As much as I love food and spend most of my time either reading, writing, or talking about it, shopping for it, or prepping, cooking, and eating it, it’s not the only way I nourish myself.

I’ve had a few conversations with friends lately that have prompted me to write this post about what we do to not only nourish our bodies but also our relationships.

Dancing at our wedding!
Dancing at our wedding!

My husband Bill and I have been together for almost eight years and married for just about three. Like any couple, we’ve had highs and lows in our relationship, some of which have been more challenging to get through than others. We still make mistakes as we learn more about what this lifetime promise called marriage looks like.

Both of us are putting forth effort, striving to grow as individuals and as husband and wife, and looking out for the other person, not just ourselves. We’re committed to having a great marriage.

We’ve learned that it means having grace, compassion and a whole lot of patience and humility.

I’ve seen this demonstrated in my parents’ marriage as they’ve gone from pain and marital separation to renewing their vows, now serving as marriage counselors at their church and even collaborating with two of the top marriage experts in the country.

We’ve learned that great marriages don’t just “happen,” but no matter where you are in your relationship, amazing transformations can take place. You can have the relationship of your dreams.

Here are 6 ways Bill and I have learned to nourish each other in our marriage.

Handwritten notes mean a lot to me, and Bill loves me well this way
A little appreciation goes a long way!

We regularly appreciate each other.

One of the main reasons so many couples struggle to connect and communicate is because they are prone toward negativity and being unpredictable. When people are critical and unpredictable, we don’t feel safe around them. When we don’t feel safe, we get anxious and either withdraw or act out. We can’t connect or communicate when those things happen.

On the other hand, when we focus on appreciating each other, being predictably positive, and looking for the good in each other, we create safety. When we feel safe, trust builds, which leads to a desire to connect and be intimate with each other. When we’re connected, passion, intimacy and communication thrive.

Whether it’s thanking the other person for something thoughtful they did, for being who they are, or for something simple like making dinner or doing a chore, intentionally looking for good and expressing it really makes a difference. We even start tough conversations with something we appreciate about the other person, and it leads to much better outcomes because it helps create safety.

We learned about this approach from my parents, this amazing book, and this life-changing retreat. It has been wonderful for our marriage.

In Rhinebeck, New York for the Getting the Love You Want couples retreat
In Rhinebeck, New York for the Getting the Love You Want couples retreat

We invest in our marriage.

We tend to invest so much money in things like our cars, houses, electronics, clothes, 401(k), etc. We tell ourselves it’s worth investing upfront to save ourselves headaches later, right? Yet, for some reason, we’ve decided that investing in our marriage is ONLY necessary when things get rocky.

When Bill and I went on a transformational couples retreat last fall, and I told people where we were going, they would ask, “Is everything okay?”

Why do we automatically assume that something is wrong? We don’t think that way when someone invests in any of the other things I mentioned above. Any investment in your marriage, whether it’s a vacation, retreat, date night, book, or therapy, is worth it.

It's the thought that counts! My first Valentine's card
It’s the thought that counts! My first Valentine’s card

We tell each other what we want and need and have learned how to communicate effectively.

This took me a LONG time to figure out. For years, I would get frustrated that Bill couldn’t read my mind and know exactly what I wanted, whether it was a gift, a response, a way of communicating, etc. I told myself that he should know what I like and what I want. “If he really knew me/loved me/was right for me,” he would do what I want/give me what I need…without me needing to tell him. A lot of us do this, don’t we?

Unfortunately, people aren’t mind readers. I’ve found that it helps when I tell Bill what I want and need and vice versa. After having those conversations dozens of times, we start to learn what the other likes, wants, and needs, but we still openly communicate about it instead of leaving each other in the dark. There’s still an element of surprise because I don’t know how/when/exactly what he’s going to do to surprise me, but at least he has a place to start.

This book and this retreat have given us the tools to connect and communicate effectively and lovingly, so we feel heard, understood, validated and affirmed. It’s an amazing feeling, especially considering how much we struggled with communication for a good portion of our relationship.

We check in with each other regularly and ask 5 key questions each week.

Our friend Cam recently gave an awesome sermon at our church, and in the sermon, he outlined 5 questions to ask your spouse each week. It may seem odd at first, but if you commit to doing it, you’ll be amazed by what it does for your relationship. We’ve been committed to doing this for the past 3 months, and it has really made a difference in ours:

  1. How did you feel loved this past week? (This is not an invitation to bash each other by saying “I didn’t.” Be positive, even about something small like taking out the trash!)
  2. What does your upcoming week look like?
  3. How would you feel most loved and encouraged in the days ahead? (This will save you a lot of time because it prevents the need to mind read, and instead, gives the person a chance to share what they want and need.)
  4. How would you best feel pursued in sex/intimacy this week?
  5. How can I pray for you this week?
Having a blast at our friend's wedding!
Having a blast at our friend’s wedding!

We laugh and have fun together!

We first connected in college through music and dancing, and both are still a part of our relationship. Some of the other things we like to do together are: cook, hike, dance, walk around our neighborhood, explore new cities and towns, go out to local restaurants, serve others through our church, spend time with friends and family, exercise, play games with friends, go to sporting events, do crossword puzzles, or just chill and watch TV or a movie every now and then.

By creating new positive memories together, we create safety, build intimacy and truly enjoy the time we spend together more and more. Remember, being positive and predictable leads to safety, trust, and connection. Focus on building new memories based on things you enjoy doing together. Having fun together is so important!

Bill playing soccer at El Canyon when we were on our missions trip to Nicaragua
Bill playing soccer at El Canyon when we were on a missions trip in Nicaragua

We support and encourage each other to pursue individual interests and passions.

If we’re always together doing the same things all the time, we miss out on the opportunity to pursue things that make us come alive individually. Bill loves to golf…and play just about any sport. If it’s a really nice day, I might text him and suggest he go to the driving range after work. I might support him in joining a local soccer team, since I know he is so passionate about soccer. I know he appreciates when I do those things.

Likewise, Bill has been my biggest supporter as I pursued graduate school, health coaching training, and writing this blog. He supports me when I spend hours in the kitchen on a Saturday morning prepping and cooking. He’ll run a bath for me and encourage me to read a book and relax if he knows I’ve had a tough day. We keep communication open, so expectations about these activities are clear and then do what we can to support each other.

Give your partner some space to pursue what they love and what makes them come alive. Your relationship will be better for it!