7 Surefire Ways To Take Your Marriage From 'Good' To 'Great'

"Marriage: Love is the reason. Lifelong friendship is the gift. Kindness is the cause. 'Til death do us part is the length."—Fawn Weaver


I know, I know. When it comes to marriage, if a couple is able to say that they've been together for more than a decade and they are reasonably cool with one another, that is almost like a minor miracle. Still, as someone who is a huge fan of the union and actually know some husbands and wives who are head over heels into one another, even 20-plus years in, I think just being "alright" in a marriage is kind of a low bar. After all, life is short and also pretty precious, so if you're going to commit to being with someone for the rest of your days, shouldn't the both of you do all that you can to make sure your marriage is more than just "good"—that it is pretty darn great?

If you're reading this and you're at total peace with your marriage and the spouse that you've chosen, salute. Yet if you're wondering about what you can do to take things up a few notches, here are seven things that can help your relationship to thrive—and then some!

1. Surprise Your Partner More Often


I don't care if a couple has been together for a couple of years or 30 of 'em, it's rare when either spouse doesn't appreciate a nice surprise every now and then. Tickets to a favorite event that shows up in their email inbox. A text that consists of nothing more than a hotel room number and a time to show up. Favorite flowers or meal that comes to the office, right out of the blue. A good marriage? That is one where both partners are thoughtful on each other's birthday and never forgets one another's anniversary. A great marriage consists of two people who are constantly trying to one-up their own selves when it comes to making their partner feel loved, appreciated and desired while oftentimes catching them totally off guard when it comes to their efforts. A wise person once said, "The best things happen unexpectedly." When's the last time that you surprised your partner? When's the last time that they've surprised you?

2. Regularly Pray/Meditate Together


The reason why I've written articles for the site like, "7 Signs You're Spiritually Compatible With Someone" and "7 Spiritual Principles About Sex That Married Couples Should Never Forget" is because I wholeheartedly believe that our spirits are involved in marriage just as much as any other part of us. And since marriage is about joining one mind, body and spirit with another's, it's so important for husbands and wives to make the time to pray and/or meditate together (preferably both).

From a scientific standpoint alone, prayer reduces stress; gives you more of a positive outlook; strengthens your faith; softens your heart (so that it's easier to forgive); keeps you humble (more on that in just a sec), and even increases longevity. As far as meditation goes, it can help to control anxiety; reduce depression-related symptoms; make you more mindful; heighten self-awareness; lengthen your attention span, and make you a kinder individual overall. With all of the benefits that prayer and meditation provide, why wouldn't you want to have these experiences with your partner?

By the way, both of these things can directly benefit your sex life too. A couple of years ago, we published an article on the site entitled, "Ashley Graham & Her Husband Say Prayer Is The Ultimate Form Of Foreplay". That same year, I also wrote about orgasmic meditation (check out "What Exactly Is 'Orgasmic Meditation'?"). Since "saying grace" and breathing deeply can take your sex life to another level too, hey, that's just one more solid reason to pray and meditate with your partner more often, don't cha think?

3. Operate from a Place of Humility


If there is one thing that I would shout from the rooftops of every single person (who desires to be married; not everyone does) is if you are too full of yourself to 1) admit when you're wrong and/or 2) be corrected by your partner and/or 3) offer up and apology that comes without any excuses and justifications, you have absolutely no business getting married. I can't tell you how many couples I've worked with who, while it is clear that they love one another, they are still 10 minutes away from hitting the wall (getting a divorce) and it's basically due to one thing—a lack of humility. A humble individual doesn't have to be right all of the time. A humble person doesn't constantly need to take the credit. A humble person tends to not get triggered or become provoked easily. A humble person can own their ish. A humble person loves to help others. A humble person strives for peace above all else. We're living in a world that seems to constantly encourage ego maniacal behavior. Still, if you want to keep your marriage thriving, strive for humility. You might be amazed by how far it gets you.

4. Love with All Five of Your Senses


Sight. Touch. Hearing. Taste. Smell. These are our five senses. Now my question is how often do you try and love your spouse with all five of them? I'll provide some examples. Do you constantly go to bed NOT looking a hot mess (sight)? Are you intentional about showing affection like greeting them with a kiss at the door when they come home from work or hugging them from behind when they are cooking or working on a project (touch)? When's the last time you've expressed what you like, love or find sexy as hell about them (hearing)? Can you recall when you've ordered or made them their favorite meal or prepared some aphrodisiac cocktails for the two of you to enjoy together (taste)? Do you know their favorite scent? How often do you wear it (smell)?

I know that the five love languages continue to be popular when it comes to expressing love (check out "Are You Ready To Apply Your Love Language To Your Sex Life?" and "15 Date Ideas Based On Your Love Language"). Personally, I also think it's important to come up with ways to show your love to your partner via their five senses too. It's an underestimated way to make sure that they feel loved in every way. Quite literally so.

5. Present Things in Question Form


Wanna know what will put someone on the defensive? It's when you come at them with accusations or definitive conclusions instead of questions when you're trying to gain some clarity. That said, another point that I think doesn't get brought up enough in marriage is it's a constant lesson in how to communicate effectively, how to listen wholeheartedly and also, how to literally treat someone else in the way that you'd want to be treated. I don't care how long you have known someone or lived with them, because it's a part of human nature to constantly evolve, you don't know everything about them (it's pretty arrogant and presumptuous to think otherwise).

That's why, whether it's a discussion or a flat-out disagreement, you are showing that you are open to learning, to hearing their perspective and to gaining a deeper insight into who they are by coming at your spouse in question form rather than all-out statements. If you don't believe me, ask them to communicate with you in the same way and watch how much smoother the conversation goes.

6. Have “Purpose Update” Meetings


Another tip for singles who desire marriage is, please be clear about what your purpose is. Then, once you start seeing someone, make sure that they are clear about what their purpose in this life is as well. The reason why I say this is because, in order for you to be in a long-term relationship where you truly feel fulfilled, you both need to be able to respect one another's calling in life and even be able to help, if/when needed. This is one example of how two individuals are able to actually complement each other.

I actually know a couple who's been married for several years now. Unfortunately, they've really been struggling because the wife's focus has been more on the husband just doing whatever needs to be done in order to provide. Meanwhile, the husband has become resentful because, ever since he was in college, he had specific dreams. So, what happened? He loved her and put his dreams on hold. Now he's miserable and because she never considered his dreams as being important, their union is in some serious trouble.

This is why I often recommend to married couples that they hold, what I call, "purpose update meetings". Some do it once a month, some do it once a season (four times a year) and some do it biannually or annually.

The logic behind the suggestion is to sit down with your partner, so that you can share how you feel about your purpose—along with what your short-term goals are concerning them—as they do the same. Why? It's simple. It can never be underestimated, just how important purpose is because it literally means "the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.". You can be in love, have great sex and feel pretty good about your relationship. It's still headed for some really big valleys if one or both of you are not thriving in your purpose.

Mutually communicating when it comes to this is critical. It really is.

7. Let Grudges Go


There's a married couple I know who are toxic and then some. There are about a dozen reasons why I say that; however, I'm going to close with something that can easily go on the top three—they both basically live to hold grudges. By definition, a grudge is defined as being a feeling of ill will or resentment. Personally, I define them as being manipulative power plays. Then there's what an author by the name of Criss Jami once said about them. He said, "Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on."

The silent treatment. Being passive aggressive. Not letting things go until someone sees an issue the same way that you do. All of these are forms of control and no one wants to be in a controlling relationship. Needing some time and space to process things? That's human and healthy. Allowing unresolved issues to go on into infinity is really…unsound. A married couple who's intentional about resolving matters as soon as possible—even if it means seeing a therapist, counselor or coach—is a couple who doesn't take time for granted, doesn't like to be disconnected from their partner and is more about forward movement than being in a problematic hamster wheel. And a husband and wife who remain in this kind of space? Whether it's immediately or eventually, they are well on their way from going from "good" to "great" when it comes to their relationship. Salute.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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