One of the weird habits my wife and I continue to have—after 9 years and 2 kids—is to say “please”, “can I trouble you to…”, and “thank you” even if is a menial request. Our friends often comment, asking, “why are you guys so formal with each other?”
I’d usually reply with a smile and say, “I cannot afford to buy her flowers every day, but this is something I can easily do.”
We realised that it is the philosophy of “small things, often” that is a key trait in our marriage. We believe that the everyday grind is hard enough, and our marriage must be a place where both of us must return to feeling respected, honoured and appreciated.
Trust is a big word in any relationship. However, it is particularly significant in a marriage because trust enables us to be vulnerable with our spouse to and live together without having to second guess intentions or motives.
We can all pinpoint the significant incidents or discoveries like infidelity, pornography or deception that can cause trust to cascade, but ironically, we struggle to name one single event that leads us to trust someone completely. This is because trust is built in small increments. The very nature of trust means it cannot be manipulated or manufactured, and it requires commitment and work.
“Trust is a peculiar resource; it is built rather than depleted by use.” — Travis Bradberry
So how do we build trust in our marriage? Here are four ways you can try.
1. Have Stress-Reducing Conversations
Every day at around 6pm, I would pick my wife up from work. It may only be a 15-minute journey but it’s a precious pocket of time for us to reconnect after a long day at work and have a quick conversation.
This was a time we set aside, save for the days I had evening meetings or other engagements, and it became a window for us to have stress-reducing conversations before we picked the children up and the madness ensued.
A stress-reducing conversation is our way of recalibrating, reminding ourselves that our relationship transcends transactions and expectations of performance. We removed ourselves from thoughts about work and other distractions, and in those short 15 minutes, just listened to each other talk about our day.
Whether it is a good or a bad day, the key is to simply listen to each other, without giving suggestions, solutions or even your opinion on the matter. The sole purpose is to build an alliance with each other, and to remind ourselves that we are on the same team. Tough? Yes. We even joked that this may be tougher for people in more directive roles at work.
Here’s a tip: Try listening to understand the feelings beneath the words, and don’t simply listen to reply.
2. Foster a Culture of Appreciation
According to relationship experts John and Julie Gottman, a culture of appreciation conveys to our spouse our honour and respect for them. An antidote to contempt, it can help to prevent our relationship from turning sour.
As a Jewish proverb goes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” How true!
Think about it as a piggy bank that you can invest in with a coin or two each day. Saying “please” and “thank you” make a small deposit into our marriage’s emotional bank accounts. Imagine how rich you might be by the end of every year!
Tacky as it sounds, but after practising these appreciative habits, my wife was actually able to tell me that she really liked how fast I did the dishes, without me feeling like she was trying to get out of doing the dishes.
Trust enables us to share our dreams with our partners and invites them to partake of our success.
3. Support Your Spouse
Contrary to popular culture’s portrayal, marriage is not the death knell of our dreams. We can support our spouse in their endeavours and dreams; better still, when we share in those same dreams with our spouse, we find ourselves living with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.
A couple-friend I know found convergence in their shared dreams: He wanted to be a coach and she, an entrepreneur. They cleverly worked out how they could work together, helping each other succeed in their goals.
Trust enables us to share our dreams with our partners and invites them to partake of our success. “We keep our eyes focused on the larger picture now,” she told me, “and choose our fights carefully.” He added, “We also figured out how not to fight over things until we knew what we were fighting for.” What a nugget of wisdom from this couple.
We also figured out how not to fight over things until we knew what we were fighting for.
4. Keep Turning Towards
One of the things I learnt to recognise early in my marriage was when my wife was bidding for my attention or affection. Each time she reached out, I could do one of 3 things—positively turn towards her, ignore her, or snap at her for interrupting me.
I’d be honest to say that I do all three; my wife did not marry her pet poodle who will leap and chase its tail each time it was called. However, I have learnt it is about being conscious and deliberate, so that if I were in the middle of something important, I’d still look up and say, “give me a moment.” This affirms her importance, and deposits into the emotional bank account.
Marital trust can only be built upon a sound marital friendship. It is made up of the many small things we choose to do (or not do) each day. Trust is also reciprocal; we need to allow ourselves to recognise the small things and acknowledge them. It is easy to miss something we are not looking out for, much less show appreciation for it.
- What small thing will you do this week to show your love and appreciation for your spouse?
Lai Mun Loon is a partner at Amicus Consulting, which provides counselling, mediation and crisis consulting services. Married to Shumin, they have 2 boys. He divides his time being a father, working and completing his post-grad studies.
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