15 ways to strengthen your marriage

A month or so ago, I posted about emotional connection and how I was feeling less glue in our marriage than I had hoped for. I didn't say everything right and found it hard to be super vulnerable, but I was blessed by the comments I received {thank you!} and have continued to think and grow in this area as the weeks have passed.

It's a sensitive topic, for sure. And the big deal, I think, is that every marriage partner is going to have different needs and respond to things differently. There isn't a formula for this {too bad, eh?}.

For example, I'm pretty sure my emotional needs are higher than some women {such a great need to deeply connect with just one or two people} and my husband tends to reach an emotional saturation point sooner than some men. We {again} find ourselves closer to the outer edges of each extreme. That's OK! There are ways to make things work.

Here are some of the things I've been learning:

Create time together that meets each individual's needs, focused and intentional.
I need meaningful conversation, without distraction. He needs something to do while he listens. The best solutions we have found so far are: 1) taking the kids to a playground to play while we sit on the grass and talk. Even better for him is to pull weeds while we talk. Or massage my back. 2) go for a walk together after the kids are in bed. Don't worry, we stay close to the house. 

"My advice for parents is simple. If you want to be good parents, you must care for each other first. Your children's future depends on it." --His Needs, Her Needs for Parents

Make a diligent effort to stay connected even while physically apart. 
I just love getting a detailed, thoughtful email from him when he's away. Texts show me that he's thinking about me while we're apart. When we keep the lines of communication open, the transition back together isn't as jolting.

Greet graciously, send-off with love.
For awhile, it felt like we were passing ships...waving {or frowning} to each other as we clocked in for childcare. I started to feel resentful, thinking that we'd never be able to enjoy each other. I've decided it's as simple as a deliberate hug/kiss on the way by, even if I don't feel like it. It helps.

Be kind.
As exhausted parents, we may not feel that awesome romantic love {the sparky, goosebumpy feeling} all the time. But I'm learning to value and to show "caring love". The kind of love that recognizes that life stages can be difficult and makes room for that. I've also noticed that more caring love = more romantic love. Also -- show appreciation and respect. And say thank you. Even if it sounds too polite.

Realize that usually, my spouse's needs are going to be opposite of mine.
Someone's gotta be the first to give, or the cycle of unmet needs will just worsen. Things begin to improve when you understand the top needs of your spouse and do the work to meet those needs. Magically, they will be more inclined to meet your needs then, too. It's a two way street, but someone has to decide to make the move closer to the other person.

Some needs are bigger than our spouse.
We were provided for each other, by God, and equipped to fulfill each other's heart desires. God created us for each other. That being said, our partners love it when we welcome them with hearts filled, not empty. I'm learning to find emotional-tank fillers {and eliminating tank drainers!} so that I'm not completely dependent on my spouse for everything.

Avoid shortcuts. Embrace slowness, deepness.
We live in a fast-paced culture. But I think often we are choosing the more instead of the better. I'm cutting out all sorts of things in favor of quality intimate time with my husband and longer, more savored life moments. It's totally worth it.

Empathize. Take a walk in their shoes.
I don't need to think and talk and focus on myself all the time! It is incredibly helpful in our relationship to consider his challenges, his point of view. Also -- in conversation I am learning to say things like "so you must feel this way about ____" and "is this what I hear you saying?" It's important to understand. Really.

Tell your spouse what you like! Be clear about how they can best reach you emotionally.
Don't make it a guessing game. Not cool. But in order to do this, I had to do some of my own soul-searching. That's been eye-opening.

Learn to accept his way of loving you.
It might not be textbook or even what you had hoped for, but stop long enough to see the loving motive and realize that he is trying to send you a very important message. Concern yourself less with how he sends that message.

Begin a conversation by setting the expectation.
"I just need to vent a little, you don't need to try to solve this problem, OK?" or "I'm really torn up about this so I might exaggerate a bit, don't take me too seriously..." It helps. Truly.

Allow time for him to process and don't expect all things to be as obvious to him as they are to you.
Men have different strengths, they really do. And that's good! Sometimes they just wish you would come right out and say it. Less subtle hints, ladies.

Stop wishing he was just like you.
That wouldn't be any fun, now would it?

Make marriage a high priority that you invest in regularly.
Don't try to get by with the bare minimum. Don't ignore what you know will only fester.

Focus on a shared adventure.
This is something I'm praying about and thinking about a lot as we move into the future with fast-growing kids. I'm hoping we can operate at a level above just a "happy little family". I want a partner in "crime", a life with a greater purpose. I want to be in partnership with my spouse, doing something that we can do better together.