Today we want to give you 10 simple but powerful ways to court your spouse in everyday moments. This isn’t going to be about going out for dinner or going to a movie – not that kind of courting. We’re talking about ways of being together. It’s deeper but still very concrete.
Here’s a little reality about marriage – marriage is hard work. That’s true, but what does it mean? It means is that couples need to continuously engage in behaviors and activities that promote the health of the their marriage bond.
Think of it as a love muscle – Use it or lose it! Use this post as a day at the gym, complete with supplements, some cardio and some strength training all for that love muscle. In fact, we even have a worksheet you can download to help you work through the content of this post.
There’s a little proverb written by King Solomon that speaks to this, embedded in a fairly steamy passage of the Bible. He says, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth”, and that just encapsulates what we cover in this post.
We want you to delight in each other, to invest in each other, and to enjoy each other!
Think of ‘marriage is hard work’ as ‘marriage is good hard work’. It can be fun and joyful to create this time of marriage, really! It won’t make the marriage perfect or free from stress or times of frustration, but you can have a really good time creating it. Enjoy being married!
Let’s start with why we need to court our spouse, and then look at 10 ways how to do it.
Canary, Stafford and Semic (2002) say that “liking is the degree to which a person admires his or her spouse.” It is made up of affection and respect and is the outcome of maintenance behaviors (like the ten things we’re going to give you!).
Think of maintenance behaviors as planting seeds in a garden. We need to be constantly planting these seeds in the soil of our marriage so that we can keep growing. If you stop planting, one day you’ll wake up and have nothing with which to nourish your marriage. At that point, you’re months from turning that around (just like seeds, maintenance behaviors take a while to germinate and bear fruit).
Think of your marriage as having a year-round growing season – we want to plant new seeds every week so that we have this constant harvest of love and romance.
Yes, this takes commitment, but it also creates commitment. When you have a great thing going, you want to keep at it! Researchers have found that if you do not engage continually in maintaining your marriage, things decline quickly.
Another incentive to keep at these maintenance behaviors comes from Wilcox & Dew (2012) who looked at the value of date nights as part of The National Marriage Project. They found that husbands and wives who engaged in couple time with their mates at least once a week were 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, compared to those who enjoyed less quality time with their spouse.
So, here are 10 ways to date your mate! These are not ideas pulled out of a hat, but are pulled together from empirically validated research. This stuff really does work and will make a difference in your marriage.
1. Be Generous
Generosity is a willingness to reflect on your spouse’s strengths and work around weaknesses to serve him or her (JMF, 2013). It’s not surprising that this comes up again – it was number 3 of the Top 5 Predictors of Marital Success.
This is giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly – not necessarily jewelry or expensive vacations, but things like service and affection. Notice and comment on your spouse’s good qualities and forgive your spouse.
The same study cited above found that as generosity increased in marriages, so did marital satisfaction. Also, conflict and perceived divorce likelihood decreased.
2. Be Sacrificial
This flows from generosity, but it’s more than that – it’s the giving of benefits when a spouse is in need, and immediate reciprocation is not expected [Psychological Science (2010)]. As in “no strings attached sacrifice”.
The article also mentioned that the higher individuals were in communal strength toward their romantic partner, the more they experienced positive emotions during daily sacrifices, felt appreciated for their efforts, and reported high relationship satisfaction on days when they made sacrifices. They also found increases in mood and self-evaluations.
And this is all for the person giving – just imagine the benefits for the person receiving these sacrificial gestures. This is the truth of Jesus, when He said, “It is better to give than to receive.”
If the truth be told, most of us bring a lot of entitlement to our marriage about what we expect out of it and want from it. That’s totally the wrong way to create a marriage you love and enjoy being in!
3. Be Grateful
Again, this flows from the previous two points. Gratitude helps remind us of the good qualities in our spouses. On days that one spouse expresses more gratitude, the other feels more satisfied with the relationship.
It’s such a simple thing, but so worth it. Notice the little things that are positives and acknowledge them by saying, “Hey, thank you!”
4. Be Open
Discuss your relationship and share thoughts and feelings that you enjoy about it.
Often the things we think we need to hide to protect our spouse from our pain or worries are the very things we need to share in order to bring us closer together. Foster that attitude of openness.
If we say we want a soul mate, but then internalize and don’t verbalize, we’re just creating a room mate. If you want a soul mate, you actually have to bare your soul!
5. Be Positive
This is different from gratitude. Give compliments, assurances, and expressions of love, commitment and affections. Basically, this is anything you can say to clearly send a signal that this relationship has a future.
6. Be Together
Share your social networks as much as possible. This is not referring to Facebook, Twitter, etc., but your mutual friends. Include your spouse in your recreational activities.
Also, share tasks! You can actually court your spouse by doing stuff together.
An important thing to think about though: if you have to do everything together or else one or both of you feels there is something wrong, that’s enmeshment. That signals a vulnerability in the relationship that is more likely centered on a strong anxiety.
But doing many things together, and finding joy, meaning and purpose in those things, is a great way to court each other!
7. Be Playful
We were happy to find this in the research! We have come across some married couples that swear that you should NEVER tease or poke fun at each other. Never having agreed with this thinking, we were glad to find some evidence for playing together!
One of the research articles pointed out that playfulness is one of the first casualties of a busy life. If it’s just work-work-work, pay the bills, clean, and sleep, you have no time for play. You need to keep things alive by having some fun, joking around and using silly nicknames.
Even beyond teasing, another article pointed out that couples who engage in novel activities that are fun, active, or otherwise arousing – from hiking to dancing to travel to card games – enjoy higher levels of relationship quality.
8. Be Aware
Notice what is new about your spouse. We are all in a constant state of change, but get so familiar with each other we can stop really noticing our spouse and start to think of them as a fixed, static entity. That’s boring! People do change – stuff goes on in life.
We all have core values and beliefs; those are what keep us grounded. But we’re always challenged, stretched, poked at by our environment. Watch and notice how your spouse is responding to that. Especially notice the good and reinforce it by verbalizing what you see and admire.
9. Be a Poet
A University of Texas study found that when participants wrote about their relationships for 20 minutes at a time for 3 days, they were more likely to be together 3 months later. (This was a study of dating participants, but the same principle holds true for married couples.) They also expressed more positive emotions in instant-message conversations with each other – the writing had prompted more good feelings about the relationship.
Next time you think fondly of your partner, write those thoughts down! Even put them on a sticky note and put it somewhere your spouse will find it later that day!
10. Be Touching
Ahhh, the power of oxytocin! Whether it’s a back massage, or a cuddle; hand holding, kissing or hugging, all that “touch” gets the love hormone going. Oxytocin also reduces stress and increases bonding.
So, make sure you have those 6-second hugs every day.
Court Your Spouse!
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So, there’s ten ways to court your spouse. What is made clear here is that you don’t need to go on a date to date each other!
Big holidays are nice and remind us what it’s like to get away from all responsibility and date our spouse. That’s awesome. BUT, what if you could weave all the good mojo that happens on dates, or vacations, into the every day fabric of your marriage?
You CAN court your spouse ANY TIME by your words or actions! You don’t have to go somewhere warm and sunny – although that’s awesome too – you can create that warmth and sunshine right inside your marriage every day!