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Can One Partner Improve a Marriage?

“Marriages either get better or worse. They never stand still.”

-Dr. Gary Chapman

My husband and I have gone through our share of ups and downs during our married life together. I was 34 years old when we got married, and I was accustomed to living alone with my cat, so it was quite an adjustment for me to move in with my husband and his 6-year-old daughter. Over the past 6 years, we bought a house, moved, and I changed jobs, so we’ve been through some big transitions together. However, we have learned how to work through issues and communicate better. In fact, when I reflect on how we’ve progressed over the years, I am proud of us. Overall, we have a happy, healthy marriage. He makes me laugh, and I love spending time with him, whether we are enjoying a home-cooked meal or exploring Iceland.

So, you might wonder why we recently attended a marriage conference together. I’ll admit, it was my idea. For me, marriage and family relationships are worth the investment in time and money. Our home should be a haven; a place of comfort. If we aren’t happy at home, how can we be happy elsewhere?

And even though we are happily married, there is always room to grow and make it even better. With this in mind, I asked my husband if he would attend the conference with me. Initially, he said no. His response was, “Why do we need to go to a marriage conference? That’s for people with problems.” I told him it would mean a lot to me if we went to the conference together, so after a few weeks, he agreed to go.

What are The Five Love Languages?

We went to The Five Love Languages Marriage Conference, facilitated by Dr. Gary Chapman. Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The Five Love Languages, which became a bestseller, selling over 12 million books worldwide. In the book, Dr. Chapman presents the idea that people express and want to receive love in their love language. The five love languages are:

-words of affirmation

-gifts

-quality time

-acts of service

-physical touch

You and your partner can take a free online quiz to find out your love language. Then the idea is that you express your love for your partner using their love language. For instance, my primary love language is spending quality time together. My husband knows this, so we make a conscious effort to spend time together. And coincidentally, his love language is also quality time. However, if his love language was gifts, and he kept trying to express his love for me through gifts rather than quality time, I would be disappointed. While receiving gifts is nice, I would have craved quality time together.

Top Takeaway from The Five Love Languages Marriage Conference

During the conference, we learned some practical skills for communicating, dealing with conflict, and sharing criticism. However, my top takeaway was during the session on initiating positive change. Dr. Chapman posed a powerful question: can one partner improve a marriage?

Dr. Chapman has counseled thousands of couples, and he shared that a common response among couples is to describe problems in their marriage in terms of what their spouse is doing wrong. They can easily list off what their spouse should change. In fact, many of them were able to make long lists with everything their spouse was doing wrong. Then when Dr. Chapman asked them to make a list of what they could change about their own behavior, they struggled to come up with more than one or two things.

It’s easy to be critical of others and identify what they can change, but when it comes to ourselves, it’s hard to step back, and be honest with ourselves about what’s wrong with us. However, no one is perfect, and that’s why it’s important for couples to look within themselves and see what they can change about their own behavior. They should think about how they can be a better wife or husband. If one person starts by changing their behavior, oftentimes it leads the other person to change for the better. (Disclaimer: we are not talking about abusive relationships or relationships in which substance abuse, drugs, or addiction is involved.)

For instance, maybe you would like for your partner to express appreciation for all you do around the house. You are exhausted from cooking, walking the dog, and making sure the kids do their homework and get to bed on time. However, you realize that you don’t thank your partner very often. Last week, your husband brought a cup of coffee to you in the morning, and you barely acknowledged him. When you are making your list of things to change, you can add “express appreciation to my partner” to the list.

Three Simple Questions

Dr. Chapman ended the session by encouraging us to ask our spouse three simple questions:

-What can I do to help you?

-How can I make your life easier?

-How can I be a better wife or husband to you?

Listen to the answer and follow through on it. It could take weeks or months, but you may notice that your spouse starts asking you the same questions. Through this process, you are working on initiating positive change within yourself, but you will notice a ripple effect in your relationship.

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