It’s easy to remember to maintain a relationship when it’s new, but as the years pass, somehow we all forget how important it is to maintain it WHILE it’s healthy and not just give it attention when things are bad. If we take time to maintain our relationship while it’s healthy, we won’t find it suddenly starving for love and affection, us spending all our energy simply to revive it only to bring it back to the tipping point before it went bad. It’s exhausting! And, it’s not sustainable. So, what’s one way to keep our relationships healthy and maintain it?
My husband and I ask each other the same three questions each week, three questions that deepen our love and understanding of one another, assist us and encourage us in serving one another, and helps us sort out small issues before they become BIG issues. Here they are: “What makes you feel loved?” “What have I done that hurt you or disappointed you?” “How can I better serve you?”
“What makes you feel loved?”
Sometimes we don’t even realize what small things make our spouse feel loved. I remember telling Tucker that when he got me water at night it made me feel loved. And, it’s TRUE! Love languages come in all forms and sometimes the small things truly turn out to be the BIG things in a marriage. (Ladies, I know you want to say “Well, if he was paying attention, he should know what makes me feel loved.” PLEASE don’t fall into this fallacy – it’s not as easy as we want to believe. Everyone gives love differently, receives love differently, and processes love in a unique way.)
This question serves multiple purposes 1) affirmation: telling your spouse that they make you feel loved and recognizing the things they do by name 2) recognition of love language: some people feel most loved when they are given a gift, others by physical touch, and others by acts of service, etc. We don’t know unless we ask, well unless you take this test (which I highly recommend!!) http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/. 3) Encouraging love acts to continue: When we tell our spouse what makes us feel loved, we give them confidence in their ability to love us well and feel encouraged to continue pursuing us, finding out what little things say “I love you.”
“What have I done that hurt you or disappointed you?”
This is the most humbling question of them all. And it’s a tough one, but so very important to ask. Sometimes the answer to this question surprises me. Sometimes we have NO IDEA that a small thing we are doing is creating pain or tension – sometimes things we do send a signal to our spouse we never intended. But, how would we know unless we asked and gave them a chance to voice it? Perhaps it’s “Being on your phone makes me feel that you’d rather talk to other people than me when I am sitting beside you” and this is something that’s never occurred to us until pointed out. This realization is much better than a month down the road it becoming “You never want to talk to me or hang out with me!!” (and then wondering where that accusation even came from!) When being confronted and after fully listening, perhaps you need to explain your intentions and what you meant to do. You might admit you had no idea that it hurt the other person and you’ll work on it. You may admit you have a problem with this and need help and patience working through it.
Asking this question is important. It shows your spouse you care for how they feel and you care about what your actions say toward them. Asking it prompts them to have a safe place and time to respond, and to reflect on your actions. Also, it gives you accountability. You know the next time you all talk, you will be held accountable for your actions that week, and you will feel the full force of how it made your spouse feel.
The first time you ask this question, it might be very emotional as there is a lot to go over and maintain: there may be YEARS that have passed without allowing the other person to fully tell you how they feel. Perhaps then the first time you ask, it may be better just to start with “this week” and build trust in telling one another your hurts. It’s important to NOT be defensive and allow the other to speak. It’s important to say “I’m sorry I hurt you,” not because you’re right or wrong, but because even IF you were right, it still hurt. It still caused the person you love pain. It’s important to get at the heart issue . . . is it because you’re on your phone at dinner that they feel hurt – that it’s simply the phone? Or is it truly because they feel like you’ve abandon them finding other things more important than the person you said “I do” to sitting in front of them.
In time, the hurt list gets shorter because you learn each other better, you begin to make adjustments quicker, and you learn how to read each other better. You also learn to communicate better, and to feel secure and safe in communicating the hard stuff. Ideally, there’s less hurt because you grow to understand each other and you know you will be held responsible for the actions you do and words you say. In other words, you may get away with doing something that hurts the other person if you truly don’t know it hurts them, BUT, after it is voiced, if you do it again, you do it FULLY knowing that it will hurt that person. That then is a MUCH greater offense.
“How can I better serve you?”
This is one of my favorite questions. We should never stop serving one another, never stop pursuing each other’s affections and heart. If each spouse is looking after the other’s best interests, then BOTH of you are being loved, served, and cared for. You can trust one another, and you can grow in a healthy relationship. However, if, for example, the husband is serving his wife, and the wife is serving only herself and her interests, you can see where the husband would grow tired and resigned. Who is serving him? Who is encouraging him? Thus, serve one another – each of you is cared for and you grow together in love and affection. Of course it gets tiring at times, it would be a lie to say it doesn’t – but I promise you will feel better serving the one you love than looking back ten years from now wondering what ways you continued pursing your spouse’s heart.
Different seasons will bring different answers to this question. I know after we had our daughter, I needed Tucker to help me with household chores, and that’s how he could better serve me. Before Tali, it was simply sitting next to me in the evening and talking to me without our phones next to us. This is another reason why you should continually be asking this question, each season of life brings new needs.
There is so much more I could say, but I think it’s best to stop here and allow you to find your own path, as every relationship is unique. Of course, feel free to ask me questions in the comments below.
I hope this post assists you and encourages you to love greater, understand deeper, trust fully, and maintain a healthy relationship/marriage. Marriage is so beautiful, but it’s not always easy — especially when you stop communicating both the good AND the bad. In fact, this conversation above won’t always be easy, but I can tell you the more often you do it (and not shy away from it), the more trust that is built, the barriers fall down, security and trust grows, and you love deeper — and even look forward to these chats as my husband and I do! I encourage you to begin asking these questions and seek your spouse’s answer in love, humility, patience, kindness, and respect.
**Please understand this post is for maintaining a relationship. For a relationship that’s already full of disrespect, pain, and neglect, this approach alone is not a solution. Please seek professional counseling if you are experiencing an extremely difficult situation. Never be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, we just can’t do it alone.**