Another year has flown by and 2018 has arrived, along with the annual list of resolutions that many of us make but too often struggle to keep. Even if we don’t actually write them down, we all probably have at least a mental list of things we would like to change or do better this year, and many of these goals involve improving our relationships. For those of us who are married, the most important New Year’s resolutions we will make and should strive to keep are those aimed at strengthening and protecting our bond with our spouse.
To that end, we invited a few Institute for Family Studies’ fellows and regular contributors to share some marriage-strengthening resolutions for 2018. Here are their suggested tips for making our marriages stronger in the coming year and beyond:
1. “Double down on your positive time together.”—Scott Stanley, IFS senior fellow and a research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, married 35 years with 2 children.
Examine your leisure time. Are you regularly doing something with your spare time, as a couple, that you both enjoy doing? Too many couples mostly do things that only one partner enjoys. It is important to find things to do together that you both like doing together. If you do not have any obvious ideas, brainstorm some options together. Refine your list so that it only includes things that you both enjoy and want to do. When you find one or two things you both like, work on ways to keep that going.
2. “Turn off your phones.”—Naomi Schaefer Riley, New York Post columnist, married 13 years with three children.
Stop being distracted when you’re supposed to be with your family. Don’t post pictures of your kids on social media. Don’t communicate electronically with your spouse when you are in the same house.
3. "Listen to your wife."—Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor at National Review, married 8 years with two children.
My wife and I started dating when we were 19, and now we're in our early-to-pushing-mid 30s with two kids, so I suppose I should have some advice of the leading-by-example variety to share. But instead, I'll share something that (I'm told) I do quite poorly: Listen more. We men (and probably some women, too) often have our minds somewhere else—work, video games, what we should have said to that moron on Twitter—during what ought to be family time. Our marriages would be better if we got that under control.
4. “Make a baby (or more babies) with your spouse in 2018.”— Lyman Stone, IFS research fellow and an economist, married 2 years and 9 months—no kids (yet).
America's fertility rates are collapsing at an alarming speed, with new declines becoming apparent in every new month of data. This will have dire consequences for our long-term economic future.
5. “Find at least one older, wiser married couple to spend time with this year.”—Alysse ElHage, IFS editor, married 15 years with two children.
Some of us don’t come from families with strong marriages to inspire us in our own relationships. When we look at our parents’ failed marriages, we only see what not to do, and let’s face it, it can be very discouraging. That’s why it’s important to seek out and spend time with older couples who’ve been married for a long time and can model a long and healthy marriage. In addition to providing wisdom and guidance, these older, longer-married couples can offer younger couples hope that a lasting marriage is possible.
6. “Forgive your spouse and remember that you need forgiveness, too.”—Laurie DeRose, IFS senior fellow and research director of the World Family Map, married 10 years with five children.
Most of our spouses will need forgiveness in 2018. But it's important to remember that we all stand in need of forgiveness. Don’t approach conflict with the idea that you need to defend yourself; assume that you need to plead guilty and explore why that is true. We may or may not receive forgiveness from our spouse, but the meekness that recognizes our own need for forgiveness is a much better starting place than the pride that assumes our spouse is the problem.
7. “If you struggled in your marriage last year, don’t wait too long to get help.”—Scott Stanley
Most people wait far too long to try to turn things around when their marriage is going downhill. It does not have to be that way. There are a lot of things you can do to up your game when your marriage is struggling. While you can easily think of all sorts of things that your mate could be doing better, focus on what you have the most control over—yourself. Here are a few ideas:
- Read a good book on marriage or take a workshop together (there are some online options if there is nothing locally). Here is a list to get you started.
- Don’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. Sometimes when marriages get tough, people threaten to quit or to get a divorce, with statements often said in anger, like, “I don’t even know why I married you,” or “There’s no point to staying together if you are going to be that way.” If you want your marriage to work, you can’t keep saying things that suggest there is no future.
- If you both agree, seek counseling together.
- Whatever you do, don’t wait to start doing something different that can improve your marriage.