Is your relationship falling apart because you’re too busy to nurture it? A new book reveals tiny tweaks to get you back on track.
There are so many things demanding our attention today – from that last-minute work email to the nagging feeling that you must spend an hour at the gym says the Daily Mail. Sometimes, it can seem impossible to fit everything in. And this means there’s one crucial area of life that often goes neglected: your marriage.
By middle-age, your relationship seems such a constant, it’s easy to forget to nurture it. But a new book, The Two-Minute Marriage Project: Simple Secrets For Staying In Love, by relationship guru and mother-of-four Heidi Poelman, has the answer. It’s packed with practical tips to help regain that ‘first flush of love’, bring your other half closer and resolve arguments quickly.
The book is based on the ‘nudge theory’, which says that, if you make tiny tweaks in the right way, they can lead to radical results.
He’s not lazy, just busy
The changes could even save your marriage – and none of them takes longer than just two minutes. Here’s how… You fell in love with your husband for a reason – but, sometimes, it can be hard to remember this. As the years pass, we become deadened to our spouse’s loveable qualities and instead focus on things that annoy us. Be it that mug thoughtlessly left half-drunk on the sideboard, or hogging the bathroom for hours in the morning, it’s the little, everyday niggles that can gradually corrode your feelings. Put together, day after day, they can lead to resentment and eventually tip into boiling rows over nothing.
Research shows the longer you’re married the more likely you are to have a dangerous tendency to attribute negative reasons, rather than positive ones, to small, everyday actions – and that can have serious consequences.
In one study of 50 newlyweds, researchers watched whether spouses assumed the best or the worst about their partner. If, for example, they saw that mug on the side, did they decide their partner was lazy, or assume that they must have been in a hurry? Researchers found that the more positive the explanations of behaviour were, the more likely the couple was to stay together in the long-term.
It’s easy to do this in your own marriage. Focus less on his inability to put away that mug, and more on the fact that he always takes the rubbish out, and try always to assume the best of him. (For example: ‘He’s stressed, so perhaps he forgot this time. If he does it again, that’s the time to gently remind him.’) Make a conscious effort to look for the positive – however small – in every action.
Dr John Gottman, of Seattle’s Relationship Research Institute, explains: ‘When couples make an effort to notice things they like about each other’s’ personalities – and to express that fondness – their relationships improve.’
Have a kiss
Try to spend a week kissing your husband at least once a day – a proper, intimate kiss. It sounds strange, but can you remember when you and your husband last kissed passionately? No? Then you’re not alone. Studies show that one in five married couples go without kissing for as long as a week at a time, often because they are simply too busy. Try to spend a week kissing your husband at least once a day – a proper, intimate kiss, too, not just a peck on the lips to say goodbye.
Arizona State University researchers found that married couples instructed to kiss frequently in this way reported not only less stress and more relationship satisfaction, but also a decrease in bad cholesterol levels. They also exercised more, argued less and understood each other better. Another study showed affectionate couples were more able, physiologically, to handle stress.
Celebrate his victories
When one of you gets a promotion, or even loses the stone they’ve been battling with, how does the other respond? Researchers from America’s UCLA and the University of Rochester studied four different ways that spouses typically respond to good news – openly and excitedly; supportively yet quietly; no response at all; and actively discouraging.
It’s fairly easy to guess that people with discouraging or unresponsive spouses reported lower measures of happiness in their marriages. But interestingly, even people with quietly supportive spouses had lower measures of marital happiness.
Next time your other half has good news, celebrate it properly – be it with a bottle of something sparkling, or simply enthusing at length about how wonderful they are. You do it for your friends; do it for your man, too.
Keep a gratitude journal
We all want to be recognised for our efforts – and praised. Expressing gratitude and admiration doesn’t come naturally to most Brits, but acknowledging out loud what you like about your partner’s behaviour shows them you don’t take them for granted. That can be anything from thanking them for tidying up the garden (even if they do it every week) to telling them how impressed you are with how they dealt with a family dispute. Acknowledging out loud what you like about your partner’s behaviour shows them you don’t take them for granted
If this is something you and your husband struggle with, you might want to keep a gratitude journal – it can have profound effects on your marriage. This isn’t hard; just buy a notebook and leave it on your bedside table. Every day, you and your husband have to write down a sentence of something you’re grateful for that the other person did that day – however small.
In one study, 50 committed couples were given this task for a week. On days when they felt very appreciated, the husband or wife tended to appreciate his or her partner more the next day.
Couples who kept up this reciprocal appreciation were less likely to break up in the next nine months and even reported being more committed at the end of that time.
The way a couple interacts after being away from one another has a huge impact on the marriage. Researchers have found that the first conversation a couple has after being apart – even for a short time – can predict marital stability. If the partners seem genuinely interested and excited to see each other, that message helps to reaffirm the bond between them.
On the other hand, consider the wife who shares something that she finds interesting with her husband when he gets home, and he acts uninterested. Then, when he tries to share something with her about his day, she is still irritated from before and can’t respond positively. These first greetings have the power to make or break the rest of the evening’s interactions – with ongoing repercussions.
However tired or grumpy you are, make it a priority to greet your other half in a loving manner.
Say ‘We’, not ‘I’
It sounds like a simple thing, but describing your marriage as a team rather than two individuals creates a united front and is a great psychological trick for bringing you both closer.
If you’re talking about your opinions, of course it’s important to say ‘I’.
But if, for example, someone asks you about your weekend, saying: ‘We went out for dinner and then to the theatre,’ rather than ‘I’ is a way of reaffirming your relationship.
Similarly, even if you don’t initially agree on something, such as whether a family get-together should be at 6pm or 7pm, once you’ve decided, use ‘We’ rather than ‘I’ – so: ‘We would love to come over at 6.30,’ not: ‘He wanted to make it 6pm, but I thought that was too early.’
Do the little things
People often say it’s the little things that cause a marriage to fall apart – but it’s also the little things that can keep a marriage together. They’re the things that take no time and virtually no effort, but prove to your partner that you’re thinking about them, that you care about them, that you want them to be happy.
So if it’s hot and they’re mowing the lawn, take out a glass of iced water. If they’re going travelling, leave a note in their suitcase. When you see their favourite cake at the bakers, pick it up, just because. Doing this will quickly become second nature – and don’t be surprised if you quickly find them reciprocating. Studies show this is one of the best ways to strengthen your marriage.
Make it a priority
When there’s so much else going on in life, it can be tempting to multi-task, but actually showing your other half that they’re more important than anything else can really help to strengthen your relationship. That means not checking social media or your emails when you ask them how their day was. It can even mean something as simple as going to the front door to kiss them goodbye in the mornings rather than just yelling down the stairs. And, if you’re in the middle of something when they want to talk – acknowledge this. Far better to say: ‘I really want to talk to you but I have to finish this – give me ten minutes,’ than to lend them half an ear.
How to say sorry
Sometimes, when you know you’re wrong, the best way you can spend two minutes is apologising. Psychologist Susan Heitler says there are six parts to a full apology:
- Acknowledge the mistake.
- Express regret.
- Clarify what was not intentional.
- Explain the circumstances.
- Repair the damage.
- Learn from the mistake and make a plan to prevent the problem in the future.
So if you’ve shouted, or were rude, and you know you were in the wrong – your apology might look like this…
- I’m sorry I was not respectful when I spoke to you earlier.
- I shouldn’t have talked to you that way.
- I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.
- I was really frustrated and should have just taken a moment to calm down.
- I want you to know that I respect your opinion and want to listen to what you say.
- Next time, I’ll make sure I take the time to calm down.
And never say: ‘I’m sorry you were so offended that…’ Apologising for how someone reacts isn’t really an apology.
The six golden rules of arguing
- Start softly. Researchers have found that the outcome of a conflict can be determined by how it begins in the first three minutes. Use a tone of voice and words that don’t blame or attack. Rather than: ‘You said you’d be home an hour ago, now dinner is ruined,’ try: ‘Hi, I’m glad you’re home, I was expecting you earlier. Did something come up?’
- Ask questions. Find out why something is important to the other person or how they think you should tackle a problem. It shows that you’re concerned about their needs and the answers can give information that will help you work towards a resolution.
- Say what you mean. It saves a great deal of frustration and misunderstanding rather than hoping your spouse will pick up on clues. Women in particular often speak in generalities rather than specifics when they want something and then are frustrated when their husbands don’t understand.
- Be positive. It’s very easy to tell someone what you don’t like or don’t want, but it’s not terribly constructive. You’re more likely to build a path to a positive solution by saying what you do want. So, rather than: ‘I don’t like it when you leave the lawn like that,’ you might try: ‘I really appreciate having a nicely mown lawn. Can we make that happen?’
- Use the right pronouns. We don’t like to be criticised or accused of doing something wrong, even if we are technically guilty. So if someone says, ‘You’re late for dinner again’, our response is likely to be, ‘Well, let me explain why it’s not my fault.’ If they say, ‘I feel upset when you’re late for dinner’, marriage research suggests this is more likely to lead to a less defensive response.
- Let it go. According to marriage researchers, 69 per cent of conflicts in marriage are unavoidable because they relate to personality differences. If something repeatedly bothers you, ask yourself whether an argument is going to change anything, or benefit your relationship and, if the answer’s no, let it go.
With special thanks to our friends at 2-in-2-1 for pointing us to this article.