baby steps to a closer marriage

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We recently introduced our daughters to the early nineties classic movie What About Bob?. I am a firm believer that wisdom can be found just about anywhere and often times in the most unlikely of places, so I was happy to be reunited with the wisdom of Dr. Leo Marvin when he suggests that Bob take baby steps – “set small, reasonable goals for yourself one day at a time.”

Dr. Leo is a genius. Can I get an amen?!?

In our now 20 years of marriage, I have found no easy magic formula for a successful marriage, but I have concluded a few things. One of them is this: the difference between a close, considerate marriage and a distant, disrespectful one is all in the kind of baby steps one makes each and every day. Small appreciative acts move you closer to one another. Annoying habits move you farther apart.

Now … don’t get all self-righteous and thinking your partner is the only one being annoying. Trust me, you are too.

Maybe you can relate to the annoying habit my husband has of biting his nails. Or my equally annoying habit of cracking every bone in my body. Or maybe she leaves her dirty clothes all over the floor, or he wears his dirty shoes in the house. Maybe he never turns off a light, or she hangs the toilet paper roll the wrong way (i.e. under). Perhaps she leaves empty food containers on the shelf, or he doesn’t roll the toothpaste up from the bottom – in the God-ordained way – and instead squeezes the tube in the middle like your toddler would. Or maybe you can relate to some of these …

I related and laughed at several of these, but these little things add up and can lead to distance in a marriage – both figuratively and literally. If you are knowingly doing something that annoys your spouse, you are disrespecting him or her.

The good news? There’s a cure! The distance created between couples can be decreased by 1) refraining (if possible) from being annoying (which sounds obvious, but needs to be stated), and 2) healing the disharmony with small acts of kindness (which sounds absurdly simple, but Lord knows we all need to be reminded of this).

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! – Luke 6:31

It’s essentially the Golden Rule … to which I will add this: do it for them even if you don’t feel like it. You see, sometimes when we’ve been married for several years, all the annoying baby steps add up to quite a distance – so much so that you’re unable to see the other but as a tiny, belittled blip on the horizon. Small acts of kindness can bring your partner back into focus … because it takes the focus off of yourself and puts it back on them.

Any act of kindness will bring you closer together, however the biggest impact is that which speaks directly to your spouse’s wants and needs. There’s this book call The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I’m not gonna lie, I find it a little hokey, but the premise is good. We all feel loved in different ways: 1) words or affirmation, 2) acts of service, 3) receiving gifts, 4) quality time, and 5) physical touch. The book also states that we find it easiest to express love in the way we receive it best.

I know that my love language is acts of service, and Dave’s is words of affirmation. It’s easy for me to show Dave love by scrubbing the toilet, picking up his dry-cleaning, and doing a mountain of laundry, but it won’t add up to a hill of beans to him. That’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate it, but he doesn’t feel loved by it. But if I send him a quick text at work or leave him a note in his suitcase when he travels or ask him about his day, I’ve hit the jackpot, and we’ve closed the gap caused by the whole toothpaste scandal.

Perhaps you’re in a season in your marriage where the distance between you and your partner seems very far … too far apart to ever close. Let me encourage you today to just focus on today. You don’t need to run a marathon in a day. A few steps in the right direction is all that’s needed. Granted, you may feel like you’re doing all the work while you partner seems to be paralyzed, but do not get tired of doing good. As Paul says in Galatians 6:9 – “If you do not give up, you will get what is coming to you at the right time.”

Don’t be a slacker. Do the work. Bob did.

What is your baby step today towards a closer marriage?

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