There are probably a lot of things you've heard you should experience before your life on Earth is over. There's the bucket list for believers and the YOLO phenomenon, but what about a bucket list for your marriage?
Recent research has shown us that marriage is on the decline in the United States for a variety of reasons, as Deseret News National reported earlier this month. But not all hope should be lost. The Pew Research Center found that over half of Americans believe marriage is still beneficial to society, despite their reservations.
Reaching marital bliss is easier said than done, however, but setting goals with your spouse can help. Research from John Gottman, relationship expert and author of "How to Keep Love Going Strong," explains how making plans with your loved one can lead to a happier relationship and more responsiveness and support from your partner.
"In happy marriages, partners incorporate each other's goals into their concept of what their marriage is about. These goals can be as concrete as wanting to live in a certain kind of house, or intangible, such as wanting to view life as a grand adventure," said Gottman.
The following bucket list items may inspire you and your spouse to create your own list and experience new things together or apart, all in an effort to strengthen your relationship.
Take an overnight trip, without your spouse.
Intimacy is vital to a marriage, but so is time apart, according to Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.
The Wall Street Journal discussed Orbuch's findings in regards to married couple's happiness and the amount of alone time each couple claimed to have. She found that 31 percent of wives and 26 percent of husbands in the study reported not having enough "self time" or privacy in their marriage. When asked if the couple was unhappy with their partnership, 11.5 percent of those who responded as unhappy claimed that it was due to a lack of time for the self.
Jessica and Rich Carr, a married couple in Washington, told the Journal about their own experiences in finding personal space in their marriage.
The two discussed their feelings about how much space they each felt they needed, and came to an understanding about how to move forward.
Rich now goes on long walks with the family dog for some quick alone time, or for a "major reset," he arranges a stay at a business retreat center in Austin or at a secluded cabin in the woods.
"When I give him his space to do what he wants, he is more engaged, more excited and more rejuvenated when he comes home," Jessica said to the Journal.
Train and complete a race together.
Have you heard the saying, "Couples who exercise together, stay together?" If you haven't, listen up. Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology notes that when a couple engages in exciting or challenging activities together, they in turn feel more satisfied overall with their relationship.
Sharing a fitness goal is a great way to try something both exciting and challenging that will also get you both fit together. Signing up for a local 5k, bike race or whatever works for the two of you could boost both your marriage and your health.
Swap chores and responsibilities with your spouse for a day.
Vanderbilt University released a study in 2009 on the benefits of imagining yourself in someone else's shoes. The results showed that the longer subjects took to imagine the lives of another person in the study, the more empathy they felt towards them afterwards.
A similar study from Science of Relationships found that when we think about what life would be like without our spouse, we often feel more grateful for what he or she adds to our life.
"We reflect on how much we appreciate all the ways he or she adds to our life; as a result, we feel more satisfied," wrote Amy Muise on Science of Relationships. "Recent research on appreciation in relationships suggests that cultivating gratitude for our partners can contribute to happier, longer lasting intimate bonds."
So try switching places with your spouse for a day, each doing the activities that the other would normally do. Activities like chores, errands or child rearing responsibilites can be swapped, and you may both start to feel more grateful and appreciative of your spouse and what he or she brings to the table.
Hand write letters to each other once a month.
In today's digital age, writing letters is a novel concept. But did you know it could improve your health? A study out of ERIC Journal found that when subjects handwrite affectionate letters to loved ones, their cholestoral levels significantly decrease.
New York Times opinion columnist Catherine Field also wrote on the fading art of letter writing and the benefits attached.
"It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do," wrote Field. "You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping."
Embrace your spouse's passions and plan activities you know they'll love, even if it's not your cup of tea.
Researchers refer to the Michelangelo phenomenon as the idea that your romantic partner can be especially helpful in shaping who you are. Science of Relationships notes that when couples affirm each other, both can attain their ideal self.
"When your partner affirms you, you experience better psychological health and satisfaction with life because you are becoming the person you want to be," Sarah Stanton wrote on the Science of Relationships. "This can make you feel understood, and can communicate that your partner approves of you and genuinely cares about your goals and aspirations; this in turn promotes trust, commitment, and satisfaction in relationships."
If your spouse is adventurous even though you're not, you can still affirm who they are by arranging a unique outing for the two of you — hiking through the mountains, snorkeling for the first time or maybe rock climbing. Taking turns embracing each other's inner individual traits will help you make your loved one feel appreciated.
Cook a new recipe from scratch together.
A relationship study by John Gray cited in a recent Focus on the Family article found that a majority of couples who cook together are more satisfied with their lives as a whole compared to those couples who do not cook together.
Similarly, Emma Seppala, a researcher out of University of Wisonsin-Madison, wrote for Scientific American on the power of couples working together in the kitchen.
"Some of the greatest moments of intimacy in a relationship come from the simple joys of cooking together," Seppala wrote. "That togetherness may create a shared thread of life experiences and memories."
Romance each other in a new setting.
Keeping things interesting is a cornerstone for a happy and healthy relationship. TheAmerican Psychology Association found that couples who reported boredom during their seventh year of marriage were much less satisfied with their relationship in the following years.
One mother shared a simple way she and her husband got out of their daily routine to connect with one another in a BabyCenter parenting blog.
"Sometimes my husband and I take a vacation day during the week and have a date while our daughter's at daycare," Victoria of Ontario, Canada wrote to BabyCenter. "We have a leisurely lunch, then catch a movie. It's a treat for her to have both Mommy and Daddy pick her up, and we love having the evening together, refreshed after our 'couple time.'"
Take a mystery drive.
Sometimes life needs to be scheduled and organized, and sometimes you need to throw the schedule out the window and tap into your spontaneous side. In a 2008 blog for the New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope, author and wellness writer, discussed how to prevent relationships from going stale.
"New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine," wrote Pope. "These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner."
Taking a mystery drive might include just getting in the car together and driving somewhere in your area you've both never been to. Stop at any place that piques your interest, listen to some music and enjoy this completely new experience together.
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