Valentine’s Day is coming. Everywhere you look, commercials, magazines, store displays, and more are focused on helping couples plan the “perfect” February 14th celebration.
But roses, chocolates, and champagne are only a small part of what makes up a marriage. Truth is, it’s the other 364 days that can make or break your relationship. So if you want to give your spouse the most meaningful Valentine’s gift of all, commit to working on your relationship daily.
If you’re ready and willing to do everything in your power to make your marriage happier (perhaps starting this Feb. 14), follow these nine tips:
1. Recommit yourself to your marriage every day.
Your marriage vows weren’t a one-time deal. To cultivate a strong and happy marriage, start each morning by making a renewed personal commitment to keeping your relationship healthy and rewarding.
2. Evaluate the root of your self-worth.
It’s common to hear people proudly say, “I’m a financial advisor,” or, “I’m the manager of my division at work,” or, “I drive a Cadillac!” But how often do you hear, “I’m the world’s luckiest husband,” or, “I have the best family in the world”? The happiest couples derive their self-worth from each other.
3. Tell your spouse the things you love and appreciate about him or her all the time.
Remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place, then list how much more wonderful your partner has gotten since your marriage. Also, tell her (or him) how much she means to you, how much you love her, and how beautiful she is.
4. Acknowledge the little things your spouse does, and return the favor.
Also, perform small but meaningful acts for your spouse. Don’t be surprised if he or she starts to do the same for you (if he doesn’t already). For example, if your wife hates unloading the dishwasher, put away the dishes first. Acts like this don’t take much time or energy, but they show that you’re paying attention and you care. Any time your spouse goes out of his or her way to make your life better or easier, say that you appreciate this expression of your partner’s love.
5. Learn—then do—what makes your spouse feel most loved.
Don’t assume you know what makes your spouse feel cherished; we all feel loved in different ways. So ask. Some people might want a date night. Others might need to be told they’re the greatest.
6. Don’t let resentment build.
While it’s not good to nit-pick every time you feel a bit put out, it’s also unhealthy to let issues and negative feelings fester. Even if you have to go for a walk to clear your head first, express your grievances in a calm, constructive way—preferably before you go to bed angry. And remember that this is a two-way street. When your spouse is upset with you, try not to fly off the handle. Rather, fairly consider what you’re hearing. Marriage involves compromising and modifying your behavior for another’s wellbeing.
7. Take responsibility. Stop trying to fix your partner.
There’s a lot of finger pointing in marriages. After all, it’s easy to list the ways someone else is wrong. (Plus, it feels good to be “right.”) But how much good do complaining and accusing do? After you finish berating your spouse for another of supposed failing, does the quality of your life change? Probably not. So take a break from blaming; instead, work on yourself. While each partner should be willing to compromise to help the other, look at how your own behavior could improve before you try to change your spouse’s.
8. Figure out what your strengths are and play to them.
As much as possible, you each should play to your strengths and back away from your weaknesses. If, for example, you’re great with words but don’t have a math brain, don’t take on the bill paying and checkbook balancing. Instead, deal with teachers, repairmen, etc. When you force yourself to do something for which you have little aptitude, you only frustrate yourself and, by extension, those around you.
9. Date your spouse again.
When you’re newly in love, you do everything you can to spend every free moment with your partner. Eventually though, work, kids, and other responsibilities get in the way. You stop doing fun things with only one another, and it’s easy to go for weeks without having serious conversations that don’t revolve around work, money, or kids. So it’s imperative to set aside time to date your spouse. Get back to the essence of how you fell in love in the first place!
I think Cupid would agree!
Todd Patkin lives with his wife, Yadira, their son, Josh, and two dogs. He’s the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011).