Valentine’s Day Cards Are Nice, But Here’s How to Improve Your Marriage Every Day

I had returned to my hotel room during a recent business trip to Minnesota. It had been a long, tiring day and I still had a lot of work to do. I knew I’d be up until 3 or 4 in the morning getting it done. But before I started back in, there was one thing I had to do first.

Call my wife.

We spoke for about 15 minutes about what we had done that day, and caught up on anything else that was going on. I hung up the phone and returned to my work, focused.

That phone call was the travel version of an activity that my wife, Arlene, and I engage in every night. We call it Couch Time. Each night, usually right after dinner, we sit down in our living room and spend the next 30-60 minutes discussing things like what happened that day, how the grandkids are doing, where we should go on our next vacation.

We also discuss business, and she knows the names of all my clients and the projects I am working on. Sometimes we drink a glass of wine and often hold hands.

Neither one of us is quite sure how Couch Time got started. It sort of evolved from our first date, and it’s something we have continued religiously during our seven years of marriage.

Last week we went to dinner with some friends and had a lovely time. On the way home we realized we had not had Couch Time yet, so when we returned, we settled in for our nightly discussion.

In my book, How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs Mistakes, I discuss the 10 C’s of bank relationships for CEOs. One of these is Communication and as I note in the book, nothing is more important to a banker than communication. I’ll go out on a limb here and say communication is also the key to a successful marriage.

As Valentine’s Day approaches and people are encouraged to recognize a loved one on February 14, I thought about how a good relationship cannot be sustained just by buying expensive gifts and flowers on one day a year. It may even be a challenge with just a weekly date night. It takes daily maintenance.

I read about a recent study in an article on CNN.com, “Act Like a Long-Distance Couple Even If You’re Not,” that said long-distance couples can form stronger bonds than couples who live in the same place.

“Long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back,” says Crystal Jiang, Ph.D., who coauthored the 2013 study, which appeared in the Journal of Communication. “People in long-distance relationships often have stronger bonds from more constant, and deeper, communication than normal relationships.”

The good news is you don’t have to move away from your loved one to form those bonds. You just need to make an effort to strengthen them by incorporating that level of communication into your daily lives.

So go ahead and celebrate Valentine’s Day with a heartfelt card, flowers and a nice dinner out. But to really keep the marriage on track all year long, you don’t need to venture farther than your couch.

Read the Suggestions in the Suggestion Box

This cartoon makes me chuckle because it makes me think about all those companies that I go into where the CEO or President isn’t listening to anyone in the entire organization – and that’s to his detriment.

You have to have good communication up and down the line or you won’t know about the myriad ways that you could be improving your organization.

One of the first things I do when I go into a distressed company is reassure the employees that everything will be handled and that I will do my best to make sure they’re informed and taken care of as they deserve. It’s safe to say that many CEOs are not operating with this mentality.

The other thing I do is scour the organization for overlooked talent. I always need a new management team, and there are often great people on the inside with a profound understanding of the organization. If you are in upper management, utilize the talent beneath you. Listen to  people. Don’t overlook their suggestions.

One of the key markers of a successful company is that it’s a place that all employees are heard about their issues and thoughts. It is very demotivating to be an employee and to know that you aren’t being heard.

Today, listen to someone’s thoughts who you haven’t heard before and see what they can do for you.

What ideas have you gotten from people lower down in your organization?