If you want to strengthen your marriage at its core, build the friendship between you and your spouse. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, several practical ideas for doing this include:
Know your spouse well. How well do you know each other? To find out, take the following quiz, adapted from Gottman’s book. Answer each question True or False.
• I can name my partner’s best friends.
• I know what stresses my partner currently faces.
• I know the names of those who have been irritating my partner lately.
• I know some of my partner’s life dreams.
• I am very familiar with my partner’s religious beliefs.
• I can outline my partner’s basic philosophy of life.
• I can list the relatives my partner likes least.
• I know my partner’s favorite music.
• I can list my partner’s favorite three movies.
• I know the most stressful thing that happened to my partner in childhood.
• I can list my partner’s major aspirations.
• I know what my partner would do if he/she won a million dollars.
• I can relate in detail my first impressions of my partner.
• I ask my partner about his/her world periodically.
• I feel my partner knows me fairly well.
If you answered “true” to more than half of the items, your friendship with your spouse is an area of strength in your marriage. You know what makes your partner tick. If you didn’t do so well, plan now to get to know your spouse better and become better friends. Like all worthwhile goals, you’ll need to make building the friendship in your marriage a high priority, and you’ll need to plan specific ways you will act differently.
Practice “positive sentiment override.” It’s easy for marriage partners to become experts at identifying the negative traits of the other person and ignore or minimize the positive ones. Negative sentiment is powerful and destructive to marriage. Research shows that to build a happy marriage, couples need a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions for every negative one.
Here’s a way to increase the positive interactions: First, make a list all of the things you admire and appreciate about your spouse. One husband wrote, “She helps me solve work problems.” A wife wrote, “He scratches my back even when he’s tired.” From this list, choose two or three qualities and rehearse them in your mind. The next time you’re tempted to focus on your husband or wife’s weaknesses, override the temptation by focusing on the positive qualities you chose.
Catch your spouse doing good. Notice the kind and generous things your spouse does and express gratitude for them. Some spouses leave notes in a briefcase or purse. One spouse wrote, “Thanks for listening to me gripe last night-it made all the difference in my outlook today.”
Have a friendly conversation. Regularly find a quiet, uninterrupted time to talk as friends. Take turns picking topics that interest you. Consider some of the following subjects: your family of origin, personal goals or dreams or aspirations, a recent book or movie, current events such as sports or politics.
Attend to the little things that show love and friendship. Regularly do things that build love and friendship, such as spending time together, giving gifts, serving one another, offering encouragement, and being affectionate.
Be Strong. Act Like Men.