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Emotional Workouts for a Happier Marriage

How to Maintain a Healthy Marriage & Stay Connected

The courtship was exhilarating. The honeymoon was hot. But now you have children, a mortgage, time-consuming jobs and carpools that add stress to your marriage.

Singer Roberta Flack wasn't kidding when she said, "Getting married is easy. Staying married is more difficult. Staying happily married for a lifetime should rank among the fine arts."

Staying connected and making time for each other is essential to maintaining a healthy and happy marriage. Instead of growing closer, couples tend to drift apart and communication breaks down. If problems aren't addressed, even the best marriages begin to decay.

Fortunately, keeping your marriage on track isn't as difficult as it sounds. You don't need a series of intense marriage therapy weekends or even that three-week vacation without the kids you've always dreamed about. What you do need, however, are the myriad emotional connections that form every day when thoughtful communication takes place — even if it's only in between changing a baby's diapers or shuttling a toddler to preschool.

Simply learning to listen to each other can put couples on the right path for a happy marriage, says Dr. Paul Kaschel of Forest Lakes Counseling in Traverse City, Mich. Communication problems plague the majority of couples who come to his office seeking help, he adds.

Communication is all in the "how." When two people are talking and no one is listening, conversations only end in frustration. Instead of mentally preparing a rebuttal as a spouse is talking, focus on simply listening. Often, just being heard can diffuse an impending disagreement.

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Communicate the Ways

Saying "I love you" can be done in many ways: Taking out the trash, giving your partner a back rub or planning a date night are all ways of saying how much you care.

In his best-selling book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, author Gary Chapman suggests spouses learn to identify a partner's love language.

"The five 'love languages,' are words of affirmation; acts of service; physical touch; gifts and quality time," says Chapman.

Bill Geisel of Interlochen, Mich., has learned his wife Cynthia responds to acts of service. "I will clean the kitchen or do a project with Cynthia that she enjoys. It is important for me to enter her world," Bill Geisel says.

For Bill Geisel, however, words of affirmation mean the most. Cynthia Geisel often will leave notes for her husband to find. "When I find the notes, I have something to hold on to. It means she has taken the time and effort to connect with me," Bill Geisel says.

For Love of Country

Given the current world crisis, many spouses who serve in the United States Military are separated from each other. How do they keep their marriage strong when they're separated by thousand of miles for long periods of time? For Kristi and Jason Wing, stationed in two different locations near Mannheim, Germany, letter writing is something that they cherish.

"Keeping in touch is a big thing, even if it is just an email now and then or a quick phone call. I have tons of letters that we have written back and forth," says Kristi Wing.

Rick York of Spring Valley, Calif., serves in the U.S. Navy and his wife Suzi quickly agrees that communication is their secret to a successful marriage. "Even when he's away, we communicate about everything, from money to what to buy for the house to our relationship," Suzi York says.

Friends First

Keith and Venus Tondreau of Grawn, Mich., have been married for fifteen years. What remains important to them is their friendship. "We are each other's best friend," says Keith Tondreau.

Take interest in what your spouse enjoys. Support and encourage your mate like you would any other friendship. Tondreau also recommends a liberal dose of flirting (like before you were married)!

Take time each day to look each other in the eye, really listen and show small acts of kindness. You'll have a better marriage for it!

5 Emotional Exercises for a Healthy Marriage

1. Learn to Listen.Take turns speaking, and when it is not your turn to talk, listen patiently! Focus on what your partner is saying, not how you will respond. When your partner is done speaking, repeat back the gist of what was said. Switch roles.

2. Guard Your Discretionary Time.What little time couples do have with each other should be treasured and guarded. Make yourself emotionally available to your spouse – sitting in front of the television together doesn't count! Make it a priority to reserve free time with your spouse.

3. Couch Time.Reserve 10 to 15 minutes each day to catch up with each other – just the two of you! Don't focus on the car repairs or your daughter's dentist appointment. Listen and ask questions to draw out your spouse.

4. Dedicate Time for Date Nights. Schedule a date nights on a consistent basis. Of course, the costs of hiring a sitter and buying a nice dinner may be an issue, but experts are quick to point out that in the long run you will be saving money, because when you have a healthy marriage, life in general is more productive and fulfilling.

5. Enrich Your Marriage Skills. Participate in a weekend marriage seminar once in a while. These fun, yet inspirational retreats are packed with activities and practical information that can renew your relationship.

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