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By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC

Maybe you are like me, and think that Valentine’s Day is an overrated holiday. Or perhaps you love all things hearts, candy and flowers. No matter your thoughts on Valentine’s Day, it’s a great time to do an annual check up for your marriage. You go to the doctor to make sure your body stays healthy (at least you should!); your marriage needs the same kind of attention.

At the beginning of a relationship, everyone experiences the “honeymoon phase”. You know what it is – you can’t stop thinking about the person, you want to spend all your time together, you never fight. Everything is WONDERFUL. Then real life catches up with you. No one escapes reality – every relationship leaves that blissful beginning phase. The newness of the relationship wears off as time goes on, real life responsibilities set in, maybe you have children, and your marriage suddenly is at the bottom of the priority list. All good relationships take work, effort and sacrifice. I’ve had several clients over the years tell me that their marriages take too much work, that because the relationship is not easy, it must not be “right”. Absolutely not. Marriage takes intentional, concentrated effort. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

How is the state of your marriage? Do you feel close and connected to your spouse? Are you guys more like roommates living in the same house, making life work on a practical level? Maybe you get the kids to school, you go to work, you pay the bills, but you don’t actually spend time together. Perhaps everything is fine on the surface, but you just feel distant from each other. You spend your nights on the couch watching Netflix, but not talking to each other. Or it could be your relationship is overtly tense, you yell and fight regularly. No matter where you are, your marriage can always benefit from a checkup.

Consider these points regarding your marriage:

1. You are a TEAM. I am saying this all the time to couples in my office. Marriage is a team sport. You are not out to prove that you are right, your spouse is wrong. It’s not all about what your spouse is or is not doing for you. What changes do you both need to make so that your marriage is better for both of you? It’s you and your spouse together versus the problem, not spouse versus spouse.

2. Be INTENTIONAL. Time together will never just happen. You must set aside time on your calendar. Going on regular date nights is not just a nice idea – it’s essential to the health of your marriage. Prioritize time to have fun together, talk to each other, and try new things. The cost of a babysitter is worth it, and your kids will have an excellent example of how their parents value their marriage.

3. Pay ATTENTION. Remember days like your anniversary, birthdays, and even sad days, like the anniversary of losing a loved one. Notice how your spouse is doing. Does he/she seem overly stressed? Depressed? Ask your spouse how he/she is doing and how you can help. Again, you guys are a TEAM.

4. Take care of YOUR STUFF. Do you have something you aren’t dealing with that is affecting your marriage? Most often I see this with clients who have endured abuse as a child, especially sexual abuse, and they have never dealt with the trauma. Maybe it’s that you never learned how to express your emotions and so you just don’t. Whatever obstacles you need to deal with on your own, do it for yourself and also for your spouse. I promise you, healing your own wounds will help your marriage.

How is the health of your marriage? No matter if you get fancy cards, flower and chocolates this year, you need to reflect on the points above, and consider how you can improve your marriage. Put in the effort, and I promise you will see results.

One side note, if you are in an abusive marriage, emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually, this blog post is not for you. Destructive marriages are another ball game. If you think you might be in an abusive marriage, or are confused about what a destructive marriage, look further on our blog and please reach out for help.

Maybe all this feels overwhelming. Perhaps you’ve lost hope that your marriage can improve. Possibly you are the spouse with an abuse history and it’s haunting your marriage today. At Lime Tree Counseling, this is what we do. I have worked with many people and have seen relationships healed through marriage therapy and abuse wounds overcome. If you feel stuck or hopeless, please contact us to set up a free phone consultation or to schedule an appointment. We are passionate about seeing people find healing, freedom and lead healthy lives. You can find the same healing!