5 Exercises that Make Marriages Stronger Get back to focusing on the positive with these five marital enrichment exercises. BY ELLIOTT CONNIE
If you want to strengthen your marriage, start looking at your spouse's positive traits and strengthen them more.
“ When you talk about the problem, don't talk about the negative aspect of it. Instead, position it as an issue that needs a positive solution.”
Making your marriage healthier, stronger, and more pleasurable doesn't have to take months and months of hard work in couples' therapy. In fact, when two partners commit to focusing on solutions rather than problems, and making positive behavioral changes together, they typically experience noticeable improvement right away. This is what I call "marital enrichment."
Here are five marital enrichment exercises to do with your spouse that will make an enormous difference in your happiness and the functionality of your relationship. I have taught these five hands-on exercises to hundreds of couples over the years, and they really work wonders.
Play "50 Questions." The goal of this exercise is to develop a detailed picture of your future together. By identifying what you want your shared future to look like and engaging in conversations about it, spouses are able stay on the same page and consciously shape the relationship as it goes forward. Write down 50 details of what you'd like your relationship to look like one year from now. There are a few rules to this exercise: the list must be created together; each item added to the list must be presented in a positive way (e.g., "We won't be fighting" should be changed to "We will be communicating effectively"); and you must get to 50 items.
Do some "team" building. For this exercise, the goal is to develop roles that each of you will perform in the home, based on each partner's strengths. Hold a meeting with your partner that has a three-part agenda. First, develop a list of strengths for each partner that's at least 10 items long. Second, develop a list of household goals. Third, develop a plan for achieving these goals that utilizes the strengths of each partner. This meeting should be conducted on a monthly basis to review progress and to see whether any new goals need to be established, or any circumstances have changed that may require the roles to be adjusted.
Retell "your story." The purpose of this exercise is to rekindle passionate feelings and romantic thoughts about each other. It's common for husbands and wives to get so involved with everyday burdens and responsibilities that they forget about the reason they got together. Sit down with your partner and recount to each other the story of how you met. Then, together, write down: 10 things each of you did that led to the relationship moving forward from the time you first met; 10 ways each of you let the other know you were interested in building a relationship; and 25 ways you were able to keep the honeymoon phase of the relationship going. The idea here is for this to be interactive.
Acknowledge the good stuff. This exercise gets both of you in the practice of verbalizing your spouse's positive attributes instead of complaining about flaws. Each day, preferably in the evening or at the end of your day, get with your partner and have a conversation about what each of you is noticing about the other that's pleasing to you. The conversation must last at least 10 minutes, and the examples of positives/progress must be recent (within the last few days, or even hours).
Get back into dating behaviors. The goal of this exercise is to reconnect with the dating mentality you once had, and then reestablish those habits. Each spouse should do something consciously, but in secret, for the other partner daily. You have succeeded if you can make your husband or wife smile. Even though this exercise is done individually, it's all about interacting, connecting, and strengthening your bond on a daily basis.
Some of these exercises may bring up issues or problems that you want to discuss. That's all right, as long as you wait until after the exercise is over to talk about the problem. When you talk about the problem, don't talk about the negative aspect of it. Instead, position it as an issue that needs a positive solution.
All of the above strategies are ways of interacting with your spouse that get you both in the habit of focusing on the positive.
Elliott Connie is a best-selling author, well-known couples therapist, and an internationally known speaker and teacher who trains clinicians in Solution-Focused Brief Therapy around the world. His newest book is "The Solution-Focused Marriage." Learn more at www.elliottspeaks.com and follow him on Google+.