reappraisal” technique. When the house is quiet, sit down with your husband and talk about your latest disagreement.
- “Start by asking yourself how a neutral third party, like a judge or mediator, would describe your most recent fight or disagreement. Focus on behavior, not thoughts or feelings,” Feuerman explains. “This technique works because it helps you both get a more rational perspective of the problem. It’s likely to reduce stress and help you come together to resolve the problem.”
Day 4: Start asking more questions.
- If you want to feel those butterflies again, then you have to treat your partner like someone you just met. Part of the rush of an early relationship is discovering someone new. When was the last time you learned something surprising about your spouse, like what posters were in his room as a kid, how he got that scar above his elbow, or where his own parents went on their honeymoon?
- Feuerman encourages couples to ask questions daily—and not just about who is cooking dinner and who is picking up the dog from the groomer’s—but real, get-to-know-you kind of questions. By treating your husband like a stranger, you get the chance to fall in love with him all over again.
Day 5: Give more compliments—to your partner and to yourself.
- When was the last time that you truly, honestly complimented your spouse? Not just telling him that his butt looks great in those jeans or saying “good job” when he said his presentation went well, but for something genuine and specific? And perhaps more importantly, when was the last time you really gave yourself a pat on the back for all of your own amazing qualities? According to Geter, not only are compliments easy to overlook, but their power is often understated.
- “We get so focused on trying to please others that we forget to acknowledge our own efforts and hard work,” she says. “So every morning or night, look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself one compliment about your efforts in your relationship. Try to choose something different every day. If you are a person who enjoys touch, give yourself a great big hug as well. These tricks are commonly used in therapy to help alleviate depression and anxiety, so why not try some self-therapy at home?”
- While you’re busy listing why you’re awesome, do the same for your husband. You might say, “I really love how supportive and encouraging you are with our son. He loves you and appreciates you so much, and so do I. You’re a wonderful father.”
Day 6: Look into each other’s eyes for 15 to 20 minutes.
- While Geter suggests doing this every single day, if it feels a little strange (warning: it probably will), it’s OK to start a few days in. During this time, Geter says to heed a few ground rules: no touching, no talking, and no distractions. That’s right, nothing but loving eye-gazing.
- “Looking into your partner’s eyes builds emotional intimacy without the distractions of daily life,” she says. “This activity may be uncomfortable at first, but keep with it and don’t look away. After your allotted time, talk to your partner about what the activity felt like or the thoughts you had during the moment.”
Day 7: Choose one thing about yourself to change that will make your partner happier.
- By now, your partner knows who you are and what you aren’t. They know what irritates you more than anything else, they know how you like your coffee, and they can identify that look that means “don’t talk to me right now.” And they also know what about you irritates them the most. Whatever those things are, Geter says to give them your attention and figure out if there’s something you can change, alter, or stop doing. While you (obviously!) should never completely transform who you are, if there is something that you could be doing better or differently, why not just do it?
- “If you know your spouse enjoys hugs more than anything in the world, make a conscious decision to hug him one to three times daily for the next week. If he’s always complaining about caring for the pets, make the decision to take charge of daily dog walks and feedings for the next week,” Geter suggests.
- In return, ask your husband to do the same. Maybe that’s taking out the trash without being asked. Or bringing you home flowers like he used to. The point is that you’re erasing the small irritations that often cause a lot of fights. “After a week, sit down and talk about what those gestures meant to each of you,” Geter says.