Making the Ordinary Extraordinary – Life is humming along. Your marriage is okay—not too bad, but nothing special either. Days, weeks, even months slip by without you even noticing. And somehow, your marriage is slipping by, too. You want to take hold of it, shake it, and make it more there. Read on.
This chapter will give you ideas you can use immediately to improve your marriage. You can start right now, today, to transform your relationship from ordinary to ex- traordinary.
Don’t Take Your Spouse for Granted
Most couples let a lot of time go by without letting each other know how much they care about each other. They treat their relationship like one more ordinary thing in their lives. Their obligations all run together: projects at work, catching up on bills, getting dinner on the table, and being in a marriage.
Don’t take your most important relationship for granted. If you want your relation- ship to be extraordinary, you can’t throw it in with all of the ordinary things you have to do every day. You want your marriage to be much more than just another daily obligation.
Don’t wait around for your spouse to give more; in order to get more, you need to give more. Take action right away. Pay more attention to your spouse. Listen to your spouse. Be there for your spouse when he or she needs you. Take care of your spouse’s needs whenever you have the chance.
You’ll be surprised at how big a return you can get on a small investment. If you are always thinking of your spouse and doing things for him or her, it’s impossible to take your relationship for granted. And you’ll be keeping it fresh and exciting at the same time.
Be My Guest
If you asked most people who they treated more po- litely at the dinner table, a guest or their spouse, they would laugh and say a dinner guest, of course. The reason people laugh when they are asked this question is that they recognize the irony of their answer. We are all taught from a young age to be particularly po- lite in front of company. Why don’t we automatically give the same courtesy to our spouse?
Guests in your home would be given comfortable chairs and would be asked if they wanted something to drink as soon as they came into your home. You would try to say “please” and “thank you.” And you would certainly not yell at your guests if they frustrat- ed or angered you. In other words, you would be con- siderate of your guests at all times. Imagine what a wonderful time you would have with your spouse if you treated each other so well.
The following is a list of things you would automati- cally do for a guest. Try to remember to do them with each other:
- Remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
- Do not interrupt his or her sentences.
- Do not raise your voice or shout.
- Speak kindly to each other.
- Think about his or her needs.
Small Things Do Count
Lily and Tim came to see us because they felt something was missing in their rela- tionship. Overall, they had a good marriage. They both knew they would be there for each other when things were really rough. If Tim had a big project due at work, Lily didn’t grumble when he came home late. When Lily broke her leg, Tim slept over- night at the hospital to be with her. When she went home, he did the grocery shop- ping and cooked all the meals. Lily and Tim really came through for each other. When times were hard, they knew they could count on each other.
But then they told us that something felt wrong. In between disasters, Lily and Tim would get so preoccupied with their own daily concerns that they would go for weeks without having a good conversation. They often didn’t even have dinner together. Somehow their marriage seemed to be stale. Lily once commented to Tim that she noticed that, when things were going well in their lives, she felt more distant from him and didn’t know why. She told him she even missed the difficult times because she felt so close to him then.
We told them they needed to use that understanding to take action. We pointed out that they should take the thoughtfulness they showed each other when things were rough and use it when things were going well. They needed to realize that the caring they were capable of showing during difficult times was as important during good times. Their marriage would instantly be stronger for it. Lily and Tom needed to expand on the strengths they already had in their marriage.
Do One Nice Thing Each Day
The advice we suggested for Lily and Tim—and a sure-fire way to keep the spark in your relationship—is to do one nice thing each day for your spouse. It’s not enough to think about your spouse just when it happens to be convenient or when adversity demands it. And even if you do think about your spouse every single day, how is he or she supposed to know that? Actions speak much louder than words. By getting in the habit of doing something special daily, you will keep your relationship fresh!
You might argue that you don’t have time to do a nice thing every day for your spouse. But there are so many things you can do that take very little time and make a good relationship great. Once you build this giving habit into your relationship, you’ll be amazed at how good both of you will feel.
What Kind of Things Can I Do?
There are many wonderful things you can do for your spouse. It doesn’t matter whether they are small things that only take a minute or particularly special things that take a lot of plan- ning. You might do one of your spouse’s chores, like taking out the garbage or doing the weekly grocery shopping. You might leave a note in his pocket or call him at work in the middle of the afternoon to let him know how much you love him. You could turn on her favorite music so that it’s playing when she gets home from work. You might take his clothes to the dry cleaners or buy his favorite ice cream. You could do something more traditional like order flowers or prepare a special meal. Maybe even make a special breakfast. Or do something silly like put toothpaste on her toothbrush ahead of time. The sky is the limit!
The important thing is to try not to let a single day go by without doing one nice thing for your spouse. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or romantic, but it does have to be done regularly. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your relationship will change for the better.
Making three lists can help you accomplish this goal. The first list should include small things you can do (these are easy, like pouring his coffee or picking up her dry cleaning), the second one should include medium-size things you can do (buying a birthday present for his mother or making dinner for her boss), and the third one should include the really big things (these things are really a stretch for you—maybe inviting his parents to come for an ex- tended visit). Refer to the list regularly (put it in your personal organizer, if you use one) and make sure you do one of the things on the first list every day, those on the second list maybe once a week, and those on the third list at least once a year.
Closer Every Day
To continue our example, Lily and Tim realized that they missed the closeness they felt when circumstances were more challenging. They came to us to help them figure out how to feel closer to each other all the time. We pointed out that they had a ten- dency to take each other for granted when their lives were going well. We showed them how their actions affected the relationship. They didn’t regularly do things for one another that showed they cared for each other. Deep down, they didn’t doubt that the other person really loved them. We helped them understand that they needed to take the time and effort to show the other how important they were to each other.
We suggested they make sure to do one nice thing for each other every day. After a few weeks, their marriage began to feel like a courtship all over again. One day Tim would buy Lily flowers and another he would cook her dinner. Lily surprised Tim at work, and they had lunch together. Many of the things they do for each other now are things they had done when Lily had broken her leg and Tim had a big project at work. But by doing them during the good times, they have a much happier and more satisfying relationship than ever before.
Some days you might feel closer to your spouse than on other days. Sometimes you are dealing with a stressful major life event such as a move or a death in the family. Your marriage is a constant in the midst of your changing life.
Especially during rough times, it is easy to put your marriage on the back burner, but it really doesn’t take much effort to bring it to the front burner for a brief time each day. Even if you had a bad day, try to remember to acknowledge the importance of your relationship. Try to say something kind to your partner before you go to sleep, such as:
“It really helps knowing that you’re there for me.” “You are very important to me.”
“I can’t wait to see you at the end of a tough day.” “You make me laugh.”
And, of course, the old standby: “I love you.”
It’s easy to feel that there will be time in the future to show your appreciation, but we all know stories in which understanding and appreciation of someone came too late. Tell your significant other how much he or she means to you—often. If your spouse feels precious and important to you, it is less likely he or she will take you for grant- ed. He or she will almost certainly treat you better.
Also, you might feel that if you show your spouse appreciation for something, such as taking out the garbage, your spouse will then think that he or she doesn’t have to help with the dishes. This may be true in the short run. But the more appreciation you show your spouse for the mundane things, the better he or she will feel about doing things for you. Over time, he or she will come to depend on your kind words to feel good, and that is a beautiful gift for both of you. Appreciation goes a long way toward making a house into a home.
Make the End of Each Day Special
Many people underestimate how valuable it is to reconnect with their spouse when they have been apart from each other all day. Every evening when you first see your spouse is a chance for an extraordinary moment. The majority of couples spend their weekdays, and some of their weekend days, apart from each other.
You have spent many hours doing activities without each other’s company. By the end of most days, you and your spouse have probably been apart for more hours than you have spent awake together. When you see each other at the end of the day, it really is a reunion. Make sure you treat it like one.
There are many things you can do to make the moment you walk through the door at the end of the day a special one:
- Greet each other warmly. Stop whatever ac- tivity you are doing and walk to the door to greet your spouse. It might seem trite, but the effort will make both of you feel special and taken care of.
- Take a few minutes to find out how your spouse’s day was. We are all extremely busy, but this small effort can make a huge differ- ence. Instead of two strangers trying to get things done, you will be partners working to- gether to create a warm family environment. You Can Have the Marriage You Want
- Reconnect with your spouse after a day apart. Share a warm hug, deliver a kiss, or pour a refreshing glass of ice water for him or her. An extraordinary marriage is filled with countless meaningful moments. Every en- counter with your spouse that you make special will enhance your marriage. Don’t overlook the small chances to create closeness in your relationship.