You want to know how to make a marriage better? Answer: Practice!
Can You Really Practice To Make Your Marriage Better?
Is marriage practice a thing? Can you really practice to make your relationship better? If so, what does that even look like?
We tackle the subject of ‘practicing your marriage’ to make it better.
A man was touring New York but wasn’t sure where certain landmarks were. He approaches a musician on a street and asks: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
The musician replies, ‘Practice, man, practice.’
We often minimize the idea of practice. Yet it is one of the cornerstones of progress. If you want to make progress – even in marriage – you need to practice.
We normally think of practice as it relates to activities we want to be proficient in. Things like playing the piano. Or learning a new language, and a host of other things.
We understand the value of practice when it comes to things like that.
But it’s possible, and highly helpful, to apply the art of practice to marriage. To practice caring for our spouse. Practice being helpful, loving and present.
Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of marriage practice, let’s try to get an understanding of what causes marriages to fail.
In This Article
- Why Marriage Doesn’t Work
- Why Is Marriage Hard Work?
- Marriage Takes Work, So Don’t Sluff Off
- Principles of Practice You Need To Know
- 5 Examples of Healthy Marriage Practices
- Final Thoughts
Why Marriage Doesn’t Work
Sex columnist Anthony D’Ambrosio wrote a controversial article called, 5 Reasons Why Marriages Don’t Work.’ You can read it here.
He lays out five things that ruin marriage (that’s my term, not his):
According to him, sex is almost non-existent after a few years of marriage.
ALSO READ: 9 Reasons Sex Is Important in Marriage.
He sites education tuition, cost of living, low paying jobs, and inability to live the way you want to live (again, I’m reading in to his words).
He lays the blame at social media for this one. We text instead of talk. He does make a great point:
We’ve developed relationships with things, not each other. Ninety-five percent of the personal conversations you have on a daily basis occur through some type of technology. We’ve removed human emotion from our relationships, and we’ve replaced it colorful bubbles.
Technology is a two-edged sword. It’s useful to a point. But it has potential to damage our relationships if we fail to manage our time with it.
4. Misplaced Desires
He puts it like this: our desire for attention outweighs our desire to be loved.
The ‘fame generation’ – those famous for being famous, not because they actually accomplish something – has shaped the attitudes of many couples.
The desire for pleasure, fame, and attention keeps us wrapped up in ourselves and bars us from expressing or experiencing real love.
5. Social Media
He laments that nothing is sacred anymore. We post about what we eat, where we go, what TV shows we watch. We even splatter our sex lives on social media.
We fight, argue, and parade our lust on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook (excuse me for leaving out the thousand other ‘connection’ platforms).
Everything we do is a photo opp. Makes me think of a verse I read, ‘They glory in their shame.’ (Philippians 3:19 The Bible)
What do we make of all this?
First, I too share the lament on a few of the issues Anthony brings up.
One example, our addiction to social media is damaging our ability to connect. Not just because we stay glued to our devices (that’s bad enough), it hinders our ability to know HOW to connect on a personal level.
We say things on social media we would never say to someone’s face. We’ve become desensitized to others.
This is not just a personal opinion. Marisa Cohen (PhD. CPLC) tells about a study of Facebook users that demonstrates high levels of usage increases “negative relationship outcomes.”
A 2013 study links jealousy and other feelings to Facebook (social media) usage. (Muise)
““Facebook may expose an individual to potentially jealousy-provoking information about their partner, which creates a feedback loop whereby heightened jealousy leads to increased surveillance of a partner’s Facebook page. Persistent surveillance results in further exposure to jealousy-provoking information” (p. 443).(Source)
Another study reported excessive internet use in a relationship creates increased conflict with your partner. (Kerkhof).
One last observation: The effects of social media use on self-esteem has been hotly debated. An analysis of the recent research on the subject indicates there is a strong correlation between social network sites and poor self-esteem.
“Individuals with lower self-esteem may develop more online relationships because they tend to be more sensitive to interpersonal relations and more dependent on others for approval. This may be related to feelings of awkwardness in face-to-face social situations, and thus, communicating online via social networking sites might be an effective way of socializing for them.”
In other words, social network sites enhance feelings of low self esteem. (Source)
Second, each of the problems listed by D’Ambrosio are choices couples make.
No one forces you to stop having sex. In fact, many couples report that sex is great AFTER marriage, not before. I believe this is partly due to the element of trust built in the marriage.
Keeping up with the Joneses is not a requirement. It is possible to live within your means and be happy.
I got the feeling he felt it was (almost) impossible to be truly happy if you didn’t have all the stuff we’ve come to expect.
None of the couples I know attribute their success and happiness to things. Every one of them talk about their connection, trust, values, and commitment. It’s about each other, not the things they have or do.
Finally, each of the items listed are ‘fixable.’
Because the things mentioned on the list are choices, we have control over their influence and control of our lives.
The hard cold fact is, you control your own level of happiness. No one else.
It’s possible – even feasible – to be happy in your relationship. It’s doable. Sure, it takes hard work. We will talk about that next. But don’t lose sight of the fact that it is within your reach to create a great marriage.
Why Is Marriage Hard Work?
You might be asking, ‘What does marriage take so much work?’
The main reason it demands work is the nature of relationships. Anytime two people live together and share life, you have to compromise.
But it’s no different than relating to co-workers. When people are involved, conflict can arise.
Yet somehow we think it shouldn’t be that way in marriage. We have fantasies about a fairy-tale life that never seems to pan out. When that happens we blame marriage.
But it’s not marriage that is the problem. It’s the nature of life. The sad reality is even if we got our way every single time in life, we would not be happy. Happiness is not contingent on getting what you want. I know hundreds of people who seem to have it all, yet they are miserable.
Why? Because happiness depends more on what you contribute, than what you get.
We are made to contribute to others. To serve (so to speak). This applies double for marriage.
Part of the reason my wife and I have such a strong marriage is we try to out serve each other. We even joke about it.
This is one of those secret mysteries of life that many people miss. They assume getting is the end-all-be-all for life. It isn’t. Life (especially relationships) is about giving.
Marriage Takes Work, So Don’t Sluff Off
The reason we practice good marriage habits is because our habits form the foundation of our lives. Strong marriages have healthy habits.
Since habits are vital to success in any area of life, we should work on building good relationship habits. This comes about by practice.
The idea of practicing at marriage may sound strange. I admit I had to think through the concept for a while. But it makes sense.
We practice almost every other aspect of our life to get better. Why not marriage.We practice almost every other aspect of our life to get better. Why not marriage. Click To Tweet
When I was a pastor, I worked hard to be a good communicator and teacher.
As a business owner, I studied my market and learned how to sell.
I practiced. I worked at it until I achieved the level of success I desired. In many ways, I continue to practice the skills I’ve developed so I can get better.
It’s no different with relationships.
If you want to communicate better, work at it. Learn the skills of effective communication. Practice the principles of connecting with other people. It’s a skill you can learn.
If you desire to be more intimate with your spouse, work at creating a trusting atmosphere where it’s safe to be vulnerable, open, and authentic.
These are things you can work on. Things you can practice so you get better.If you want to communicate better, work at it. Learn the skills of effective communication. Practice the principles of connecting with other people. It’s a skill you can learn. Click To Tweet
I don’t know why we think good relationship habits should just happen. They often require work. That doesn’t mean it’s not authentic and genuine. The fact that you work on your relationship is the indication it is sincere.
Principles of Practice You Need To Know
As you work on your relationship skills, here are a few principles to keep in mind.
1. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
The lesson is clear. What we do on a regular basis, good or bad, becomes a habit. That habit eventually shapes how we look at life.
For example, My wife and I never go to bed at separate times. It’s a habit we started early on. I don’t stay up and watch television without her, or work late when she is in bed.
It’s not a rule. We didn’t require this of each other. It’s just something we value, so we put it into practice. The end result is a deeper connection.
This small habit has tremendous benefits for us.
2. Space it Out
A psychologist by the name of Herman Ebbinghaus did an experiment on himself. He wanted to find out the best way to learn (speed with retention).
He gave himself random, nonsense words (think BOK, DAX, YAT) and tried to remember them. He wanted to discover the best way to capture these ideas and make them a part of his memory. (Source)
One of the things he discovered is that spacing out your ‘learning’ over a longer period of time helps you process and retain more.
Think back to school. Most of us crammed the night before for a test. We burned the midnight oil to make sure the material was fresh on our minds the next day.
We arrived to class, ready for the test. Once the test was over, all that information vanished. As quick as a wink.
Reminds me of the farmer who waited until the last minute (late Fall) to plant his corn (which needs to be planted in the Spring so it grows through the Summer). Needless to say, he didn’t have a crop that year.
You can’t ‘cram’ on planting your crops. You have to plant at the right time so they can grow.
While cramming for an exam may help you remember things in short term, it offers very little help retaining the information for the future.
This is what Ebbinghaus discovered. It makes sense.
So how does this apply to marriage?
It’s simple if you think about it. Just like you can’t cram when planting a crop, you can’t cram when growing your relationship.
Yet, I’ve met guys who think a year full of neglect can be offset by a great week at the beach. That’s cramming. It doesn’t create trust or value.
It might be fun, but it will not bring the fruit of lasting love and happiness in your marriage.
3. Repetition Creates Consistency
Another thing Ebbinghaus discovered (which appears to me to be common sense) is that the more he repeated the nonsensical phrases, the easier it was to recall, even after a day or so.
We could say it like this: Repetition creates familiarity.
Let’s apply this to our relationships:
What we do on a consistent basis, through repetition, becomes habit. Those habits form the basis of our lives.What we do on a consistent basis, through repetition, becomes habit. Those habits form the basis of our lives. Click To Tweet
It goes back to point #1. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Here is the question for us (this is where the rubber meets the road):
What are you consistently doing in your marriage that is shaping the ‘form’ of your relationship?
What are you doing that makes your relationship what it is?What are you consistently doing in your marriage that is shaping the 'form' of your relationship? What are you doing that makes your relationship what it is? Click To Tweet
4. It Changes Our Brain
This is perhaps the greatest benefit. Repetition creates habirts.
John Forde writes about this:
According to researchers at Dartmouth, every time we start forming a habit, there’s a burst of activity in the part of our brains called the dorsolateral striatum.
The first time you do that thing you want to turn into a habit, the activity burst lasts less than half a second. Go back and do it again, and it lasts a fraction longer.
Each time you repeat the action, the brain activity in that spot lasts longer. To the point that it starts creating a kind of habit momentum. The repetition itself leads to more and easier repetition.John Forde Newsletter 9/29/2020
Brain scans detect ‘grooves’ in the brain as we repeat things. In a sense, we rewire our brains. This can be positive or negative. Use it to rewire your marriage by repeating actions, words, and thoughts that create the relationship you desire.
5 Examples of Healthy Marriage Practices
Healthy couples do certain things that make their relationship strong. To wrap this up, here are 5 examples of what healthy couples do to make marriage work.
1. Compliment Instead of Criticize
How you use your words is a choice. Choose wisely, for you will eat the fruit of your own words.
Simply put, you will get back what you speak over your spouse.
Happy couples find the good in situations and refuse to allow trouble to foster criticism.
2. Forgive And Let Go Of Offenses
Let’s be honest. If you live with someone long enough, you will have an opportunity to be offended.
Healthy couples don’t let them build up. They talk about them, apologize, forgive and move forward.
This is possible because they trust each other.
3. Never Let Arguments End The Day
Every couple has disagreements. It’s normal. Healthy couples know how to resolve them before the day ends.
Either solve, forgive, or table the issue for another time, but never take them to bed with you.
Keep your bedroom a sacred place. Not just for sex. Make it a no stress, no tension zone between you are your spouse.
4. Manage expectations.
There are healthy expectations, and unhealthy ones. It’s perfectly normal to expect faithfulness, loyalty, and acceptance.
It’s unhealthy to think your spouse can ‘make you happy’ or they should please you with every decisions. That’s unrealistic.
Jerry McQuire made famous the line: ‘You complete me!” [Spoiler Alert]
I’m a sucker for romantic movies and moments. In terms of romantic, this tops the list.
But in terms of expectations, it can be dangerous. When we expect someone else to ‘make us’ feel, do, or be a certain way, we will end up sabotaging the relationship. No one can fill that role.
Healthy couples know how to manage expectations. They care deeply for one another, but understand they are ultimately responsible for making life work.
5. Celebrate Often
Don’t wait for big events to have a party. Celebrate the small wins in your marriage. And do it often
When you learn to appreciate the little things in your marriage, you win.
Yesterday (Sunday afternoon) we had plans to meet up with friends at the lake after church. Something happened so they couldn’t make it. Since we were already on the lake, we found a secluded cove and anchored.
It was cool, so there weren’t many boats on the water that afternoon. Michelle stretched out on back of the boat. I slid into a kayak and fished. As the sun was setting, we headed back to the dock.
When we got home, we both talked about how great the afternoon was. It was just a slow, relaxing day. But we considered it a big win.
Celebrations don’t have to be week long vacations. To repeat the line above:
When you learn to appreciate the little things in your marriage, you win.When you learn to appreciate the little things in your marriage, you win. Click To Tweet
Every couple wants to know how to make marriage better. Even the good ones want it to be better. This pursuit drives us to discover new ways to build stronger, more engaged relationships.
A challenge: Make a list of 3 things you can do on a regular basis to improve your relationship. Not things like ‘try harder to get along.’ That’s unclear and generic. Instead, answer what that means in practical terms. How can you try harder? This is the key. These three things must be doable. Items you can measure.
I’m sure you can come up with more, but keep the list to three. No need for overwhelm. The goal is to find a handful of things you can do without feeling overloaded and pressured. Write them down, then commit to practice those things daily.
Do this for a week, then send me an email and let me know your results.
- Why Marriage Doesn’t Work
- Why Is Marriage Hard Work?
- Marriage Takes Work, So Don’t Sluff Off
- Principles of Practice You Need To Know
- 5 Examples of Healthy Marriage Practices
To get more help creating the marriage you desire and deserve, check out these resources:
The Healthy Marriage Quiz
If you want specific help for your marriage, or you want to know your healthy marriage score, take the marriage quiz. You’ll get immediate access with suggestions on how to improve your relationship.
The Healthy Marriage Toolkit
Books, Courses, Programs and Tools designed to help you create the marriage of your dreams.
Healthy Marriage Courses
Our courses will help you build a strong marriage. Each course is designed to meet a specific relationship need.
Can My Marriage Be Saved? This mini-course will give you tools to help you get on the right track and create the marriage you desire and deserve. It all starts with your beliefs.
If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.
Magic Relationship Words by Susie and Otto Collins
The Devotion System This free video will show you why men pull away and what you can do to enhance your relationship.