Six words that can save your marriage

“It means a lot to me…”

These magical words can go far to save your marriage from stagnation or decline.

People want to live meaningful lives.  We want to make a difference at our job, in our community, at our church, in our families, and to our friends.  We want to matter.

That’s why you feel awesome when your husband or wife says to you, “It means a lot to me when you do the dishes.”  You had an impact on that person by doing the dishes.  You matter to that person.

When you forget what matters

Marriages struggle for lots of reasons, but complacency can be especially noxious.  When you take your spouse for granted you’re taking a big risk.  Our desire to matter is powerful and it makes us vulnerable to those we love.

There is no better feeling than when you make yourself vulnerable to a loved one and they handle you with care. (Except maybe eating a box of girl scout cookies.  That feels pretty good.)

seven principles for making marriage workThe reverse is also true.  When you go out on a limb to show love and your spouse takes that love for granted that hurts.  This kind of hurt can lead to what Dr. John Gottman calls The 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse.

In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman discusses how these four horseman (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) destroy marriages.

I’m not affiliated with the Gottman Institute, but I really like how this video explains these 4 types of negativity.

Antidotes to negativity

If you want to save your marriage from the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse, then you need to get creative with how you use “it means a lot to me…”

The video talks about dispelling criticism by talking about your feelings using “I-statements” and expressing positive needs.  I-statements are best explained in contrast to “you-statements.”

“You are never home on time. You’re so selfish!” This is a you-statement and feels like an attack.

“I feel overwhelmed when you aren’t home on time because I look forward to your help with the kids.”  This is an I-statement.  It accomplishes the same thing that the you-statement attempts to accomplish, but in a way that is more likely to be accepted and acted upon.

Variations of “it means a lot to me” are perfect follow-ups to I-statements.  For example, you could express your desire for your spouse to be home on time like this:

“It means so much to me when you’re home in time to help with kids so I can make dinner.”

You could also use it in the form of a request like this:

“It would mean a lot to me if you were home in time to help with the kids so I can make dinner.”

It’s not what you say, but how you say it

Tone and body language are important.  This is one reason it’s a bad idea to have important conversations via text messages or email.

Imagine your spouse asking, “when will you be home?” with a smile and a lilt in his voice.  Now imagine the same question asked with a scowl and a sigh.  Sometimes the words you say have little to do with the message you’re sending.

This is important to keep in mind when you are trying to use “it means a lot to me.”  These words can’t work their magic if they aren’t said in the right way.  If we are to learn anything from Harry Potter it’s that in order for words to work magic, they must be said correctly (“It’s ‘Levi-O-sa’, not ‘Levio-SA'”).

Practice makes progress

When I was a kid my karate teacher used to say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Nobody’s perfect. Practice makes progress!”

If you want to save your marriage from complacency, negativity, and monotony then you need to practice.

Practice showing gratitude: “It meant a lot to me when you listened to me talk about my frustrating day.”

Practice taking responsibility: “I can see that what I said made you upset.  You mean so much to me.  I’m sorry.”

Practice assertiveness: “It would mean a lot to me if you would take out the trash.”

The more you practice, the more progress you’ll make.

P.S. It would mean a lot to me if you would leave a comment below and subscribe to my blog…

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Comments

  1. It means a lot to me that you write such great stuff. I really enjoyed reading this and try to (and will continue to) in my own marriage.

  2. Great reminder to be more mindful about the words we choose with those we love the most. Incredible how just the tone of a sentence can completely change the meaning and the feeling. Thanks for the awesome post!

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