Do you want to have an intimate emotional connection most of the time with your spouse? How about a passionate marriage? Or a relationship filled with respect and admiration for each other?
It sounds like the holy grail of marriages, I know. And yet my wife Nancy and I have found these qualities to be not only attainable, but readily achievable by following a formula that we’ve developed. It works for us now.
We have each had to absorb hard lessons through the rocky years of trial and error to get to the place where we can share with others the positive things that we’ve learned.
Having a great marriage is really about doing just two basic things: maximizing constructive behavior that leads to greater intimacy and closeness, and minimizing destructive behavior that pulls a couple apart.
What do I mean? It’s actually pretty simple.
We use the analogy of a “relationship bank account.” Nancy has an account with me and I have an account with her.
Every time one of us does something nice for the other, it's like making a “goodwill deposit” in that person's bank account. But if a person does something irritating to the partner, it's like making a “goodwill withdrawal” from their account.
We have a goal of maintaining a positive balance with each other on a daily basis. Every single day, we want to make bigger deposits than withdrawals with each other. By making sure our accounts with each other are never "overdrawn," we keep our marriage healthy.
Does that sound difficult? It’s not when you know how.
The key for us in maintaining a high level of rapport and trust in our marriage is to practice awareness in all of our interactions with each other. Most of the time, we stay in a good place of feeling in harmony with each other.
But on occasion, we have a rift between us. One or both of us will be in a bad mood, irritable, or tired—all ingredients for a relationship bank withdrawal.
When this happens, we have a strain between us. There can be angry words spoken and feelings of resentment that have us glaring at each other. I’m talking about intense, strong feelings.
The first step to a good marriage is to minimize doing the things in a relationship that lead to a downward spiral.
Numerous couples who don’t know how to diffuse and resolve anger allow a residue of resentment to build up for weeks, months, and years. And over time, this unresolved anger often leads to divorce. We talk to people every week this has happened to.
But Nancy and I have learned how to avoid the negative consequences of our conflicts. There have been many, many times when we’ve diffused the anger, made peace, and completely restored our feelings of closeness, love, and intimacy—all within 30 minutes!
These Steps Will Give You Good Results
Here are the guidelines that we use, so you can minimize negative feelings and restore harmony when you have an argument with your spouse:
Say to your spouse,“I’m sorry for my part in this misunderstanding.” This shows that you take responsibility for your role in a disagreement. It also lessens the tendency for the other person to feel defensive. Often, we are not aware of our part in creating a disagreement. But it will usually become evident if we look for it
Always treat your mate with respect, even when you don’t agree. To do otherwise could harm the relationship irreparably. Above all, don’t ever use insults, name calling, or sarcasm. Such tactics will come back to haunt you.
Minimize blaming your partner on an issue. Instead acknowledge how the issue makes you feel. Blame can block finding creative solutions to a problem.
Minimize defensiveness on your part. This can require courage and humility, because it can mean having to look at your own faults and admit that sometimes you’re wrong.
So now that you’re minimizing your relationship bank withdrawals, you want to build up your deposits. Again, here are just a few of our guidelines for establishing greater rapport with your spouse:
Form the habit of looking for something good in your spouse. You might acknowledge something good your partner has done recently. For example, you might say, “That’s great you got that recognition at work last week.”
Build more fun into your relationship. Laughing together can be very bonding. Do something together that you both enjoy, like dancing, going to a movie, or going for a walk.
Show affection without any expectation of a sexual payoff. Strokes of affection can be saying something like, “I love you” or giving your partner a warm hug. Foot or shoulder massages also can be very welcome.
Express appreciation frequently. Thank your spouse for something specific, like, “I appreciate you picking up the kids today. I know you had to take off from work early. Thank you!”
Using techniques like these, when you've built up large positive reserves of goodwill with each other, will help ensure your relationship stays in good shape. That way, when you need to ask for extra understanding or patience from your spouse, you have enough goodwill accumulated in your account to cover the request.
What are some things you can expect to get by using this system? You'll notice that you are bonding more to your partner. Your emotional intimacy is enhanced and sex becomes better. You may even feel that your marriage is reborn.
Once you get started, this process feeds upon itself! As you repeat making your deposits with your partner, you condition yourself and you condition the relationship itself.
You’ll find your marriage spiraling upward to a level you never imagined possible. Try it. It works.