5 Choices That Will Instantly Improve Your Marriage

The first time we went to marriage counseling, my mind was blown by how not mindblowing it was. What I mean is that I imagined the therapist as Gandalf working on a long pipe and leaning back after listening for an hour to say something so profound it would move me to tears. Instead, he told me I didn’t know how to listen well to my wife. And then he gave me some tools to learn to do that better.

While that didn’t blow my mind, it did change my life. Often the most profound things are not complicated, but they are difficult to do. And if you’re wondering how to improve your marriage, I would propose there are some remarkably simple but difficult things you can do immediately. Here are 5 choices that will instantly improve your marriage.

1. Leave work at work.

“Even when you’re here, you’re not here.” That statement from my wife was like a punch to the gut. I’d always considered myself a dad who worked hard not to be away from home more than I needed to be. I wanted to be there for my wife and my kids. But my wife was pointing out that they needed more from me than my presence in the room. They needed my attention.

Is your work stressing you out? See a counselor. Can’t stop checking emails on your phone? Put it in a drawer at a designated time for the remainder of the evening. Many of us have the kinds of jobs that don’t fit neatly in a 9 to 5 window. As much as possible, you need to set clear boundaries between work and home. If you’re wondering how to improve your marriage, leave work at work.

2. Put your phone down at dinner.

Speaking of distraction, that phone is a problem. Many of us have it on us around the clock (it’s even our alarm clock, so it’s there when we sleep!). This means that in one of the most sacred family spaces—the dinner table—it’s easy to find ourselves “quickly” responding to that request from the boss or just checking the score of the game or catching up on the news after a busy day.

How many times have you had to ask your wife to repeat what she said because you were only partially listening (which isn’t really listening at all) due to the notification that just popped up on your phone? Dinnertime is often a key time for connection. If you’re wondering how to improve your marriage, put your phone down at dinner.

Your wife needs you as engaged at home as you are at work.

3. Do the dishes.

I get it—you’ve had a busy day. All you want to do is take it easy after a long day at work. But you aren’t the only one who’s had a busy day. The problem is we are often so myopic that all we can see is our own experience. All we notice are our own emotions. So we think, “Someone else can handle the dishes.” Which probably means your wife.

In the end, this isn’t really about doing the dishes. It’s about thinking outside yourself. In some households, the wife is happy to do the dishes while the husband happily takes on other needed chores. The point is, your wife needs you as engaged at home as you are at work, stepping up to do what needs to be done, even if you don’t always feel like it. If you’re wondering how to improve your marriage, you could start by offering to do the dishes.

4. Ask about her day.

It’s really natural to need time to decompress after work. You’ve got a thousand things coming at you and often you leave your desk with a long list of things you’d hoped to get around to but will have to wait until tomorrow. Walking in the door to a house full of kids and an entirely different to-do list can make it all feel pretty overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a very long commute.

All of this means taking the time to ask your wife about her day can easily fall to priority number 37. That’s why it’s critical that you develop a habit of connecting with your wife when you get home. Between shuttling to practice, helping get dinner on the table, mowing the lawn or whatever else needs to happen, your wife needs to know she’s a priority. If you’re wondering how to improve your marriage, take five minutes to look your wife in the eyes and ask her about her day.

5. Go to bed together.

My wife loves sleep. She just needs more than I do, so she will happily go to bed at 9:30 p.m. if our schedule allows. I’m the opposite. I would much rather get something done, watch the game, or read a book. This means it’s really easy for us to just default to separate bed times.

While this isn’t always bad, going to bed together is an important way to continue to cultivate intimacy. I’m not just talking about sex, though that’s part of it. Beyond the physical intimacy, some of the most intimate and important conversations happen as you lie there next to each other talking about your day. So while it’s not possible every night, if you’re wondering how to improve your marriage, choose three or four nights a week to go to bed together.

Sound off: What other choices can you make to improve your marriage?

Huddle up with your wife and ask, “What’s one thing we could do that you think would make our marriage stronger?”