Small changes can make a big difference, particularly in a marriage. This isn’t breaking news or anything but it’s something to remember because it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that big sweeping moves are all that make a difference. While, yes, sometimes we must cinch up our khakis and really address major problems, it’s often the smaller changes — like scheduling time together, or learning one another’s love languages — that pay the most dividends. To that end, we spoke to eleven dads about the minor change they made that improved the level of communication and understanding as well as the overall quality of their marriages. Here’s what they did to nudge things in the right direction.
1. I Began Scheduling Time with My Wife
“Not necessarily spending time together, but being aware of her day as well as my own. If she has a doctor’s appointment or is going to lunch with friends, I include a note in my schedule to take time to call and see how the visit went. I even set aside some time to remind myself to text her, just to see how she is doing. My wife has gone through some issues and I work in a very hectic workplace, but when I set aside time for her, my staff respects the fact that those times are for my wife and our marriage. Those little blocks of time haven’t just helped our marriage -— they’ve also helped ground me during times of stress.” – Brian, 51, Delaware.
2. We Started Saying “I Love You” Before Hanging Up
“My wife and I went through a rough period about a year ago where our conversations were very short and terse. It was like we were business associates, going over plans and responsibilities for the day, instead of enjoying talking to each other. It was awkward at first, but I started making sure I ended every phone conversation with ‘I love you.’ It took my wife by surprise, I think, but she would reflexively respond, ‘I love you, too.’ And that was sort of like our entry point into making our conversations less formal, and more personal. Now, we don’t hang up the phone or leave the house without saying it. Even if it’s quick, it’s a habit we can’t break, and it’s helped us start to reconnect little-by-little.” – Michael, 41, Ireland
3. We pray together.
“When we put God at the center of our marriage, our marriage took off like never before.
I have heard it described like a triangle, with God at the top, the husband at the bottom right, and the wife at the bottom left. As both spouses move toward God together, they also grow closer to each other. Life is going to throw things your way that are going to cause you guys to drift apart, and without something to focus on together, it will be easy to drift away from each other. By praying together we became deliberate in our relationship to each other, keeping God at the center and both working together to grow closer.” – Harland, 60, Pennsylvania
4. I Started Tidying Up More Often
“During the initial lockdown of 2020, my marriage was put under severe strain. My wife and I both work online full-time, which was an economic blessing, but a marital curse. Without our nanny to help look after our 18 month old son, our lives dived into a messy chaos, with me being the sloth, and my wife operating as the borderline OCD clean freak. The trouble started off with a few expected martial tiffs, but after several months, it escalated toward animosity.
Eventually, it became fundamentally obvious that I needed to drastically up my cleanliness as a man, father and husband. My days of throwing clothes on the floor and leaving the kitchen in a foul state came to an abrupt end. In essence, I experienced the marriage saving magic of tidying up. In addition to keeping my wife happy, it has also had a surprisingly powerful benefit on my mental health.” – Richard, 34, Connecticut
5. I Began Waking Up Earlier Than My Wife
“My wife is a stay-at-home mom. She left her thriving career once she got pregnant and decided to focus on our children. After our second child was born, she had postpartum depression. I felt as though she was slipping away from me, so I decided to wake up earlier than she did to help her. I cooked breakfast for everyone, made coffee, and watered the plants. At first, she insisted that it was her responsibility, but I was hard-headed and just continued with it. After a few weeks, I saw that she seemed happier, calmer, and slowly recovered. She had more time for herself, and I realized that my responsibility wasn’t just to provide for my family — it was to prioritize her as well.” Scott, 41, California
6. I Started Daily Journaling
“Last year in the middle of the pandemic, my wife and I were going through the challenges that everyone was facing: anxiety, isolation, and being around each other all the time. Basically, we were getting on each other’s nerves. In early May 2020, I began daily journaling of all the reasons that I loved her. Each day I was inspired to write something new. They were simple things, like going for a walk, or noticing the way her hair rested on her face. Whatever it was, I wrote it down and kept the list in my phone. This was challenging as we went through the ups and downs that all relationships go through, but I made sure never to miss a day. I journaled for an entire year, then took all the statements and added them to a custom book I made called 365 Ways I Love You. I included pictures we had taken throughout the year to correspond with many of the statements. She was extremely touched and, since then, we have been closer than ever.” – Rick, 50, Texas
7. I Started Doodling.
“I’m a very high-stress guy. It’s just who I am. I was formally diagnosed with anxiety about six years ago, and I’ve been through all kinds of therapy, tried medication, and done everything I can to try and manage it in a healthier way. My anxiety can be a huge strain on my family — especially my wife, and I hated that. One day at work, I found myself doodling during a meeting. It probably wasn’t the best for my job performance, but something about it really chilled me out. So I decided to get a cheap sketchbook and a black marker to keep with me during the day. When I feel anxious, I doodle. Sometimes it’s at work. Sometimes it’s at home. Sometimes it’s for a few minutes. Sometimes it’s for an hour. It’s very therapeutic, and it helps me unravel what’s in my brain and make sense of it. That technique has been incredibly helpful for my marriage, not just because it helps relax me, but my wife really enjoys when I share my art with her.” – Jordan, 41, New York
8. We Built Snack Time into Our Days
“We both realized we have a tendency to get hangry, so we started building snack time into our days. It’s almost like being kids again — we each have a snack ready for us when we get home from work, which helps us recover from stressful days, provides a bit of a distraction, and tides us over until dinner. Until we started doing this, I don’t think we realized how much being hungry got to us. And it’s such a stupid, small thing. Sometimes I’ll leave my wife’s snack in the fridge for her, and sometimes she’ll leave mine. Those are the best days — we’ve each got a pleasant, tasty surprise to come home to, and a tiny, fun surprise to leave for each other in the morning.” – Ron, 38, Toronto
8. We Learned One Another’s Love Languages
“I’d heard about ‘Love Languages’ a million times, but never really cared enough to learn what they were. My wife and I were going through a period of miscommunication, and really feeling down about our marriage. So a friend suggested we take a quiz to figure out what our Love Languages were. Sure enough, we’d been communicating with each other in almost the exact opposite ways we were meant to. My Love Language is ‘words of affirmation’, while hers is ‘quality time’. The quiz itself took all of 10 minutes, but it helped us recalibrate our marriage so that we could express ourselves more effectively to each other.” – Erick, 37, Norway
10. I Started Saying, “Thank You”
“Even for the trivial, seemingly small tasks. It’s important to show gratitude, and I think marriages sometimes fall into the trap of thinking it’s implied. So, when my wife would do something — whether it was a routine, daily chore, or something more out of the ordinary — I’d find myself oblivious to showing gratitude. Then I started saying, ‘Thank you’ for everything. Almost to the point where it became more annoying than endearing. But I was able to reach a balance that allowed me to show my genuine appreciation in a more explicit way, and she was able to hear and see my gratitude. It made us both much more happy to help, and to be helped.” – Aron, 38, UK
11. We Started the “Fishbowl Game.”
One small way I’ve improved my marriage is by commencing a long-running fishbowl game. The idea is to fill a bowl with lots of different questions for each other. They could be big questions about long-term goals, or simple questions about what our next date night should be. In fact, there are plenty of websites offering prompt questions to spark physical intimacy or just start a great conversation to bring you together. As our schedules are hectic between work and family, we struggled to find a few hours to run through all the questions, so instead, we sit down every Friday evening and answer one or two each. Throughout the week we add more questions as we think of them. We look forward to our Friday evenings every week.” – Adam, 30, Malaysia