As a divorced man now happily remarried, I learned some hard lessons about marriage from the mistakes I made the first time around. Here are seven tips on what to avoid—and what to do—to strengthen your relationship with your wife.

1. Separate from mama.

Men, you’re married to your wife, not your mom! When family matters invade a marriage, your wife needs to trust you’re a united front. She must not fear you’ll go behind her and talk negatively, especially to your mom. When you and your wife speak to your mom, it should be as one flesh, not as competing teams. Your mom is usually going to fight in your corner, right or wrong. This will cause serious problems in your marriage. I love my mom and she is precious to me, but YOU leading your family is the best way to honor your mother, not the other way around.

2. Balance the extracurriculars.

Living life in Sportsman’s Paradise can get busy. Louisiana has everything a man could ever want with regards to the outdoors. My boat and I were closer than my former wife and I were at one time. I was perfectly happy leaving her home with the kids to go “tear ’em up” in Lake Pontchartrain waters. The problem with this is when it’s done in excess. You really need to look at why you fish, hunt, play video games, go to sports bars, etc. Are you doing it because it’s fun, or are you getting away from your wife? It’s easy to fall into this trap because they’re “harmless” activities. After all, you’re not out drinking all night with other women, so it’s not that bad. The problem is, your absence at home is felt by your wife and kids. Keep your extracurricular activities in check by communicating about them with your wife. You need balance!

3. Kiss her first.

When you see your wife for the first time after a long day of work, kiss her first. Put down your keys, drop your bag on the floor, and lay one on her! There is nothing that makes a woman feel better than knowing you’re thinking about her. Hitting the door with the intent to connect with her immediately sets the stage for positive energy throughout the evening and shows the kids their parents are secure in their relationship.

4. Avoid “boys nights out” (AKA bachelor parties).

I mean — c’mon, man! Nothing kills a good thing with your wife like a “boys night out.” Back in the day, I was a partying force to reckon with. “Boys night out” usually implied alcohol, taxi cabs, strip clubs, and vomit. If this is how you roll with the boys, I suggest you re-examine your priorities. You may not know it, but your wife is probably scared to death the whole time you’re out. If you want to go hang out with your friends, don’t involve excessive booze at nightclubs. Take some responsibility as a husband and make sure your wife approves. A good question to ask yourself is, If my wife were here, would she be offended? (This tip goes for the ladies, too.)

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5. Reject passivity.

When something is happening that you know isn’t right, step in. Passivity will kill your family’s faith and trust in you in times when circumstances demand your intervention. There were so many times in my first marriage when my passivity ended up defining my role in my home. This can’t happen. But—rejecting passivity does not mean you need to be a dictator at home. You are to love your wife as Christ loved the church, not as Ike loved Tina!

6. Remember, your wife didn’t grow up in your house.

Six months after my first marriage began, we were in marriage counseling. I was 100 percent sure it was all her fault. My biggest complaint was, “This isn’t the type of environment I grew up with in my house. It’s not the way I do things.” My counselor was quick to point out that my wife did not grow up with me or my family. She was thousands of miles away living a different life and didn’t even know I existed. My counselor said, “How can you possibly expect your wife to understand ‘how things were in your house’ when you met her only a year ago at age 27? And why do you expect her to act like your relatives?” She was right. Far too often we think things will immediately “mesh” and that we’re above communication problems. You and your wife are building a new life together, and it will always be in progress.

7. Own her decisions.

I admit, being married to my wife is like being on a spiritual roller-coaster. She’s plugged into Jesus! Her extreme spirituality leads her in places that sometimes are unfamiliar to me. But she respects my role as the head of our family, and when major issues arise, it’s my job to make the final decision. (And ladies–before you get up in arms about the “balance of power,” she will be the first to tell you she prefers it that way. My bearing  the responsibility for heavy family issues takes the burden off her shoulders.) Even though many of the ideas are not mine, I am the leader of my house and therefore the decisions to take action are all mine. If a decision leads to a failure, you should never blame your wife. You should own it and learn from it.

Read more from Frank — and his wife Karen — at their blog, Eighth Rising

Copyright © 2014 Frank Lodato, Used with permission.