DETROIT — Yolanda King is keeping a secret from her husband.
Around Christmas, she started being extra nice to him, doing some of his household chores, like cleaning the downstairs bathroom and washing towels, when he was too busy with work or practicing for his travel basketball league.
But she didn't think of doing these things on her own. They came from a book a co-worker recommended — "The Love Dare Book" (B&H Publishing, $14.99) by brothers Stephen Kendrick and Alex Kendrick. The book, which dares people to end each day with a simple act of love for their spouse, took her on a challenging, 40-day journey to be nicer to her husband, Carlton King, 37.
She says she and her husband, who live in Detroit, weren't having any major marital problems when she started reading the book. It was purely for enrichment, and she's glad she did it.
"Any time that I can better myself and better my relationship with my husband, I'm going to do it," says King, 36. "That's not to say it's a bad relationship, but we've only been married two years, and we want another 70, 80, 90 years together."
Now, she's starting a second exercise called "30 Days of Encouraging Your Husband." (See www.reviveourhearts.com/challenge/husband-encouragement)
This month-long program is led by Nancy Leigh DeMoss of Life Action Ministries, a revival ministry based in Buchanan, in southwest Michigan . The program challenges wives not to say anything negative about their husbands or to their husbands. Instead, for 30 days, King will say something positive or admirable to her husband and keep it positive when she talks about him to someone else.
Such marriage-strengthening programs are gaining popularity among couples, experts say. Many of them are available on the Internet, through church ministries and counseling centers. Experts say the programs are a good way to head off potential marital issues because they help correct negative behavior before it becomes problematic.
"I think it could be helpful for most couples, but for couples that are more significantly distressed, they will probably not benefit as much because they have become entrenched in negative communication patterns that require couples counseling," says Joseph Horak, a psychologist and family therapist in Grand Rapids, Mich.
King has set a goal: "I want to see what I'm willing to give, and see if I can step out of my box and he can step out his," she says, adding that she plans to tell him — unless somebody gets to him first — about both exercises after she's done with this one.
So, why the big secret?
"It kind of spoils it for him if he knows," she says. "I don't want him to anticipate what I'm going to do. It's not that I don't already do nice things for him."
She's doing it because she wants to keep them both happy in their marriage.
She says her husband has already begun to notice the extra kindness.
"I do recall him making a comment about me being nicer," she says.
Experts say many of the programs are skewed. They call for women to be nicer to men, but not the other way around. Debbie Little, a clinical therapist at Solid Ground Counseling in Plymouth, Mich., says marriage-strengthening programs always should be a two-way exercise, even if they don't necessarily call for that.
"Most women need the emotional part of the relationship and men need the physical," says Little, who has 10 years of clinical practice experience and has been married for 33 years. "With those two differences alone, we can see it takes two."
King dares men to read and follow the plan in the Kendrick brothers' book, which she says is appealing because it doesn't speak to the wife or the husband.
"They probably have not been introduced to anything like this," she says. "Men need to see."
Many marriage-strengthening programs are rooted in religion, but experts say they are good relationship principles in general.
King says the marriage-strengthening exercise she did around the holidays and into the New Year taught her more about herself than about her marriage. But halting negative comments and curbing complaining about work or how much she had to do around the house led to some all-positive days and definitely lightened the atmosphere at home.
"The Love Dare Book" has been good for her, and she plans to give her mother — who's been married for about 45 years — a copy the next time she sees her. She's also thinking about inviting her mother to take part in the 30-day challenge.
"It's nice to have some encouragement along the way," she says.