Using these two principles, you can see real tangible results in your relationship quickly.
I didn’t even realize that’s what I wanted when I picked up the book Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards by Ray Guarendi a few months ago. If you had asked me at that time, “How’s your marriage, Cecilia?” I would have said, “Oh, it’s fine” and thought nothing of it. I mean, there was more tension between us than usual, but that could be chalked up to life changes that would pass. However, after trying to implement a few of the ideas from the book, I realized that our relationship could be a whole lot better. And it could be a whole lot better right now despite the craziness of this season of life. So, let’s get to the meat of the book’s ideas, and how simply the steps can be applied to any marriage.
Guarendi’s book explains how changing your perspective and at least one habit will help you see positive results.
Change your perspective
If your focus is on how your spouse is failing to love you (he’s not stepping up at home, she nags constantly) then you won’t get very far. You can’t change your spouse’s behavior and attitude. But you can change yours. And while your spouse may indeed be failing to love you as he should, you are not loving him perfectly. And because your marriage is 50% you, if you change your behavior, the relationship dynamic starts to change.
After you’re ready to focus on changing your own behavior (not your spouse’s), then you need to just start. In each of his chapters, Guarendi suggests a small change to make. Some examples of these changes include: “Say I’m Sorry,” “Don’t Say It,” “Listen a Minute,” and “Ask a Few Questions.” Each outlines a simple practice to implement in your marriage. They are all simple, meaning straightforward, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to practice! I decided to try the first two steps, saying I’m sorry genuinely (without excuses) when we were frustrated at each other, and then not saying that little dig or pointing out that true but unnecessary fact in tense conversations. Then, during moments of frustration, I tried to implement those two steps. And sure enough, when I started treating my spouse with more genuine respect and love in small ways, it made a tangible difference in our relationship.
Turn your newfound small steps into habits
I found a helpful habit-forming chart in a study on the psychology of habit formation. The chart walks you through the process of forming a habit, from deciding on a goal to choosing a simple action, then reminding you to be consistent and repeat that simple action at the same time and place every day. The study is about forming better habits for your health, but you can easily use it for your marriage health instead. Just choose a small step, like “Listen a Minute,” and choose when to implement that goal (during the most stressful part of the evening, the 15 minutes before dinner, as a way to ease tension). The study explains that you will notice your newly forming habit becoming easier, and that by the end of 10 weeks, your new habit will be second nature.
Whether you’re experiencing big or small communication breakdowns in your marriage, now is the time to take a small step in a better direction. Turning your focus from your spouse’s behavior to your own behavior is the key. Implement a few small, intentional changes in how you react and respond in tense situations this week, and watch what happens!
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