Even though it feels like we just put away our Christmas trees, Lent is upon us. Most people I know think about Lent as a time to give things up and “deprive yourself.” But the season is also about giving more of yourself to others, including those who you love the most. And since Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year, it seems all the more fitting to use this Lent as an opportunity to focus on your marriage or most significant relationships.
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great,” John Chrysostom, an early Christian mystic wrote. Focusing on your relationship doesn’t downplay the Lenten season. Instead, it reminds us that our activities should enrich the lives of those we love the most. Here are five things you can do during Lent to improve your marriage:
1. Share your highs and lows of the day
Remember when you were dating your spouse and it felt like you couldn’t stop talking? It’s easy to get settled in to the daily routine of marriage and forget how we used to talk constantly to each other. One way to regain this communication with your spouse this Lent is to share the highlights (and not so high moments) of the day with your partner. Sharing those moments of your day (and listening as your spouse shares theirs!) is a great way to communicate that you and your spouse are part of each other’s lives, even when you’re apart.
Just how do you go about sharing highs and lows?
“We do it at dinner. Everyone likes their turn. We learn about each other, and we all have to think of something to share! Lots of great stories come out, and we end up laughing, giving advice, and just feeling connected,” writes Audrey Monke, who blogs over at Sunshine Parenting. Because you’re taking time to hear how your spouse’s day really was, you’ll be able to share your support during tougher days and authentically rejoice with them at the good points.
2. Schedule time for your marriage first
It’s easy to let our calendars fill up to the brim — between work, dropping off kids at school, catching up with friends, and making dinner, sometimes it feels like you barely have enough time to breathe, let alone dedicate quality time to your marriage. But, as busy as your life is, don’t give your spouse just the leftover scraps of your calendar. To refocus this Lent, begin by planning time with your spouse first when you plan out your schedule. Then, after you’ve given them your best times, add in things like hobbies, grocery shopping, or community events.
“I’m convinced that the single biggest contributor to the breakdown in relationships today is the fact that couples aren’t spending enough time together,” writes Michelle Weiner Davis, a marriage counselor and author of Divorce Busting. If you find yourself over-committed with school committees, church activities, or putting in overtime at work, it may be time to reassess your schedule together as a team.
3. Compliment your spouse
Words have real power in our marriage — we can use them to build up those who are closest to us, or tear them down. Because our spouse is the person who knows us the best, our words can carry even more weight. This Lent, affirm your spouse and tell how much they mean to you. “The power of a compliment or a few kind, sexy words can be overwhelming! Think back to all of the things that you used to say to your sweetheart when you were dating,” psychotherapist Richard Carlson advised.
This Lent, pay your spouse a sincere (and specific!) compliment at least once a day. You can compliment their qualities as a lover, friend, or parent. Think of their most endearing quality that day — it could be the way they picked up groceries on the way home from work, or enthusiastically shared something exciting they learned. Is your husband frustrated that his time at the gym isn’t paying off? Compliment how much you’re attracted to him and how you admire his dedication. Does your wife fear that her cooking skills aren’t adequate enough? What words can you say to her to let her know that you notice how hard she works and how much you appreciate what she gives to your family?
4. Give back together
Volunteering together not only is an incredible bonding experience because of boosted oxytocin levels, but it also is a chance for you to try new things and discover your shared values as a couple. Looking for ways that you can give back together this Lent? “Serve your parish, extended family, or group of friends. Host a big potluck or treat another family (or a few!) to a night off from making dinner by prepping the whole thing yourself. Volunteer somewhere. Substitute for someone’s holy hour. Imitate Christ through shared self-giving,” blogger Katie Sciba shared.
5. Pray together as a couple
Lent provides a great time to dig deeper spiritually with your spouse. If you’ve never prayed with your spouse, this can be intimidating. Prayer is an incredibly personal, vulnerable area of our lives. If praying with your spouse is something new you’d like to try out this Lent, try this simple prayer:
“Thank you, Lord, for the love You have placed in our hearts. May it always inspire us to be kind in our words, considerate of feeling, and concerned for each other’s needs and wishes. Help us to be understanding and forgiving of human weaknesses and failings. Increase our faith and trust in You and may Your prudence guide our life and love. Bless our marriage, O God, with peace and happiness, and make our love fruitful for Your glory and our joy both here and in eternity.”