The road to a better marriage begins by evaluating the quality of the relationship and by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are the most important principles of your marriage?
  • What were the dreams and aspirations that started your relationship?
  • Did you marry for comfort, pleasure, money or honor?
  • Are you willing to make your relationship the most important part of your marriage?

Visualizing your values and seeing whether or not they are central to your marriage can help you understand the road you are traveling on. Unfortunately, our society has sold us a distorted image of marriage, which maintains that external factors such as money or comfort are the factors that make marriage work. Just think about how popular culture depicts the perfect couple who have all the conveniences one could ever imagine. They have all the money, pleasure, and fun they could ever want – but are they happy? That's the million dollar question.

I believe that there is no real way of telling how happy a marriage is, except for one factor: ask them how their relationship is doing. Afterwards, you'll know if their happiness is real or illusive.

Although many people may choose core values such as wealth, pleasure and honor for their marriage, in the long run, experience has shown that these external values are temporal. Happiness in life has very little to do with externals, and those who focus on the external values often find their relationships unsettled, lacking direction, and without the strength to last a lifetime. In fact, over the years, I have witnessed many families who have little financial means, yet have the power of a healthy relationship. Against the conventional wisdom that money buys happiness, these families prove that success is dependent on other variables such as spiritual values, healthy attitudes, and high levels of emotional intelligence. Above all, they are dedicated to maintaining and nurturing the most important commodity in their lives, their relationship.

As a young rabbinical student, I spent one of the most rewarding Shabbat experiences of my life volunteering in an old age home in Sanhedria, a small community in Jerusalem. My predicament was that I wanted to spend Shabbat visiting the old age home, but didn't have a place to stay. Thinking out of the box, and knowing I was in an a community famous for their willingness to provide for others, I decided to take a chance by asking some locals if they would be kind enough to take me in as their guest for Shabbat. After waiting for about five minutes in front of a store, an elderly man walked by. In my broken Hebrew, I tried to explain to him where I volunteered and what I needed. Without blinking, the man said that he would be delighted to have me as his guest.

The elderly man met me just before sunset at the local synagogue and brought me home to meet his wife and family. When I first entered into his home, I felt that I was walking into one of Roman Vishniak's scenes from pre-war Poland. Despite my initial discomfort, my fears were quickly relieved when I was warmly welcomed and asked to bring my suitcase into the room I would be sleeping in. After arranging my clothes, I was served a pre-Shabbat treat: a hot cup of coffee and some chocolate pastries. Just as I finished my last bite, Shabbat began, and I ran off to evening prayers at the old age home.

After praying, I returned to my host's apartment to sleep in a very comfortable bedroom. The next morning I awoke and realized that despite the fact that they had seven children, there were only two bedrooms, and I was sleeping in one of them! It turned out that they had set up their children's beds in the living room and the parents had slept in the one remaining bedroom! Embarrassed and overwhelmed by their generosity, I walked out of the living room to wish a good Shabbat and, once again, my hosts insisted I sit down for another cup of coffee.

That Shabbat, we spent hours eating, drinking tea and learning about each other. What amazed me the most about this couple was their tremendous sense of happiness and camaraderie. Love seemed to permeate their home and their relationships with the people who happened to enter their lives.

That Shabbat, I was given a present far greater than a bed to sleep on: a glimpse at the secret of what makes and sustains good marriages. That secret is a commitment to building meaningful relationships, and an overriding desire to do kindness for one another.

Investing in your relationship takes time and effort, and is a challenge for all couples. In my own life, for example, I believe my relationship is so important that my wife and I try to schedule time alone together at least once a week to focus on our relationship. Despite the pressures of our busy lives, we try creatively to make sure we are investing in our marriage. Sometimes we go out to a restaurant to eat or just take a walk down the block together. Other times, we go grocery shopping together or head to the local convenience store in order to enjoy a few minutes alone just schmoozing about our day. When life goes into overdrive and time is limited, we take a "time out" for ourselves, and spend a few minutes in a quiet and secluded room in the home just talking to one another.

It really doesn't matter what you do or what you talk about during your private times together. What matters most is to give your spouse the feeling that he or she is the most important person in the world.

Of course, the way to build emotional equity in marriage is to make as many deposits as possible. In general, positive statements like complimenting one another, sharing appreciations and speaking kind words are "deposits." Every time you tell your spouse that you appreciate them, and their actions, you are building more emotional wealth. You can even think of a compliment as a dollar. Imagine how rich you could become if you increase the amount of times per hour you compliment your spouse!

And it's not just complimenting that works; actions speak louder than words. Helping each other with daily tasks such as shopping for food or cleaning the house are ways that couples increase their emotional equity with one another. The point is that it doesn't take a large budget, or a lot of time, to build a relationship. Even the simplest gestures can make a difference in your lives.

The opposite is also true. Couples will deplete their emotional savings by criticizing and exercising external control. Trying to force one another via manipulation or by insulting each other decreases emotional wealth, and can even put some relationships into bankruptcy.

At the end of each month, I suggest that couples take a look and see how their emotional savings account is developing. They should check how many deposits they've made and how much was withdrawn. The goal is to become aware of the overall growth of the relationship and to see if it is getting stronger, or needs more nurturing.