After 26 years with my wife, our marriage is hot. We’re best friends. We look forward to spending time together. We enjoy it when we do. The sex keeps getting better.
But, it didn’t start out that way.
We were on the second day of our honeymoon. I thought things were warming up. In seconds, they dropped to near freezing. It’s not uncommon for things to go bad on a honeymoon. The causes vary. In my case, my wife got homesick. She missed her parents!
My wife wasn’t a kid, or a teen. She was 21!
Two days before we’d promised to spend our lives together. Now she wanted to go home? I felt rejected. I over-reacted. I got angry. We had our first fight.
We cut our honeymoon short, and visited her parents for a few days. We struggled through the next three years with various issues that came between us, until it seemed our marriage would be cut short.
My wife asked me to go to counseling. I didn’t like the idea. The way she put it, I needed help. The way I saw it, her head needed to be fixed. I wanted to make our marriage work. So did she.
I came from a broken home where my parents split when I was ten. I’d often wondered why they didn’t try harder to work things out. So, as much as I disagreed with why my wife thought we should see a counselor, I agreed to go.
We found a helpful counselor who helped us see that we both had issues. I’d spent a lot of time focusing on my wife’s problems, but learned I needed to put more effort on dealing with my own emotional baggage and ineffective communication skills.
Our counselor worked with us over several months helping us develop better skills for working out our disagreements. He taught us how to restore trust, talk and listen, and cultivate love in our marriage.
Our marriage began to heat up in a good way. The wall of ice between us gradually melted.
When I say my marriage is hot, it took some time to get here. We do hit bumps in the road now and then. But, since we started working on taking down the barriers between us, we’ve developed habits that infuse our marriage with happiness, and keep love’s flame burning strong. Here’s a list of my top seven.
1. Human love has its limits
Human love has its limits, and sometimes life will push you past those limits. There needs to be a greater power than either of you can put forth that fuels the love you have for each other. Find and connect with the higher power that sustains you. For me there’s no greater power than God. God is my source of love to keep my love supply from hitting empty.
2. Discover and focus on your spouse’s positive qualities instead of defects
Think of your mood as an elevator with high moods and low moods. Focusing on the negative qualities of a person takes the elevator down to the basement of low moods. Depression, irritation, anger, stress, and fear are low moods.
Curiosity about a person brings the mood elevator up to the ground floor. Be curious about your spouse’s positive qualities, and focus on them when you find them. You’ll have more of the high moods like gratitude, hope and happiness.
3. Never hold onto thoughts that your marriage is a mistake or disappointment
These thoughts may enter your mind when times are tough. Holding onto these thoughts will undermine your will to work at improving your marriage. Let these thoughts exit your mind as quickly as they entered by going back to #2 on this list.
4. Commit yourself to be the best that you can be for your spouse
Don’t try to improve your marriage by attempting to change your partner. This never works. Put the energy you’d use trying to convince your spouse to change into changing your own behavior.
Not sure where to begin? Ask your spouse. Then, say “thank you” when she says what you’d rather not hear. Self-improvement requires a willingness to see through other people’s eyes where you need to improve.
5. Show at least the same love and respect that you had for each other early in your relationship
After marriage, all the effort we put into impressing our future spouse usually slips away. The less attractive aspects of our character take the stage. Why do we despise the salesman who lures us in with the bait-and-switch, but use the same tactic to land a marriage partner? If we’re not the person we pretended to be when we convinced our partner to marry, we’re obligated to become that person.
6. Encourage each other in fighting life’s battles
We all appreciate having someone on our side when life gets difficult. Don’t just have your spouse’s back–stand at their side and fight their battles with them. This is the best encouragement you can give.
7. Learn what makes your spouse happy and do it often
This is the kind of thing you probably used to your advantage before you and your spouse said “I do.” It shows you have a genuine interest in your partner’s happiness when you do the things that bring them joy. Research has shown that happiness in a marriage flourishes when spouses give generously to each other. Noted marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., discovered that couples whose ratios of saying or doing at least five positive things for each negative interaction have the greatest marriages.
Discover what you can do to put a spark into your marriage, kindle the flames of passion, and make your marriage hot.
This article originally appeared on JonBeaty.com.
Photo: Flickr/ Mo Riza
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men? Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.