The Tiny Ritual That Helps Keep My Marriage Strong, According To 11 Men

From leaving notes in lunches to giving them wet willies (seriously), here are the rituals that keeps these marriages alive.

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In his book, The Seven Principles For Making A Marriage Work, renowned relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman stresses the importance of “developing rituals that promote better communication and attunement with your partner.” In other words, creating (and sticking to) little things that help you enjoy life a bit more is essential to a happy, long lasting marriage. Maybe it’s a daily text or a weekly trip to the spot you first met. Maybe it’s doing a shared workout.

It’s a good bit of marriage advice. To see how this plays out in real marriages — and to offer you a bit of inspiration if you’re looking for a ritual of your own — we spoke to 11 dads about the small things they do to keep their relationships fun and exciting, no matter how complicated life may become.

I Always Leave a Note (or Dirty Drawing) in My Wife’s Lunch

“I’m a big note guy. I work better in the morning, so I usually handle the lunch-packing duties, which includes packing lunch for my wife. I like doing it — it makes me feel useful. I always put notes in the lunches, too. For my kids, it’s usually just a ‘Have a great day!’ type deal. But, with my wife, they can range from jokes, to dirty drawings, to words of wisdom, and everything in between. The last one I wrote said, ‘It was so awesome how you didn’t give Halloween candy to the kid dressed as Trump.’ If I can make her laugh or smile during the day, I think I’ve helped our marriage thrive.” – Collin, 38, Ohio

We Have a Couch Date Night Every Week

“We always watch American Horror Story together. Every week. I hate it. It’s weird, and terrifying. But, she loves it. And, I love her. Truthfully, I enjoy doing it because she gets scared and does all the ‘I’m scared!’ things that make me feel like I can protect her. She cuddles with me, puts my hand over her eyes. Stuff like that. So, while the show is definitely not something I’d watch on my own, I love the time I spend watching it with her. I look forward to it every week, and I wouldn’t miss it.” – Michael, 37, Illinois

We Get Sweaty Together

“My wife and I exercise together before work, every other morning. Before we met, neither of us were super into working out but, after a few kids, we realized that it could be a good thing to start doing. So, every morning, while the kids are eating breakfast and waking up, we just do a quick, intense, 15-minute workout together. I’ve definitely become the more enthusiastic one about waking up and exercising, so I think it’s become ‘my’ ritual. But, we do it together, and we always end up smiling.” – Kirk, 36, Oregon

I Surprise Her With “9 Second Hugs”

“When we first started dating, I shared a news article with my wife that said nine seconds was the ideal length for a hug. It’s something about the amount of time it takes your body to release endorphins that makes nine seconds the sweet spot. So, randomly, I’ll grab her and say, ‘Nine-Second Hug!’ She laughs, usually. Sometimes she gets frustrated, if she’s trying to do something and I interrupt. But, it really does work. We just sort of stand there together for nine seconds and, when it’s over, we laugh, kiss, and go on with the day. It’s a pretty simple trick, I think.” – John, 42, New York

We Return to Our First Date Spot

“Every month, my wife and I have a date night at the place we went to on our first date. It’s just a small, basic bar in Akron, Ohio but it’s a special place for us. They ‘know’ us there by now — we’ve been going for years — so it’s a fun, welcoming experience overall. The recurring date was her idea, but going back to that specific bar was mine, so it’s also a great reminder that we’re a good team when we put our heads together.” – Joel, 35, Ohio

No Matter What, the Last Words We Always Say Are “I Love You”

“I was raised by parents who never, ever, ever let the last words said in a conversation —in person, over the phone, whatever — be anything but, ‘I love you.’ So, when my wife and I fell in love, I mentioned that to her, and I sort of insisted we adopt it, too. It might sound a little neurotic, but it’s just a way to make sure that, God forbid something bad were to happen, the words we’ll always remember hearing will be, ‘I love you’. Even if we’re fighting, we don’t walk away or hang up the phone without saying it. We do it with our kids, too. ” – Matt, 43, Florida

We Talk Trash Online Playing Word Games

“I challenge my wife to — and usually beat her at — Words With Friends at least once a week. It’s not the game itself, so much, but the chatting we do throughout. The trash-talking and stuff. For some reason, talking inside of WWF feels different than talking over email or iMessage. It’s almost always game-related, but the way we pounce on each other and go back-and-forth feels super flirty a lot of the time. Like talking on AIM in college. I guess it’s just my way of keeping connected with her a little less traditionally.” – Jeff, 33, North Carolina

I Always Touch My Wife’s Butt

“I love my wife’s butt. To quote Ron Burgundy, ‘That thing is good.’ So, I try to squeeze it or slap it whenever I can. She likes it, because she’ll always ask, ‘Why haven’t you smacked my butt in a while?’ if I don’t do it sort of regularly. I never do it around the kids, because they’re too young to understand the nuances of such a gesture within a loving relationship, but I do it in public sometimes. I’m sure people sneer. But, whatever, I love my wife’s butt.” – Josh, 39, New York

We Have a Collaborative Sketchbook

“I taught my wife about a thing my friends and I used to do called ‘Exquisite Cadavers’. It’s nothing weird, just the name we came up with for when one person draws a line or a shape on a piece of paper, and then the next person adds on to it, and then the next person, and the next person, and so on. I have no idea why we named it that. Anyway, I got a small sketchbook for my wife and I and I’ll usually start a new one every week or two. We take the book to work with us and just add silly little things here and there until we’ve ‘finished’. Then it’s on to the next one. I love seeing what she comes up with.” – Al, 44, Ohio

We Give One Another Wet Willies. Seriously.

“I give my wife wet willies. True story. She’s a jokester at heart. She loves prank videos and fail videos on YouTube. So, whenever she’s not paying attention, I’ll sneak up and get her. It goes both ways, too. She’s gotten me in the shower – somehow she knew exactly when my eyes would be closed while I was rinsing off shampoo. She even had the balls to do it at church one weekend. I think my best one was when she was FaceTiming with her mother. I crept up behind her while her mother watched with just this sort of, ‘Huh?’ expression. It’s definitely a silly, stupid thing. But, it’s our thing, and it always will be.” – Neil, 37, California

We Volunteer at an Animal Shelter Once a Month

“My wife and I — and our oldest son — volunteer at an animal shelter once a month. We help walk dogs, clean the place, and stuff like that. As a family, we all just love animals. So, when we’re there, we’re all just really, really happy. I know my wife is a fantastic mother — I see her in action every day. But, there’s something special about seeing her with a little puppy or kitten that just melts me. It’s just so sweet, and reminds me why I fell in love with her in the first place.” – Bill, 39, Connecticut

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