Simple Steps to a Stronger Marriage

It’s one thing to agree that simple steps can strengthen one’s marriage. It’s another to practice them.

Cover of ‘Simple Steps to a Stronger Marriage’ by Dr. Ray Guarendi
Cover of ‘Simple Steps to a Stronger Marriage’ by Dr. Ray Guarendi (photo: EWTN Publishing)

Excerpted from Simple Steps to a Stronger Marriage

Parents will present a litany of complaints about their child: Polly talks back, can twist a defense lawyer into knots, and is the sole reason her brother, Chase, wants to move out. Although the picture looks to be a puzzling mosaic of bewilderment, a few minor discipline adjustments, enforced with consistency and perseverance, can reverse the trajectory of the whole parent-child relationship.

A visit or two later, the parents return wondering what alien has captured Polly’s body. “Where did the eruptions go? She’s much more settled. And she’s hugged us more times in the past week than in the past month.” Call it the “Cascade effect.” Modest changes set in motion major plusses.

In a marriage, the puzzle can likewise look unsolvable. Communication is edgy, intimacy is gone, clashes are daily, and friction chafes both spouses for days.

How do weak marriages get stronger? Therapy? Spiritual guidance? Retreat weekends? Medication? Some. But many marriages set about sorting out what is going wrong, why it’s going wrong, and how to repair it.

Ask them about their success, and you won’t hear about a self-help how-to book (okay, maybe this one), their communication strategies, or some “new and proven” path to marital wholeness. You’ll hear how two people, sometimes one, made small adjustments in attitude and action with surprising payoffs.

The secret of a good marriage, for the most part, is that there are no secrets — only good-sense ideas lived daily toward one’s spouse. Most likely, you already know many of these. Yet, for whatever reasons, you may have ignored or resisted them, believing, “How can such minor changes make any major difference?” They can.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics rules the universe. Also known as the Law of Entropy, it states: Everything decays. Iron rusts, food (except processed snack foods) rots, our bodies age, the sun will burn out. Fortunately, all of us should be long gone when things get that frigid.

A parallel law creeps into marriage. Call it the Law of Social Entropy. Much that once positively permeated the relationship has decayed. Manners get sloppier than a 5-year-old’s, compliments come days between, listening to the other shortens to six seconds, touches are token. The small expressions of a solid connection grow flaccid.

“Say I’m sorry” is the first of 10 simple steps toward a stronger marriage. Simple doesn’t mean easy, though. I ask spouses, “When was the last time you apologized?” Answers can stretch back pretty far. “When our daughter was in kindergarten.” How old is your daughter now? “Oh, she’s in law school.”

You don’t have to be a shrink to analyze that apologies pass through their marriage about as often as Halley’s Comet. Why are words filled with so much reparative potential so tough to voice? Resistance comes from assorted directions: My apology will be rejected; it will say that I’m all wrong and he’s all right; I’m always the one to apologize; I don’t feel sorry.

Other steps in Simple Steps to a Stronger Marriage are: just don’t say it; add a touch; accept it; make a list; use your manners. Each is followed by “Resistance Rationales” — justifications for not doing what would be very good to do.

“What is the toughest part of doing therapy for you?” Persuading someone to do what would improve his life as well as that of others around him. Resistance can be strong.

It is one thing to agree that simple steps can strengthen one’s marriage. It’s another to practice them. If spouses can overcome any resistance to taking those steps, they will be rewarded with long-lasting positives.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a Catholic husband, the father of 10 adopted children, a clinical psychologist, an author, a professional speaker, and an international radio and television host. His radio show, The Doctor Is In, can be heard on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network on SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and more than 500 domestic and international AM and FM radio affiliates. His TV show, Living Right with Dr. Ray, can be seen on EWTN and reaches more than 380 million homes in 145 countries and territories.

‘Rowing Team’

The Commonly Misunderstood Common Good

“By common good is to be understood ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’” (CCC 1906)