Linda Lewis Griffith

A few small words; a big difference

Would you like to improve your marriage? It’s much easier than you think. In fact, 15 small words can have a huge impact on how well you and your partner get along.

These words are nothing special. Most are only one syllable long. They’re grouped into simple phrases that everyone can say. Still, they’re important to the happiness of every relationship. And they’re worth repeating over and over again.

‘I love you.’

We all want to feel cherished. We need to feel nurtured and adored. These three words sum up the bond we experience between our partners and ourselves. The key is to express these words as often as we can. I routinely advise couples to say “I love you” every day. Going out the door to work? Say “I love you” as you’re sharing a last good-bye kiss. Talking on the cell phone in the middle of the day? Say “I love you” before hanging up. You can even say “I love you” in the middle of a fight. A phrase such as, “I know we’re not doing well right now. But I love you way more than this problem,” takes the sting out of any issue and reconnects you at the deepest level. Don’t worry about overdoing it. These three words never lose their punch.

‘Thanks.’

Appreciation is a fundamental part of a relationship. Each partner longs to feel valued for what he or she does. Too often daily contributions are overlooked or even degraded, leading to hostility and resentment. Showing appreciation isn’t difficult. It starts with being aware. Take notice of the many things your partner does that make your life run smoothly. Then verbalize heartfelt thanks. You can focus on major issues: “Thanks for going to work every day,” or “Thanks for caring for me when I’m sick.” But don’t forget smaller details: “Thanks for reading to the kids at night,” or “Thanks for getting along so well with my stepmother.” Your spouse will bask in your adoration. You’ll spend more time noticing the good things and less time nitpicking about the bad.

‘You look great.’

Women love getting compliments about their looks. We never tire of hearing that we have cute earrings, a nice haircut or a great outfit. But men like appearance praise, too. They may not spend as long getting ready in the morning as we do. Still, they enjoy hearing, “You’re my he-man” as you playfully squeeze his tush. Even if he brushes you off with an embarrassed “Don’t do that,” deep down he wants more, more, more. Wise partners heap compliments on their sweeties. Everyone benefits when they do.

‘Can I help?’

Offering assistance sends three messages to your spouse. First, it says “I see you’re busy,” and extends a helping hand. Second, it confirms that you are partners and that you’re in this relationship together. Finally, it supports what he or she is doing and says “You matter to me.” Sometimes the need for help is obvious: If you’re trying to cook dinner while the baby is having a meltdown, it’s a no-brainer you could use a second pair of hands. Other situations are more subtle. When my husband is working on a project in his shop he may not actually need my help but he loves having my attention and company.

My action serves as a backdoor “I love you.” His ego gets an unexpected boost.

‘I’m sorry.’

Relationships are breeding grounds for hurt feelings. We frequently step on each others’ emotional toes without intending to do so. As a result, it’s imperative that we learn to apologize and that we do so whenever it’s necessary. A sincere apology acknowledges wrongdoing and accepts responsibility for what’s been done. It expresses sorrow for the transgression we’ve committed and expresses a plan to avoid the same problem in the future. All this can be accomplished in few words: “Wow, I’m sorry I forgot your birthday. That was really bad of me. Trust me. That will never happen again.” Even if you don’t think you’re in the wrong, a swift and sincere apology avoids potential conflict and keeps your relationship on stable ground.

‘I forgive you.’

Once an apology has been sincerely offered, it’s time to drop the issue. It’s not fair to make your partner grovel.

Yes, your anger may have been legitimate. Your mate may have been a real jerk. But holding on to past hurt only eats you alive and puts a severe strain on your marriage. Too many people hold grudges for sport. They view bitterness and revenge as their personal birthright. Unfortunately, they lead sad and bitter lives while blaming everyone else for their misery. Do everyone a big favor and demonstrate swift and thorough forgiveness. Your partner will thank you a thousand times over. Your marriage will thrive as a result.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com

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