New Year’s Resolution- Work on Marriage

While driving from Phoenix to Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, I asked my husband out of the blue, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our marriage?”  Now, this wasn’t a loaded question, we’ve been married for 11 years, and have achieved a level of predictability in our lives that poses as happiness.

Mark’s answer was about what mine was in my head, “6-7,” he said.  I agreed with him and started thinking about what it would take to get our marriage to a 10.  Embarrassingly, this is not something I’ve ever thought of in this way before. I mean, we have worked through regular marriage stuff, but we’ve never stepped back and tried to strategically improve our relataionship with measurable goals and (gasp!) accountability for meeting those goals. Instead of “quality of marriage” as an ill-defined item at the bottom of my list, it rocketed to the top. This is something we can do! Improving our marriage is something we have control over (as opposed to our toddler waking up every night) and it’s something we want to improve, and it’s important.  Let’s do it! (I’m talking aloud and Mark is just staring blankly at the rode, driving in silence. This is typical). Instantly, I’m thinking of books we can read together and discuss, marriage retreats we can attend, hobbies we can start together.  This is going to be fun! (Mark still doesn’t know, I’m going to forward him the link to this post, hee hee!)

You can see the snowball effect here, right?  I started brainstorming, I got excited.  My mind filled with a surprising amount of concrete ways to measure a good marriage, and even some ways to quantify the more nebulous qualities. For example, I’ve always known that sex (aka, Special Couple Time) and a happy marriage were linked, but for years I was puzzled about the causal relationship. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It was just this year that I realized that for us, the sex comes first, the happy marriage comes next. So, that went on my list of measurable ways to continue improving our marriage.

Next was date night. My mother has been living with us for a few months and we’ve had a lot more time to go out (she’s happy to babysit, especially if the kids are asleep before we leave). We are fortunate to go out almost every weekend.  It’s really beneficial for our realtionship to have time together, away from the kids. I wish every couple could have a weekly date night.

I added some behaviors to the list- listening, respect, affection. These are harder to measure, but if I review list weekly, I’m more likely to listen to Mark, be affectionate and respectful on a daily basis and we can talk openly about times when I’m not (and how I’m justified because he was being ridiculous).

EmilyCC gave me a book for my birthday, Flunking Sainthood, by Jana Riess.  I’m really enjoying it and thinking that I’d like to adapt it to marriage improvement this year. We’ll try to read a different marriage book each month and work on a specific aspect of marriage.

Does you have suggestions for our reading list? I’m thinking the 7 Love Languages, and maybe one on parenting.

So, here’s my New Year’s resolution “Marriage Improvement” list that I got from the top of my head, but I’d love more ideas or links to good sites/posts.

Quantifiable Goals

Weekly Date Night

Special Couple Time (X times per week)

Weekly calendaring (many of our disagreements come from not planning ahead with each other. Ex: “What? I was going to basketball, we can’t go to XYZ!”)

Planning ahead for vacations, budgeting, etc.

2-3 Therapy sessions during the year (we have a great therapist, but haven’t seen her in years)

Create a parenting plan (I’d like some ideas on this, if you have a suggestion)

Divide Household tasks with a timeline (I’m starting school, so this will get a little tricky)

Squishy Goals








I’d like to review this plan every month on the first Sunday of the month and see where we’re making progress and where we’re falling short.  Looking at the list, I can see that it’s a lot to do, but that even some of the smaller things (like calendaring) can make a big difference in how we get along. I’m also seeing some themes which would help in a monthly (or bi-monthly) book list. Parenting, communication, intimacy, love-languages, are all topics I’d like for us to read this year.

Another way to show accountability would be to post monthly or quarterly updates here at Exponent for the year. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that. That would be more accountability for sure.

Lastly, I did just talk to Mark about the plan (but I’ll probably still send him a link). He was doing some online gaming so he said, “Yeah.”

I’m pretty sure he’s in. This is going to be great!

What is your New Year’s Resolution?

Have you tried marriage improvement strategies? Have they been successful?






Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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38 Responses

  1. WOW! Special couple time Roman Numeral X times per week!? You goddess.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    LOL! I was just trying to maintain a small level of privacy here 🙂

    X is just a placeholder for whatever number we come up with. (You know, since we haven’t actually sat down and discussed this yet).

  3. Kirsten says:

    I like your ideas here. I had been thinking of the same thing–how to strengthen my marriage- lately. After reading your thoughts I think I’ll have a discussion with my hubby and see what we can do to work on things. Thanks for posting!

  4. spunky says:

    I really like “Love Is Forever: Timeless Marriage Advice From Leading Lds Counselors and Speakers. [Audio CD]”. It is a compliation of different bits from marriage lectures, and I highly recommend it. Some of it is rather- er, old school… but we enjoyed listening to a bit of it, then discussing what we agreed or disagreed with the speakers about. It was a real eye opened for me about relationships in general, about me and what I need in a relationship, and it was fun to listen to. We seem to have a lot of road trips, so this worked well for us. Its a fun project to improve your marriage!!!

  5. Janell says:

    I think that devoting attention, time, and thought into improving a marriage is a perfect New Year’s Resolution. I should give some thought of my own on the subject and what I can improve upon this year.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t any recommendations to help you on your goals. What you have described is effective in your marriage tells me that all of my advice need not apply as my husband and I have a different operating style. Good wishes on your journey!

  6. Your plans sound good, but I suspect the accountability review would cause most husbands to downgrade the happiness level of their marriage a couple of notches. Men just don’t seem as interested in discussing relationships as women are.

    • Two of Three says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I applaud those husbands who take an interest in (or at least tolerate) marriage improvement by deliberate action.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Yes, I can see this as well. It will be interesting to see how things shake out as we (I) work on this plan. I’ll keep you updated 🙂

    • Cari Clark says:

      Exactly what I was thinking! Most husbands would not go along with a proscribed thing like this. I think you might want to read Dr. Laura’s book “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” before you embark on remaking your marriage. Even if you don’t like Dr. Laura, she has great insights on what makes men tick.

    • Annie B. says:

      It does seem like a guy would be much less into the listing and planning of relationship improvement, and might even suspect it as a roundabout way of getting him to shape up. I do think it’s a good jumping off point though, and I think can be good as long as the wife focuses on what *she* can do to make things better, rather than dictating to her husband what *he* needs to do to make things better.

    • amelia says:

      You know, I think we sell men short, frankly. I don’t see any reason why a man would be less willing or capable of making a conscious effort to improve his marriage than a woman. And I don’t think there’s any inherent reason why a man would be uninterested in doing so or would be resistant to doing so. I admit that I have not been married, but I have been in serious relationships. And they have involved conversations about making them work better. And my partners haven’t been resistant or felt like I was making some kind of passive aggressive attempt to get them to shape up. In my mind, these comments reveal a lot about how we think about relationships as a culture. It’s the woman who is the conscious, thinking partner (where relationship dynamics are concerned), the one who values the relationship and wants to hold on to it so much that she’ll do the hard work to make it good or even just to hold onto it. It’s the man who’s just along for the ride, takes no responsibility for the health of the relationship, can’t be bothered to think about making it better; and if he is bothered, it’s because us pesky nagging women are trying to manipulate him into being something other than he is and can’t just respect that he needs to retreat into his cave and scores points in a relationship differently than we do (John Gray reference; disgusting).

      Yes, I realize I’m exaggerating the attitudes of these comments, but I do see that underlying dynamic at work here. It’s an endemic and, in my opinion, deeply problematic attitude in our society. And I think it sells men short, paints women as passive aggressive nags, and results in less healthy relationships than more healthy ones. It’s the basic premise of tripe like John Gray’s Mars&Venus books (bleh). I don’t buy it. I’ve found that honesty and plain speaking goes a long way when it comes to the health of my relationships. I don’t assume my partner is not interested in consciously making our relationship healthy; I assume he wants to be in it as much as I do and is as committed to keeping it healthy. Sure these things flux over time, and sometimes I may be more invested in consciously working on a relationship than my partner or vice versa, but if I didn’t think that my partner was as deeply committed to doing the hard work of keeping our relationship healthy, he wouldn’t be my partner.

      Okay. That turned into a bit of a rant. 🙂 Sorry. It’s sort of a pet issue of mine.

      • Annie B. says:

        That’s quite possible. I have to say though that at the beginning of my marriage me and my husband leaned more toward the stereotypical “Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus” couple. I was much more insecure and didn’t communicate what I needed very well, and my husband was in most cases oblivious to what I needed, and not inclined to ask. I don’t think it was a matter of us not being willing to work at our relationship as it was we didn’t have the hands-on experience. A rift in a marriage improvement project could also just be the fact that the guy might go about the “project” in a whole different way, and might even feel weird about calling it something so in-organic as a “project” in the first place.

    • amelia says:

      I’ll add that I do see how the accountability review idea could be a bit annoying or guilt-inducing (though I don’t think that’s gender-specific; I think it has more to do with personalities). I like the idea of checking in on progress, but I think I personally would take a bit less formal approach. Of course, I think something like this is pretty specific to the particular people involved, so maybe a formal checking in is what would work best for Jessawhy and Mark.

  7. lyn says:

    i loved this. we’re coming out of a year that was super hard (not marriage-wise, just life) and 2012 will be the year to rebuild! lots to think about – we get into auto-pilot too often. i handed my husband the laptop to read and he rated us a 6-7 as well, so looks like we have some work to do!

    really, thanks for posting this.

    • Jessawhy says:

      lyn, autopilot is the easiest for marriage, I think. It’s often the last place I think of investing time and energy. It’s mostly crisis-management around here, I think.
      I hope that even if we don’t meet goals (or even have accountability) that the focus for the year will help us invest more in each other.

  8. Caroline says:

    These are great ideas! Here’s a thought: regarding planned scheduling, my husband and I have found it very useful to use the google calendar (that tab up at the top left when you are in your gmail). Our calendars are linked, so whatever one puts up there, the other one sees. We both check our calendars daily, so this works for us.

    Your other ideas are really good — I’m going to try to be more conscientious about these things as well. I can’t remember the last time my husband and I went out to the movies together.

    • Jessawhy says:

      I do use google calendars, the problem is that neither of us use it exclusively (I have a dry-erase calendar in my kitchen that I use most often) and it’s still a problem.
      Like today, I forgot about a birthday party my kids were invited to (I was sick today, granted) and my 9 yo was crushed.
      Calendars only work when you look at them.

    • whirlygirl says:

      Another endorsement for Google Calendar here! Especially if you both have smartphones that integrate google calendar (pretty sure most, if not all, do), it’s even easier to coordinate plans and stay informed about each other’s schedules!

    • whirlygirl says:

      Another endorsement for Google Calendar here! Especially if you both have smartphones that integrate google calendar (pretty sure most, if not all, do), it can be even easier to coordinate plans and stay informed about each other’s schedules!

  9. MB says:

    Lastly, I did just talk to Mark about the plan (but I’ll probably still send him a link). He was doing some online gaming so he said, “Yeah.”

    I’m pretty sure he’s in. This is going to be great!

    I like your goals. Very much.

    This last bit just cracked me up. Recognized myself and my own man. I’m a organizer and a planner married to an excellent lover and conscientious husband. Though he regularly and thoughtfully works to make our marriage really good he NEVER particularly likes to articulate his thoughts about how we are doing. Always feels uncomfortable with that.

    If, in the next life, I am blessed with super-human abilities to read his mind well enough so that he doesn’t have to articulate his opinions about relationships he will feel so relieved. 🙂

    Best wishes. I’ll be interested in your follow up posts.

  10. MB says:

    And you asked about successful marriage improvement strategies. One thing that comes to mind was the implementation of “20 minutes of touch and talk” each day. Just figured a way to engage him in pleasant conversation while maintaining physical contact (hand on knee or on back, foot to foot, whatever) for 20 minutes each day. Life gets crazy-busy. Making time to touch and talk helps us stay aware of each other and remember the fact that we enjoy each other’s company.

    I’ve gotten out of the habit lately. I think I’ll renew that.

  11. Jessawhy says:

    Maybe my tongue-in-cheek bit about doing this marriage improvement on my own was a little misguided given the seriousness of the subject. I think I’d probably better clarify a little.
    I’m hoping to change my behaviors in most of these ways to do my part to improve our marriage.
    For his part, Mark does a pretty great job at marriage. He’s more even-keel than I am and is somewhat of a “pleaser,” trying to keep the people around him happy (where I just want to demonstrate how hard my job is all the time to get sympathy). Of course there are things he can work on, but I’m not going to start pointing that stuff out to him.
    I’m just hoping to put more focus on how to make things run smoothly between us (because I think Mark already does this naturally) and how to actually appreciate him more. In the past, when I’ve been successful with this, it ends up improving our marriage.
    Having an organized goal with a list is just a way to take a good intention and help make it a reality. Perhaps we won’t achieve all the goals, but trying to improve our marriage is a good start.

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions of books!

  12. Annie B. says:

    If that is an actual picture of you two, you look adorable together. I like this idea a lot, and even just rating the relationship seems like a helpful way for each individual to be aware of how the other feels about where they’re at. Who doesn’t want a 10 relationship with their spouse? I remember doing something similar in the earlier years of my marriage (year 2 maybe? we’re currently in year 10) and it was ultimately good. Now it seems like we have a “where we’re at” talk after any major crisis or turning point.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Thanks for the compliment on the photo. I forgot to mention that we were at a cupcakery in NYC a few months ago and happened to be sitting right under that sign, so my cousin snapped a picture.

  13. Annie B. says:

    Oh, and as far as suggestions for improvements go, the one thing that has improved my relationship with my husband the most actually had nothing to do with my husband at all. It was having a hobby of my very own that adds value to my life, gives me a creative outlet, and helps me feel like a whole person outside of my roles as wife, mother ect. I’ve been doing hula-hooping and other forms of alternative fitness lately, which helps me decompress, but also makes me feel more desirable. That has really helped my physical (and all other aspects of my) relationship with my husband.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Annie B,
      I really like the idea of a hobby (I probably have too many). Fitness is important to me as well and I think feeling desirable in marriage is crucial. Mark is better about telling me that he finds me attractive than I am about telling him. Probably it’s because as a woman I am less visually stimulated than he is. I’d much more attracted to him when he does the dishes for example 🙂

  14. amelia says:

    when my dad was stake president and regularly interviewed couples getting married (and, I’m sure, a few having marriage problems), his regular piece of advice was to make sure that fives times every day you specifically communicate the fact that you love your partner, either in words or actions. He had a few couples come back and thank him for that advice. And I’ve watched it work for my parents. They’ve been married 50 years and are very much in love now in their 70s. It’s something I admire about them–they communicate their love to each other very clearly and very regularly. I’m sure it has helped their marriage stay strong. And I know it has had a positive effect on my siblings and I.

    • Annie B. says:

      I would say that is very sound advice. I gotta add that actions in between the “I love you”s can determine how much the “I love you”s mean. My dad lost his temper a lot and was just generally not very sympathetic or understanding to my mom and all that she did to take care of him and us kids. Apologies (at least in front of us kids) were non-existant. On a few occasions I’d see my mom very subtly cringe as my dad would lean in to kiss her. I should add that he’s improved vastly over the years.

  15. Ziff says:

    Wow, Jess! I admire your focus and all the thinking you’ve already put into this. A couple of random thoughts:

    EmilyCC is clearly the best friend ever, giving you Flunking Sainthood. What a great book! My sister Kiskilili gave it to me for Christmas.

    I’d like to review this plan every month on the first Sunday of the month and see where we’re making progress and where we’re falling short.

    Just a thought: If you’re fasting, break your fast before you have any serious discussion. 🙂

    Finally, a book recommendation: Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. Tannen is what John Gray would have been if he knew what he was talking about. Okay, less snarkily, she’s a linguist, and this book is about differences in women’s and men’s conversational styles she’s observed. One issue that she discusses that my wife and I have found very helpful is that of meta-messages, the implied messages that come along with the things we say. (For example, “You’re going to wear *that*??” conveys the meta-message “That looks horrible.”) Since reading the book, when we’re discussing points of potential contention, my wife is very good at explicitly pointing out possible meta-messages in what she’s saying, and telling me which are inadvertent and which she intends. She’s also very good at drawing me out and getting me to make explicit the messages I want to send and clarify which meta-messages I might not intend.

    I may have butchered the description, but I definitely recommend the book as one of your twelve.

    Good luck! I bet this will be a good year for you!

  16. childless says:

    I can empathize with what people said above about the monthly review actually being demotivating rather than helpful. And I know that my husband hates me pushing books at him because he often feels like I’m just telling him how to think rather than really interested in having a discussion about the content. One way that we’ve compromised so that we both get what we need (I’m very task-oriented so I really thrive on checklists and accountability reviews) is I make a note in my calendar every week to ask him how I’m doing as a wife and what I can do better. That way, the “checklist” part is all on me. He almost always takes that as a cue to ask me the same question and we have a great discussion about things we can do over the next week to improve our relationship. And then sometimes HE’S the one to suggest we set a goal (X number of times a week, or date night) or something and so we don’t feel like one of is always bossing the other one. Just another suggestion to add to the mix.

  17. Rebecca says:

    This is fantastic. And based on the lovely picture of you two, I’d guess you were a 10 couple. Maybe we all have days that are 10, and days that are more like a 3. At least that’s the way it works around my house.

    I’m a goal-setter, but I’ll admit that my relationship with my spouse is something I probably take for granted. And it’s something that always needs adjusting. Sometimes the parenting role adds a lot of stress. Whoops! I mean, lots of opportunities for growth. 😉 I sometimes wonder how our relationship will morph as the kids mature. It was certainly very different in the 5 years before children.

  18. mountaingirl says:

    I really liked the “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman. It’s been some time since I read it, but if I remember right it had some interesting exercises, questionairres and thoughts. It is quite practical. I read it on my own and just asked my guy to participate in some of the exercises. I think it is powerful either reading and applying on your own or together. Good luck!

  1. December 11, 2012

    […] part of a  New Year’s Resolution to work on our marriage, Mark and I have been reading books about relationships, seeing a […]

  2. January 6, 2013

    […] motiondesmiths, commenting on Jessawhy’s post “New Year’s Resolution- Work on Marriage” at the Exponent, where she listed goals for improving her marriage, including “Special couple time (X times per week)”: WOW! Special couple time Roman Numeral X times per week!? You goddess. […]

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