Three ingredients for a stronger marriage

The cold ground beef squishes between my fingers as I roll it into neat, round balls. One by one, pressing with the palm of my hand, voila, the antithesis of fine culinary dining, the modern American hamburger. It’s 5 o’clock. The nightly local news plays in the background, and the skillet is finally starting to crackle—a familiar sound that tells me it’s ready. Placing the patties inside, the skillet erupts, sizzling and popping ferociously. I stand over it and pear down at my handiwork while I twirl the spatula with my right hand.

Cooking meat. It doesn’t get much more primal than that, and thankfully, I'm not alone.

Maegan’s at the counter next to me dicing an onion. She struggles with the knife at first and then finds her rhythm. I’m always worried she’ll cut herself, but she manages fine. Soon after, she places the knife down leaving a pile of roughly chopped onions and eyes full of squinty tears. We exchange a quick smile and then go about completing our meal. She sets the table. I start washing the pots and pans. All the while, we discuss whatever happened that day or something from the news has caught our attention, but it’s mostly just small talk.

It’s our nightly ritual, and in some small ways it’s like a dance, except it’s not eloquent or perfectly timed or synchronized or anything like that at all. It is magical, but uniquely us.

Every married couple has routines—good or bad, some not unlike the ones above. Have you ever been around a couple that bickers and fights all the time? Or worse, one that barely talks at all? Imagine what it feels like for them. Divorces have doubled since the 1990's for couples over 50, and half of all those divorces are among people who have been married at least 20 years. 'Gray divorce' is a relatively new phenomenon where couples cite fewer concrete factors for divorce such as infidelity, financial constraints, and addiction. If you’re an exuberant young married couple today, these statistics should frighten you.

Thankfully, we can avoid all of that in the first place. I’m not a marriage expert, but I’m a married man going on 15 years. She supported me going back to college and graduate school, and years later I supported her when she started her own business. Like most couples, we stay busy, but that is precisely why we value and cherish what time we do have together and make the most of it.

Somewhere along the way I developed a strategy to ensure that while we’ll inevitably grow old, we’ll never grow apart. It’s like dinner. Any great meal requires great ingredients, and for this one, you’ll only need three: time, communication, and reciprocity.

Time: We have time for everyone else, why not our spouse? It sounds easy, but it’s something you work at. For example, if you don’t have two hours to go to a nice restaurant, you might find 30 minutes to cook a meal together; and while you’re cooking, there’s always plenty of great things to talk about.

Communication: I’m a firm believer that most anything and everything can be figured out if you’re talking about it. You don’t know how to address what is hurting your spouse if you don’t know what’s wrong.

Reciprocity: Be nice and treat each other with respect. Ask any successfully married couple of more than 20 years. They generally treat each other nicely! It’s not complicated.

We have all the ingredients. If you treat your spouse with respect, if you are truly kind and understanding, if you keep open the lines of communication every step, and if you give your spouse the time they deserve and make them the number one priority in your life, you’re one big step closer toward a strong and healthy marriage.

So start cooking!

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