Strengthening Your Marriage Ten Minutes at a Time

Strengthen your marriage relationship by making the first ten minutes of your interactions together a positive experience! We often do not realize that these first ten minutes of interaction are an opportunity to set the stage for the rest of the time we spend together that day.

This positive communication can foster positive emotions. By spending more time in positive communication patterns, you can increase the positive emotions you feel toward your spouse. When individuals anticipate feeling positive emotions around their partner they are more likely to look forward to being together; but in contrast, unfavorable anticipation of being together can actually create negative emotions and diminish or eliminate the desire to be together. When couples create patterns of positive hellos and healthy initial interactions, positive feelings of friendship and love grow. Spouses look forward to being together as allies and sources of strength in the struggles of life.

The following are suggestions as to how to best utilize this time with your spouse: 

1. Prepare yourself mentally

When anticipating seeing your spouse after an absence, mentally prepare to give your spouse and family the best of yourself. There are likely problems and challenges that need to be discussed, but the problems and challenges will still be there later. During the first ten minutes, focus on having a positive initial greeting (i.e., starting off on the right foot) with your spouse. Later as a team, you will be able to address any problems and challenges more constructively because the negative emotions of the day will be decreased and the positive emotions of being together will be increased. Think of specific things you can say and/or do that will help make those first minutes a positive experience.

2. Focus on the needs of your spouse first

Genuine interest in your spouse’s daily stresses will foster greater love and emotional connection. Attempt to put aside your own issues for the moment and focus on reconnecting with your spouse, asking about his or her day, listening and responding positively. If both partners willingly commit to do this for their spouse, everyone will end up a winner!

2. Understand the power in a smile

Smiling in and of itself can have a powerful impact on others’ reactions and their desires to connect with you. Even though the house may be a mess, you are exhausted from running after the children, and dinner isn’t ready yet, prepare to give a glowing smile to your partner. Your spouse will be better able to put aside his or her own stresses and focus on a positive connection with you. And you just might find that you feel better and can see the humor in the situation if you smile (even when you don’t exactly feel like it)!

3. Be prepared to help your spouse

Inevitably there will be times when your spouse is not prepared to optimistically greet you because of emotions associated with their specific life challenges. It can be easy to get angry, pull away, or become critical, but these are actually the best times to build trust and strengthen your relationship. You can do this by helping your spouse calm the overwhelming emotions. Although you cannot fix all the struggles or change the negative emotions your partner may be experiencing (nor would your spouse probably want you to), you can provide key support by listening, empathizing and letting your spouse know you are on their side.

The daily struggles of life are rarely pleasant, but they can provide opportunities to develop patterns of turning towards each other, supporting each other, and building trust and reliance in the relationship.

Research provided by Naomi Brower, Eric Walker, and Jana Darrington


Gladstone, G. L., & Parker, G. B. (2002). When you’re smiling does the whole world smile with you? Australian Psychiatry, 10, 144-146.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New
York: Three Rivers Press.

Guénguen, N. (2008). The effects of a woman’s smile on men’s courtship behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 36, 1233-1236.

Voydanoff, P. (2005). Consequences of boundary-spanning demands and resources for work-to-family conflict and perceived stress. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10, 491-503.

Mackey, W. C. (1976). Parameters of the smile as a social signal. The Journal of Genetic
Psychology, 129, 125-130.

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