My wife Ashley once asked me why most guys seem to like sports so much. I thought about it for a minute and told her that it's a combination of reasons, but one of the reasons is simply that sports make sense. Sports have clear rules and everyone knows exactly what it requires to win. Some guys struggle with marriage, and it's not because they don't love their wife; it's because in marriage, the "rules" aren't as clearly defined, so he struggles to know what "winning" at marriage really looks like.

To help my fellow husbands out here, I want to take what I've learned through years of relationship research and give it to you. If you'll do these 12 things, you will "win" in your marriage (and, of course, your wife will win too). Read this list to your wife (or, if you're a wife reading this, share this list with your husband). It could start some great conversations in your marriage and lead to some positive changes that can help you thrive as a couple.

1. Thank her often for all she does and tell her how much you appreciate her

It's important to regularly communicate your LOVE, but it's also very important to communicate your APPRECIATION for her. When she knows she's appreciated by you, she'll simultaneously feel more loved by you. Don't take for granted that she knows how thankful you are for her and for all she does, tell her often.

2. Tell her she is beautiful

Research has shown the happiest couples have a wife who feels adored by her husband and a husband who often expresses his adoration for her and his attraction to her. As times goes on and bodies age, insecurities can set in. Through every season of marriage, she needs to know that when you see her, you see your beautiful one true love. Tell her often. Your words will make her more confident and there's nothing more beautiful than confidence!

3. Ask her out on dates. Keep pursuing her!

Don't stop dating just because you're married! Keep dating each other. Make time together a priority and actually ask her out. Make a big deal of it. Let her know she's ALWAYS worth your best efforts. Don't give her your leftovers. Keep pursuing her.

4. Encourage and support her dreams

Don't make everything about your dreams. Focus on her dreams too. Celebrate her wins. Support her passions and pursuits. Encourage her to try new things and "go for it" in areas she's always wanted to pursue. If you want to "win" at your marriage, make it your mission to help your wife win at her goals.

5. Talk positively to her and talk positively about her to others

When you talk positively TO your wife, you'll make her feel more loved and respected. When you talk positively ABOUT your wife, you'll be letting the world around you know how much you love and respect your wife which is the first line of defense against adultery and negative influences in your marriage. The tone of your words can shape the tone of your marriage!

6. Give physical affection without automatically expecting sex

Most guys equate all physical affection as foreplay leading to intimacy. While sex is very important and should be a huge priority in your marriage, she wants and needs your affection outside the bedroom too. When you hold hands, put your arms around her, give her a back massage or a gentle caress without automatically expecting sex, it will bring you both closer together. Ironically, it will probably enhance your sex life too!

7. Pray with her and pray for her

I believe in the power of prayer and I believe that praying together with your wife is one of the most intimate acts you can share as a married couple. Also pray for her throughout the day. You might be the only person in her life who is consistently praying for her. God uses prayer to change our circumstances but He also uses prayer to change our perspective and bring us closer to those we're praying for. Prayer can help your marriage. Give it a try.

8. Put her preferences ahead of your own

The happiest husbands I know are men who have learned to serve their wives by allowing her preferences to win most of the time. Don't argue with her over the paint color in the living room. Let her pick! Don't always be the one holding the remote control. Don't always pick the restaurant. Let her preferences be the default choice most of the time and you'll BOTH be happier. Seriously.

9. Communicate with her about EVERYTHING

Most women have a need for communication that is every bit as strong as the typical man's need for sex. Open up to her. She's going to feel most connected to you, when you're making effort to connect with her. Don't shut down when she's asking you about your day. Give her the details. She wants to be connected to every part of your world. Communicating with her shows your love and will make her feel connected and secure in the relationship.

10. Value her more than you value your career, money or hobbies

That other stuff can't love you back! Show her with your TIME that she's your top priority.

I'm obviously not saying that you shouldn't have a job or you shouldn't have hobbies, BUT I am giving you a warning that most of us guys struggle to keep these things in balance. We're drawn to careers and certain hobbies because we can "keep score" (with earning money or winning awards) in a way that validates or egos. Relationships don't have those kinds of measurable metrics, BUT relationships are where the real treasures are found. There's not greater blessing in your life than your wife. Never make her compete for your attention. Give her your best. Show her that she's your top priority.

11. When you've blown it, admit it

Take responsibility and apologize. Don't let your pride get in the way and make matters worse.

You're human, so you're going to mess up sometimes. You're going to say things you should not have said and do things you should not have done. When that happens, don't make excuses. Don't pass the blame. Don't give partial apologies like, "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings" or "I'm sorry, BUT..." Instead, own it. Be genuine and humble. Tell her that you were wrong and you want to work to rebuild the trust you've broken.

12. Never give up on her. Never make her doubt your commitment to her

The strength of your commitment will determine the strength of your marriage. A "perfect marriage" is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other! Remind her of your commitment daily. Show it by your words and your actions. Keep going even through times of struggle and you'll grow stronger and closer together through every season of life!

This article was originally published on Patheos. It has been republished here with permission.

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