The Magical Marriage Fixer-Upper

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This week Mark and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Clearly that means I was a child bride (right? RIGHT.). But more than that, it means I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be married – and a lot of it the hard way.

Though I’m happy to say my marriage is stronger than ever today, I would never claim the title of relationship expert. I have much to learn and am thankful for the opportunity to keep doing just that. But even while I’m in the process of learning to be a better wife, I know there’s one surefire way to improve my marriage in an instant.

Disclosure and clarification: I’m not saying every marriage – especially one in crisis or a relationship suffering effects of adultery, addiction or abuse – can be “fixed up” with one little change. Sometimes gratitude is not a quick fix or a fix at all, and sometimes more drastic measures are required. In those cases, getting outside help is my number one recommendation.

Okay, are you ready? Here goes:

Say thank you.

Now, quit it! Don’t roll your eyes at me! Give me just one minute to explain this seemingly simple piece of advice.

I know – OH I KNOW – there are times when it’s easier to say thank you than others. Some days gratitude just spills out of us – whether it’s to the husband who gets the trash to the curb seconds before the garbage truck rolls around the corner or the one who holds our hand as we await results from that terrifying medical test. Little things to big ones force our thankful hearts to bubble over into our words, our faces, our touch – into everything.

But – and please believe me, I’m talking to myself here, too – isn’t the same true when we are LESS than thankful? When that husband we love so much insists it’s your turn (AGAIN.) to get up with the baby or forgets your anniversary or birthday or big-presentation-at-work day? When he doesn’t ask how your day went or isn’t thrilled to eat tacos (AGAIN.) for dinner? How thankful are we then? What overflows into our eyes and our conversations then?

For the first MANY years of my marriage, I offered my husband conditional love. In fact, I was convinced that he needed to earn my love, my appreciation, my gratitude.

You’re right. This was NOT the recipe for a happy marriage.

Once I realized that gratitude was the answer – and not just some irritating platitude of all the marriage conference speakers and cheesy plaque makers – my marriage began to change.

I’m not saying expressing gratitude changed my husband. No, it changed me. It changed my heart and my perspective. When I focused on the things – something, anything! – that I appreciated about him, all of a sudden my Spidey Sense went alert for the good parts of the man I married instead of the mistakes and failings I’d been lasered in on before.

This isn’t easy. I mean, yes, sometimes it’s easy to look back on the day and recount all the wonderful ways my husband blessed me. But other days? Not so much. That’s what making this gratitude a habit is so vital.

In an era of “conscious uncoupling” (Sorry, Gwyneth, we haven’t forgotten.), why not make a stand for conscious coupling? Why not choose to be mindful of the things that still draw us to our husbands? Why not be intentional about choosing gratitude and choosing him?

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Sure, fine, yes – but what does that even mean? Well, I think it looks different for every couple, but here’s what it looks like in my house:

Use your manners. Say thank you.

I know. I already mentioned this. But I know the first people to suffer my bad moods or exhaustion or stress or WHATEVER are my family. The people who I love most and deserve my best often get my leftovers – and when that happens, it certainly doesn’t include using my manners.

He passed you the bread? Say thank you. He helped your daughter with her homework? Say thank you. He brought in the mail? Say thank you. He rented the movie you suggested? Say thank you. For all the little things – the things you would thank a stranger for, perhaps – say thank you.

Keep a gratitude journal.

When we began doing this I really only meant to teach THE OTHER PEOPLE who live in my house to be more thankful. Obviously, I didn’t have a problem with it. Except – and I’m sure you saw this coming – it teaches me something, too. Every time. Taking time to be thankful, expressing gratitude on purpose somehow transforms us into more gracious, more appreciative people. Not just in the three minutes it takes to go around the table and share. No, when you know that you’re going to be asked to tell your family what you’re thankful for each day (or, in the more practical case of my family, each day that you remember to do it…which might be closer to once a week), YOU LOOK FOR THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR.

And so it goes with marriage.

I had grand plans last year to keep a thankful marriage journal and then give it to Mark for our anniversary this year. Like so many of my grand plans, it kind of fizzled out. But I’m determined to try again! Writing down something I’m thankful to Mark for EVERY DAY for a year – and then giving it to him as a gift for our next anniversary? Well, it will certainly beat silver holloware (what?), which is reportedly the customary gift for 16 years of marriage. (Who’s in charge of making these things up??)

End your day with thankfulness.

Whether you climb into bed together or not, why not make your last words of the day to your husband ones of thankfulness? My husband works nights, so I often text him a good night message before I hit the hay. Though he’s never mentioned the days I make sure to thank him for getting up early to play with the kids or grilling chicken for dinner or attacking the weeds around the front porch, I can’t imagine it hurts. (Plus, he’s a man of few words . . . unless the topic involves sports or cars or work . . .) And now that I think of it, I need to do this more often.

Our schedule is crazy; yours might be, too. Some days are so busy we barely see each other and my thank you might be for something more big-picture, like Thank you for loving our girls. or Thank you for working so hard at your job.

I realize that not every marriage presents opportunities for gratitude easily. And I definitely know from experience that every marriage goes through challenging seasons where you might have to look REAL hard for something to thank him for. But I sincerely believe – and I have seen it in my own life – that looking for the good (and then appreciating it) can go a long way toward improving your marriage, your outlook, your life.

{In other words, being thankful WORKS FOR ME!}

What’s something you’re thankful for today?

 
This post was originally published at MomAdvice.com. Photos by ruthanddave and johnhopephotography.

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