Actions speak louder than words.
I was taught this as a child and I’ve reinforced this idea to my own children, who are now teenagers. The proof is in the pudding, right—meaning, the way we know what another person believes in or stands for is not only in what they say, but in what they do.
And in what is done consistently, over time.
Words are spoken all too often without a mindful intent to back them up or even a plan of action to put them in place.
“I’m sorry” is famous for this; we apologize for our actions, and then, the actions do not change.
Over time, hearing the words feels empty—promises of life and relationships being better and that’s when distrust begins to seep in. Over 20 years of marriage and counting, I can attest that it is not always easy. It’s been quite excruciating at times and my husband and I have had to grow and get outside our comfort zones in order to make it work.
We’ve challenged each other in ways I’m not sure other people in our lives are capable of doing and we are stronger individually for those challenges. We learn a little bit more about each other every day and with compassion and grace, we work through the obstacles that come our way.
And bottom line, our actions of love provide a foundational strength in our relationship that generates security in the midst of challenges.
The following 10 tips have been helpful tools for us to use along the way. Sometimes, we’re pretty good at following them with consistency and sometimes life gets in the way. We by no means are able to accomplish each of these every day.
Our goals have been to purposefully sprinkle them throughout as our life allows.
1. Listen fully and with intent.
Be a present listener. This hasn’t always been easy for us, but we’ve gotten much better at with practice. Give eye contact. Turn off distractions. Nod. We’ve learned to resist the urge to formulate our own thoughts, become defensive or begin to state our case, as the the other is talking.
2. Add an element of surprise.
We are terrible with surprises, as we tend to ruin them, being so excited ourselves with the anticipation of the surprise. Especially for the big ones. However, the small daily ones we are pretty good at. We try to go the extra mile. He might pick up something at the store that he knows I will like, or bring me a coffee in the middle of the day or even flowers at times. I try to do the same—without the flowers. However, I wonder what he would think if I did.
3. Do something helpful for your partner that is not typical for you.
It’s natural to establish roles in our homes without even discussing them. The one who cooks—cooks. The one who cleans—cleans. The one who takes out garbage—takes out the garbage. We tend to stick with our duties, not necessarily questioning why it’s our role. Do an extra task that is typically the other person’s task. I love when my husband cooks, as that is typically my job, and I think he enjoys when I put an extra load of his laundry in, as he typically does his own—20 years in.
4. Offer and accept physical affection and sexual intimacy.
My husband and I are very affectionate, but he is much better at offering it than I am. Of course, I love it, too—however, we have different levels of need in this area, which is very typical with couples. One person needs/wants it more than the other, and this issue can either be a sticking point and something to argue over—or we can find an acceptable compromise.
We’ve struggled with this issue throughout our 20+ years and sometimes we roll along just fine, and others times—we need to use the reset button. Understanding each others needs and desires have been a learning process as with any couple. Saying “I love you” with physical touch is essential in all of our relationships. Find and maintain a balance that you works for both.
5. Go to bed at the same time as your partner. Wake up at the same time, too.
Of course, this doesn’t happen every night, or every morning. But, when it does, it feels good. Just this morning, I woke up as my husband was getting ready to head to work, even though I had the time this morning to catch another hour of sleep.
He had a big day scheduled and the 30 minutes together this morning allowed me an opportunity to offer support, a kiss, and a good-bye and good luck. I was already with him as he journeyed into his day. And I did that for him because I knew he needed and wanted it.
6. Participate in physical activities together.
My husband and I haven’t always done this, actually. Just in the past few years have we made it a conscious effort. It took me some time to turn him into a yogi, and now we are able to enjoy the benefits of yoga together. His profession is stressful and he’s just now letting himself breathe and relax through the stressful, anxious times.
We CrossFit together, too. Actually, the whole family does. Physical activity and fitness offers us a chance to learn, grow, and stay healthy together.
7. Follow through with agreed upon expectations. Stick to what has been said, as best as possible
When we make agreements to each other—about the kids, the finances, time spent together—we stick to them. This allows us to learn how to count on each other. It builds and maintains trust. And when we realize that we are unable to or no longer willing to follow through, we communicate with each other about changes and tweaks that we would like to make to the agreement.
8. Be present. Know what is going on with the your partner. Observe.
We check in with each other daily. We observe each other. We notice each others moods. We spend the evenings together sometimes doing something that needs to be done, sometimes not. We look forward to each other coming home at the end of the day.
We share the same space when we can. We look forward to reuniting at the end of the day. Upon falling asleep, I take a deep breath and exhale and release, knowing that we are together and whatever the day brought, I am safe, secure and loved.
9. Spend time in reflection and personal growth.
Spend time on your own growth—what makes you tick? Find out. I am much better at this than my husband. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I am not sure I could stop doing this if I tried. However, we have had to learn to do this along the way. We’ve taught each other that the more we know about ourselves—our own feelings, thoughts, behavior— the better we are able to share ourselves with the other. To the relationship. And to the changes we want in our lives.
10. Be the best mom or dad you can be to the kids.
When I see my husband truly connecting, understanding, and being present with my teenagers, I love him more than I can describe. His guidance, strength, and willingness to be vulnerable with them is perfection.
Parenting with another person can be one of life’s most challenging commitments. We have been on differing pages throughout the years with our parenting, and to see the fruits of our labor together taking place before the kids are adults and moved out of the house is truly fulfilling.
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