Everyday marriage is what most marriages are used to. As couples learn to love everyday marriage, they will find their marriage satisfying, renewing, and nourishing.
It was a beautiful spring morning as Todd leaned over to wake up his wife with a soft kiss.
"Good morning sweetheart," he said.
A smile formed across Sarah's tired face. She crawled out of bed and into the shower. Meanwhile, Todd began making eggs and toast for Sarah and their three school-aged children. Just as Sarah came down the stairs, she heard Todd yell, "The school bus is here!" The kids rushed past Sarah, grabbed their school gear, and ran out the door.
Sarah entered the kitchen to find Todd wolfing down his breakfast. "I'll be late for work," he said. He reached over to touch her arm -- and spilled orange juice down his clean dress shirt.
"I'll clean it up, honey. Go change your shirt," said Sarah.
"Thanks,” said Todd. "I have that important meeting today. Oh, and the dishwasher still isn't working." A few minutes, later Sarah met Todd at the door, gave him a warm hug, and sent him on his hurried way.
Realistic Expectations vs. Unrealistic Expectations
Couples like Todd and Sarah realize that their life together is more than the romantic image portrayed in so many books, movies, and television shows. Just as the most beautiful roses have ordinary leaves, brown stems, and thorns, the happiest and most fulfilling marriages come with busy schedules, spilled orange juice, and broken dishwashers.
Couples often go into marriage with the expectation that everything will be perfect. But good marriages take daily effort. John Gottman, a leading marriage scholar, says that marriage is not maintained through extravagant vacations or lavish gifts3. Instead, happy couples keep their love alive and stay connected to one another through small, everyday acts.
This article explores five ways researchers have found that couples can stay connected through these ordinary acts of kindness.
Turn Toward Each Other
When two people are married, says Gottman, they "often make 'bids' for their partner's attention, affection, humor, or support. People either turn toward one another after these bids or they turn away. Turning toward each other is the basis of emotional connection, romance, passion, and a good life"3 (p. 80, emphasis added).
For example, when a busy wife knows that her husband is having a bad day, she can take a moment to leave a few words of encouragement on his voicemail. When a harried husband hears his wife say, "The greatest thing happened today," he can say, "I'm pressed for time right now, but give me the short version now so we can talk about it tonight."
Couples can choose to turn toward each other during the mundane activities of life. Instead of reading the newspaper silently and alone, read the paper together. Instead of eating in front of the television, sit across from one another at the table and talk about your day. Simple moments of turning toward one another in these ways will keep your marriage strong.
Professor William Doherty, family expert and author of the book The Intentional Family1, says couples can stay connected by being intentional about family life through daily rituals. "The natural drift of family life in contemporary America is toward slowly diminishing connection, meaning, and community . . . . Only the intentional couple has a fighting chance to maintain and increase its sense of connection and meaning over the years" (p. 8).
An intentional family, says Doherty, "is one whose members create a working plan for maintaining and building family ties, and then implement the plan as best they can . . . .The intentional family is a ritualizing family" (p. 8).
Doherty explains that rituals are repeated activities or interactions that are meaningful to a couple and that offer everyday opportunities for couple bonding. Meals, morning and bedtime routines, and the comings and goings of spouses can all be made into rituals of connection. For example, couples might decide that breakfast is an important time for them. They might create a ritual where they prepare breakfast together and clean up together. They might make a prayer before each meal a ritual, including holding hands and a kiss after the "amen."
Couples will find that if they are intentional about connecting with one another, their marriage will be stronger and more satisfying.
Research shows that spouses who express more positive thoughts and feelings about each other than negative ones are more satisfied with their marriages, have a lower risk of divorce, and experience less conflict in their marriage2.
Gottman found that happy couples tend to have a ratio of 5 positives to every 1 negative. Negative interactions include criticism and sarcasm while positive interactions include saying "I love you," "You look nice today," or "Thank you."
For many couples, just realizing that they shouldn't take their everyday interactions for granted makes an enormous difference in their relationship3. Spouses can show appreciation by saying thank you, giving a hug, or doing something kind. Expressing appreciation for a spouse's daily kindnesses makes it more likely he or she will continue those efforts.
It is important for couples to realize that it's normal to feel drawn to their spouse at times and to feel like pulling back and reestablishing a sense of independence at other times. Some people have a greater need for connection, and others have a greater need for independence. Marriages include a variety of combinations on this spectrum of connection. A marriage can work as long as spouses are able to talk about feelings and respect differences.
Sarah had a PTA meeting in 15 minutes but decided to call Todd to see how his meeting had gone. He responded in a tired tone, "It's good to hear your voice, dear. What a day this has been." They talked for only a few moments but finished the conversation with a quick "I love you."
When Todd arrived home that evening, Sarah greeted him warmly at the door. They relaxed together for a few minutes, then Sarah got up to fix dinner while Todd helped the children with homework. As Sarah was chopping carrots, Todd snuck up behind her and gave her a hug and kiss on the neck. "Dinner smells wonderful, “he said.
Later that evening, they stood at the sink together rinsing the dishes and talking about the day's activities. In a matter of five minutes, they were interrupted by two crying children, one teenager with an algebra problem, and one dog whimpering for leftovers. Before they knew it, the day was over and they were lying in bed, discussing summer plans. Sarah noticed that Todd was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. Her initial reaction was to be upset with him for not being as invested in the discussion as she was, but as she opened her mouth to express her frustration, she realized how exhausted he was. She sighed, then whispered in his ear, "We'll finish this conversation tomorrow. Sleep well. I love you." He drowsily acknowledged her reaction and drifted off to sleep. She kissed him on the cheek and rolled over, ready for sleep herself.
Like most couples, Sarah and Todd did not spend numerous magical hours together on this typical day, but they did share a few positive moments that kept them connected with one another throughout the day. Their life together is not perfect, but they are intentional, positive, appreciative, and sensitive to one another.
Any couple can learn that daily marriage is full of both difficult and pleasant things that can either hurt or strengthen a marriage. They can learn to value their everyday interactions and roll with the bumps and bruises along the way. As they do, they will find their marriage satisfying, renewing, and nourishing.
Written by Rachel Loser, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Doherty, W. J. (1997). The intentional family. NY: Harper Collins.
- Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1992). Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behavior, physiology, and health. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 63, 221-233.
- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. NY: Three Rivers Press.