Here they are — My top secrets to a great marriage & a terrific Valentine’s Day!

This is my Sunday column in today’s Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette.  “The top Valentine’s Day secrets are anchored in love”
On this Valentine’s Day Sunday I thought I had better give you my top “secrets” for a happy marriage.  They’ve served me well for a long time – more than three-and-a-half decades. A great marriage is well worth the hard work, and these ideas will keep you on the long, winding road all the way to the sunset.   
            To begin, do you have a minute?  No, not just any minute.  It has to be a minute of your undivided attention.  The first secret of a great marriage is hugging your spouse for an entire minute each day.  You walk in the door and drop everything.  Everything means everything! You put your arms around your lover for one solid minute.  You say nothing except perhaps, “Hi.  I love you” or “I missed you today.”  You don’t say, “I’m starving. What’s for dinner?”  If your children see this momentous minute, all the better.     
Now if you think hugging might lead to “dancing,” well, you catch on quickly. But the best sex secret starts long before the hug.  That might start, say, at about two in the afternoon when you text your wife, “I was just thinking…you are the prettiest woman on the planet.”  Is there a woman alive who doesn’t like hearing that?  She wants her husband’s thoughts and eyes looking at her, and her only.  Sadly, a pastor I know proved that to me with these dire words: “That’s why pornography nearly ruined my marriage.”
And of course, the shoe fits the other foot too.  There are husbands who are jealous of a wife’s friends, job and even children when she spends more time with them than him.
While you’re holding your wife, if she says, “I love the way you take care of me,” you pull her tighter and say, “Baby, that’s the best job in the world.”  If she wants the one-minute hug to extend to two, well, do it.  Women are ovens; men are stove-top burners.  I’m just saying.
Now gentlemen, if your wife wants to hear you say why you think she’s the prettiest thing on the planet, are you ready to tell her?  Figure them out; be authentic. Then look her straight in the eyes and say, “I love the way you take care of yourself.”  “I love the way you care for our children.”  “I love the way you take care of me.”  “I love how you juggle work and kids and sports.” “I love never having to worry about there being food in the house.”   You got it?
And ladies, you have to seize the day, too. Yep, little old you.  Do you have a pen handy?  Write down this word – initiate.  Really?  Yes, really!  Men, warriors all, like that.  You got it?
Of course, all these secrets overlap. Secrets one and two are tied closely to the third – the “How-to-fight-like-dogs-and-cats” secret.  You will never fully get secrets one and two if you miss secret three.  When you fight, you have to figure out what your spouse is truly saying. Because if you can repeat what the other person is accurately saying, your message will be clear: I value you. I respect you. What you say is important.  How many times have you noticed that when your spouse feels heard, she feels loved and anger often evaporates?
Being understood unlocks the door to the “last-laugh” secret. Great marriages depend on lots of laughing.  Do you know what makes your spouse laugh out loud?  Figure it out, and do it over and over.  And no, don’t be vulgar. This world is laced with vulgarity. Few spouses really like crude humor.
You start laughing and you will see the “lavish praise” secret kick in. Your mate loves to be praised, and not with just “Nice meal.”  Generous praise is deliberate; it is intentional. So praise your mate in front of your children and your friends.  Be unrestrained. Make your spouse feel like a million bucks.
Genuine praise stokes the “chemistry” secret.  If your husband says, “I love the way your hair smells,” find the manufacturing plant that makes that shampoo and buy it. If your wife says, “I like it when you touch my hand that way,” do it four thousand times this week.  Am I being clear?
There is one more, and it may be the most crucial of the seven secrets. It’s the “I’m so sorry” secret. The people we love the most we often hurt the most.  It’s happens, doesn’t it?  That’s why when you are holding your Valentine today – for a full minute! – you might just have to say, “Honey, I was wrong when I lost my temper and yelled at you. It hurt you. I regret it.  Will you please forgive me? It’s the man I was but it’s not the man I want to be.”  Because if you don’t own your stuff – both asking for and granting forgiveness – it’s going to be a long old road.
By now, is it surely no secret to you that these “secrets” are anchored in the bedrock of love.  It is certainly no secret that in the Bible’s famous love chapter – I Corinthians 13 – we read that love is the greatest virtue of all.

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