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The love list

Eight healthy habits of marriage

By Les and Leslie Parrott

"Do you two need a tissue?” a voice gently whispered from behind us. We were sitting in a quiet theater watching a somber play when — at the saddest moment — something struck us funny. Hysterically funny.

At just that moment, Les found a withered old banana in his coat pocket. Who knows how long it had lived there, and he set this surprising discovery on my knee. Caught off guard by the incongruity of the banana and the play, I developed one of the worst cases of the giggles I’ve ever had. Les quickly caught the same disease.

We tried desperately to stifle our laughter; but, as we bowed our heads to hide our faces, we couldn’t keep our shoulders from shuddering. An older woman behind us, thinking we were moved by what was happening on stage, offered us a tissue for our tears, which made us want to laugh all the more. When Les accepted her kind offer, I really lost it and had to leave the theater.

Just another day of marriage for Les and Leslie? Not quite, but we do laugh a lot together. The tiniest of things can sometimes set us off — a slight inflection or a knowing glance, for example. We can quote a funny line for weeks after hearing it.

Better still are the unplanned faux pas in front of others that bring embarrassment. We have the same funny bone and can’t keep from using it. No wonder we enjoy our marriage.

Laughter does that. Any good friend will tell you that laughter is the shortest distance between two people — especially in marriage. That’s why each day we find something that makes us both laugh. We don’t wait for funniness to find us; we’re on the lookout. We’ve literally put this seemingly silly task on what we’ve come to call our Love List.

We’ve always liked lists. Shopping lists. Honor lists. Wish lists. Lists of goals and dreams. Our favorite is the common to-do list. We live by it. Maybe you do too. And if so, you know the wonderful feeling of checking an item off your list.

With a simple check mark we know we’ve accomplished something we set out to do. We’ve made progress. That little check tells us we’ve taken another step — big or small — in the direction we want to go.

Short and to the point. That’s the value of a good list.

Research has shown that people who make a tangible list and keep it handy are far more likely to achieve their goals than others who have the very same desires. That’s why we came up with the Love List.

As a husband and wife who write for, speak to, counsel and minister with countless couples each year, we wanted to know, in very practical terms, exactly what we, as “the experts,” should be doing to make our marriage the best it could be.

How about you? Do you have some simple and intentional to-dos for your marriage? We hope so, but if you are like the majority of couples, you probably don’t. Sure, you’ve thought about things you’d like to incorporate into your relationship, but like a flare that quickly fades, the ideas pass through your mind for a moment only to be blown away by the next breeze of routine life.

We’ve seen far too many well-intentioned couples — especially in ministry — yearning to enjoy their love life to the fullest but never considering a strategic plan for doing so. They are simply lulled into the mediocre marriage that never reaches its potential. So what’s the solution?

The little to-dos have become our answer. And after years of studying couples who live and love to the fullest we believe this roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-practical approach is for every couple wanting the most from their marriage.

The Love List — or the eight healthy habits, as we call them — is within reach of every couple. Let us allay some potential fears up front. The items on this list are not extravagant. They won’t cost you more money. They aren’t going to require inordinate amounts of time. And they are not just for the romantically gifted.

The Love List is not for perfect people. It’s for busy couples who sometimes bicker, get stressed out, have communication meltdowns, struggle with money, are not always sure how to discipline their kids, and all the rest. In other words, the Love List is for real life.

Once a day ...

Take time to touch (if only for a minute).

Find something that makes you both laugh.

Once a week ...

Do something active that lifts your spirits.

Boost your partner’s self-esteem.

Once a month ...

Rid yourselves of harmful residue.

Fire up passion in the bedroom.

Once a year ...

Review your top 10 highlights.

Chart your course for the
coming year.

A few small actions — practiced on a daily, a weekly, a monthly, and a yearly basis — can change everything for a couple. Little deliberate behaviors quietly lavish love on a marriage. The List is for real life. Plus, it’s fun. It focuses on proactive behavior you can do and you will see results almost immediately.

We did. When we made laughter a daily habit, for example, we quickly learned that it is impossible to stay mad at someone who makes you laugh. Especially when they find a withered old banana in their coat pocket.

DRS. LES AND LESLIE PARROTT are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the authors of Love Talk and The Love List. For more information, visit their Web site at

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