I was reading a blog that I occasionally check out. It is very popular and a money-maker for the author. The blog is “Single Dad Laughing.”
A series of posts on his blog were about how he “blew” two marriages. He described things that he did that undermined his relationship with his wife and how those acts and behaviors eventually led to the demise of his marriages.
I am a very old-school believer in what marriage really means — a bond of love, caring, and being “one” together. When my man and I married, both of us knew it was right, and we were in love. But so was the case for the author of the blog that I am referencing. He, too, was in love with his wife, and then things slipped and eventually not one, but two marriages ended.
How do my spouse and I prevent that from happening to us?
Rather than write a list of “don’t do this” points as the blog author did, and being the positive person that I am, I will describe actions and behaviors that my spouse and I continue to do. These acts truly show the other that we still care, are still in love, and want each to know how much he means to the other.
1. Hold his hand and remember the power of touch
My spouse doesn’t like to hold hands in public. He has never been that way. But when at home, especially while relaxing on the couch to watch TV at night, I will sit next to him and hold his hand. If I don’t reach out first, he reaches out to me. Every night, without fail, if you were a fly on the wall in our basement TV room, you would see us just sitting there, holding hands. It is a little gesture, but an important one that shows the power of touch. Further, we regularly touch. A small hug, holding his arm, sitting closely to one another — all of this — shows a deeper level of caring and commitment. Touch is incredibly important for the other to know he is loved.
2. Keep kissing him
It is easy after the dating period transitions into a stable, at-home marriage life to stop kissing. However, I am happy to say that both my spouse and I have not forgotten how a kiss makes us feel. We kiss each other a lot, at odd random-times of day, at night, often. Just because.
3. Continue to look nice
Your spouse has seen you when you are at your worst. Dirty, sweaty, funky-haired first thing-in-the-morning; all of it. But just because he knows how you look at your worst doesn’t mean that you can accept letting yourself look bad throughout the day. We both keep up with attractiveness to the other: hair and (his) beard trimmed and clean; we dress nicely, even if wearing casual clothes (including nice-looking leathers); and (thankfully) no man-scaping, perfume (cologne), or makeup. Being masculine men, we do not appreciate crap like that. Our “look nice” appearance includes being scent-free and with clear and clean skin.
4. Point out his strengths
It is easy to find fault or failure, and describing those things only makes the other feel badly. Instead, we both make an effort to say something that the other did well by applying his strengths, such as: “with your great skill in finding deals, we saved $24 on our recent grocery order.” Or (he said to me recently): “your building skill shows every time I enjoy our basement leisure room. I see all the details in construction that make this room so comfortable.”
5. Use nice names and positive labels
As relationships grow longer, it is sometimes easy to fall into a pattern of saying things like “that’s stupid,” or “you don’t understand,” or “you’re such a klutz” (to me.) Both of us are naturally careful about hearing ourselves when we might be tempted to label something negatively that the other said or did. Instead, we bite our tougues when we hear ourselves thinking of a label or name that is negative or would be hurtful. In the 99% of good times, we think about nice things to say to the other. I have pet names for him and he for me. We use those “labels” frequently. I will not say what those names are on this blog because they are personal, but trust me: we both smile when we hear them.
6. Build him up by complimenting him publicly
I do not know how many times I hear colleagues at the office talking about their respective spouses in somewhat negative terms. “She did something stupid, har har har…” is too often heard. I will never degrade my spouse to others. He (or I) may do things that were not the best choice, but that is for us to deal with privately. Instead, when “the guys” are standing around the coffee pot talking about their spouses, I speak of good things that my spouse does. I do that for two reasons — a) I want others to know how lucky I feel to have the man I have; and b) sometimes I feel that others still judge same-sex marriages differently, so talking about the spouse positively does not provide anything negative about our relationship for the straight guys to talk about behind my back. (And they do; I hear them. I do not give them any “ammunition” to degrade my marriage.)
7. Cook for him
This is rather easy for me because I love to cook in the chef’s kitchen that I designed for the house I built for us. Also, my spouse hates to eat out (mostly because he doesn’t like people, but also because his diet now is so restricted due to long-term damage from his long illness.) But for most couples, it becomes easy when one is busy to purchase heat-and-serve prepared meals, take-out to bring home, or go out frequently to restaurants. For us? I actually cook a real meal from scratch every single night for dinner; I prepare batter for my spouse’s favorite gluten-free breakfast waffles for him to eat every day; and on weekends when I am at home for lunch, I cook lunch as well. Every meal, every day, home cookin’. Continuing to cook for him, even though I am working full-time, is noticed and appreciated by the spouse a lot.
8. Do the little things with a smile
I have a bad case of absent-mindedness. Frequently, I will ask, “have you seen my…” gloves, sunglasses, keys, etc. Instead of barking “they are where you left them,” my spouse will get up, walk to wherever the likely location of these “lost” items are, find them, and bring them to me. Every single time. Never complains, never scolds me for being so absent-minded. In turn, I also step up to do things for the spouse. It is so hard for him to walk these days, when I hear him say “I need to go get…” something, I jump up and say with a smile, “I’ll get it!” Never a complaint like “I’m busy” or “I don’t want to go all the way upstairs.” Never. Works both ways… and it’s nice.
9. Walk away/take a breath when angry
All couples fight. Everyone has disagreements. My spouse and I are no exception. But we both have learned that when we are angry, we do not think straight and sometimes say things that we regret later. Nowadays when we have those rare fights, we retreat to neutral corners, take a breath, and think. My spouse tends to brood and linger over hurt feelings, while I can’t live with myself when I am upset and know he is angry as well. Usually, then, after about an hour, I will approach my spouse and explain that I am sorry that we were angry. We will have a rational, reasonable discussion about the underlying situation that caused the fight and both of us will feel better. Sure, our feelings may still be hurt, but we know that we can resolve it if we try after we both calm down.
10. Be generous
I consider myself to be frugal, such as having a strong reluctance to paying for a dataplan on a phone. That’s me; I cannot rationalize spending $1,500/year or more for a service I do not use. But I will not hold back when it comes to my spouse. He likes a particular name-brand of product at the grocery-store — I’ll buy it for him. He often pays for things that I want, as well. We are generous with each other. Sure, we both can be cheap, miserly, and frugal when it comes to resisting outside pressures to buy-buy-buy or donate-donate-donate or give-give-give, but we are not that way with each other.
11. Support efforts to keep in shape
I am no gym rat, but I try to do what I can to keep in shape. I will never have a ripped body, but I can, and I do, work on the weight issue that I have. Sure, I can blame the weight on my chronic health condition preventing me from digesting food well and prohibiting eating vegetables, but I also know deep down that I have trouble resisting eating or drinking foods (Coke being #1 culprit) that contribute calories and add fat. My spouse has the opposite problem. When he endured three long years of illness, he lost 45 pounds, and he was “normal weight” to begin with. So we both have different physical needs to keep in shape — me to lose, him to gain. My spouse gently encourages me to walk and swim, which are the only exercises that I will do. I encourage my spouse to do his exercise routine at home, and frequently serve as his “spotter.” We are gentle with each other, but continue to encourage the other to work on his physical health.
12. Close the bathroom door
This may sound silly, but when you live with someone for a long time, it is easy to get into a bad habit of saying to yourself, “he has seen me naked; why shut the bathroom door?” Well, when you are “doing your duty,” it’s smelly. There is nothing as awful as seeing a naked man squatting on the toilet. So … shut the door. ‘nuf said.
13. Continue to have fun together
As we have aged and health conditions have changed how we have fun — we still find ways to have fun together. Instead of traveling to exotic destinations or riding two-up on my Harley, we may visit a museum or play in some way with each other. During the most recent snowfall, my spouse and I tossed snowballs at each other, and laughed and laughed. We continue to have fun, smile, and laugh however we define “fun.”
14. Enjoy differences rather than pressure him to conform to your way
My spouse is not me, and I am not my spouse. Each of us is different. And that’s a good thing. While sometimes each of us would prefer the other do something that we like or do and he does not, we do not do that. For example, my spouse is Catholic. I am not. I have attended a number of Catholic services, but I cannot accept some of the teachings of the Catholic Church and do not believe in organized religion. My spouse does not pressure me to conform to his religion, as I do not pressure him to participate in community activities as I do. I appreciate that he has religious faith, and my spouse appreciates that I am engaged with my community. But he doesn’t make me participate in organized religion, and I don’t make him attend wonky public meetings.
15. Participate in things important to him
There are some things that my spouse really loves that bore me. And vice-versa. But to each of us, we say to ourselves, “if it’s important to him, it’s important to me.” We each make time to participate in the other’s activities. We both may not enjoy it as much as the other, but by showing interest by participation in the other’s activities that he feels are important, we are essentially saying to one another, “I love you.”
16. Keep emotional connections, even when hurt
I mentioned above that when my spouse is angry, he tends to run away and brood. I also give some distance, but I do not allow the distance to last very long. Deep down, I love my spouse and I know he loves me. Even if we are angry with each other, we know that our love remains solid and steadfast. We both work at re-establishing the emotional connection between us soon after one of those rare fights we may have. It’s important.
17. Bring him flowers
My spouse is better at this than I am. When I travel, I have found a bouquet of flowers in my hotel room sent to me by my spouse, just because. I arrive home from work on a nice Spring day, and see an arrangement of flowers picked fresh from our garden on the table. My spouse still sends me flowers, long after our courtship days were over. I try to return the favor by giving him flowers, too, but he claims allergies make it difficult for him to enjoy them as much as I do. Anyway, I cherish how thoughtful my spouse is, and always has been.
18. Stop working and connect
There is more to life than work. Work is work and home is home. Bringing work home, answering email, returning calls — it can wait. The world will not end if you disconnect from work when you are at home. I sure learned that tough lesson. In a previous job, I was adamant about remaining connected, returning messages and calls, and working while at home to the point of potentially damaging my relationship. My spouse would be thinking, “am I nearly as important as his work?” I thought that I was essential at that job, and that my connectedness was required. But when the job ended, no one in management cared how hard I had worked all those years. They dismissed me and that was the end of it. What did I have left? My man at home and savings in the bank. Rekindling my relationship with the man who saved me from deep depression was essential to my well-being. When I returned to work after that dreadful experience, I adamantly refused to become a work-a-holic again. When I am home, I turn off and disconnect from work and focus on my man, my spouse, the love of my life.
19. Continue to have date nights
When my man and I first met, we went out quite a bit. Things have changed with my spouse’s increasing disabilities due to damage caused by his long-term illness. I do not think we will ever go out on a traditional “date” again. However, once in a while, my spouse and I will dress up in our finest leathers, shine the boots, groom well, and set the formal dining room table with the fine china. Light the candles. We will hold the chair for the other, and linger over a great meal (that I cooked in my chef’s kitchen.) Then we will go into our basement Leisure Room, curl in each other’s arms, and watch a sappy movie. This is our “date night.” But we love it.
20. Accept and make time for alone time
There are times that each of us need to be alone. To think or to do things we want to do. I love my man and he loves me, but if we were together 100% of the time all day and all night, we would drive each other crazy. So we accept that each of us needs our alone time and make room for it. Easy enough for the spouse since I am out of the house at the office all day. For me — those occasional motorcycle rides with my biker buddies is good therapy. But also, sometimes on weekends, I may spend some time doing my favorite hobbies: building something in my shop, updating my website, or doing yard work. He reads (a lot) or does homework for his second baccalaureate. Alone time makes our “us times” even better.
My spouse taught me this more than any other. He is the world’s best listener. He literally just sits there and lets me prattle on about whatever is on my mind. He only comments when I ask a direct question. I have learned from that and try to do the same thing. Just listen to what he is saying. Don’t talk or try to have an “even exchange” conversation. Sometimes the other person in your life just needs someone else to listen to him. So we do. And we are both better for it. We both believe that the other cares — because he listens.
Wow — lots here. In summary, our marriage remains strong and works because — unlike the blog author whose post I was writing about here — we work on our relationship every day by doing little things that add up to a lot.
Life is short: show those you love how you love them.