What are the secrets to a happy marriage?

Marriage Tips

We tried to save money on our wedding, so we did a lot of the work and utilized the skills of family and friends. The day before the wedding, as I took our wedding cake out of the oven (that I had just baked myself), I finally had the thought, “Maybe I’m doing too much work on my wedding.” While weddings can be stressful and take a ton of work, the marriage that comes after takes a lot more. This is especially true if you desire to have a marriage that is lasting and strong.

Remember the first time you met your future spouse, your heart started pounding, your hands got sweaty, and you didn’t wipe that silly grin off your face for days. In the weeks that followed, one thing led to another, and before you knew it, wedding bells were on the horizon. The problem is “Many people spend more time planning the wedding than they do in planning the marriage.” What are the secrets of a successful marriage?

Like everything else, if you take your relationship for granted, cracks will appear like weeds sprouting through a perfect lawn. Marriage is a wonderful institution. Nurture it, and you’ll find that love doesn’t have an expiration date.

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First of all, even happy couples argue.

No marriage is happy all of the time. “Like all relationships, there are ups and downs,” says psychologist Erica MacGregor. But when you do fight, happy marriages listen to each other’s point of view, recognize when the argument is going off the rails, and make the necessary repairs, she says. In fact, Dr. Juliana Morris, a family and couples therapist, says that some of the happiest couples she has worked with “have weathered hard times.” So if you and your spouse sometimes argue, or are going through a rough patch, this does not necessarily mean you are in an unhappy marriage. In fact, it probably means you’re normal.

Small Things Often

If marriage is a journey, then it’s important that you’re oriented in the right direction. It’s way easier to make small efforts as you go than a major course correction when it may be too late. Small changes early and often can create big changes over time. Prioritize practical expressions of kindness daily. It’ll help you remember that you like each other.

Celebrate small, good moments.

“Most of us know that it’s important to be there for our partner during the tough times,” says Pawelski. But, she says, it’s just as important to acknowledge the good times, too. She says that good things actually happen more often than bad, but couples often miss those opportunities to connect. So the next time your spouse shares something positive—like a compliment from their boss, “Immediately stop what you are doing and focus your full attention,” she says. “Help them savour the moment by asking questions and actively celebrating the good news.” In doing so, you’ll show gratitude for the happy moments in your marriage.

Marriage Tips

Process is Everything

I believe that the end of therapy is when the couple can process the relationship without the therapist. This means that couples need to focus on HOW they talk to one another matters far more than WHAT they say. The process basically consists of knowing (a) what you’re feeling (b) why you’re feeling it and (c) what that feeling means. As you develop this skill, you will dramatically shift the quality of conversation in your relationship.

Acknowledge your partner’s feelings

You don’t always have to agree with your partner, but it is important you acknowledge their feelings are real. In letting your spouse know this, you’re helping to validate their true emotions at that moment. This recognition, in turn, will help you get through the rough patches as a team.

Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher, psychotherapist and owner of Polaris Counseling & Consulting, told The Cheat Sheet via email, “You don’t need [your spouse] to understand why or even agree with you, you just need [your spouse] to be responsive to your emotions.”

To learn more, check out our post on Is the first year of marriage the hardest?

Hibernate for a day

When you can feel in your bones that the two of you need some uninterrupted, quality time together, take a day off of work. Spend it in bed, goofing around or getting intimate. Just whatever will bring you two closer.

Focus on each other’s strengths.

It’s not always easy to see past minor annoyances, and at times you may even hate your partner. But to have a happy marriage you have to accept your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to set realistic expectations, says Ellen Chute, LMSW. For example, if you’re better with numbers, don’t get angry when they disbalance the chequebook. Instead, make it your job to set the budget. If their strength is cooking, they can manage meal planning instead. “Using our strengths on a daily basis is associated with greater well-being,” says Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, co-author of the book Happy Together, which she wrote with her husband, James Pawelski, PhD. “And when we help our partner use their strengths, we experience more relational satisfaction,” she says.

Don’t stress over the small stuff.

Be buddies, don’t stress over the little stuff, be positive, cut each other some slack, spend time together even when you can’t but don’t fight about it, LAUGH, realize how many of the things we get angry about are ridiculous.

Don’t expect your partner to complete you.

Reality check: Jerry Maguire is a movie character. When he announced “You complete me,” it sure was romantic—but it doesn’t fly in the real world. According to Pawelski, If you rely on your spouse to fulfil you, it can lead to an over-dependent relationship where you are not growing as individuals. Instead, couples in healthy relationships should “complement,” not “complete” one-another, she says. “We should be secure, mature, and whole in ourselves while being open to the other person.” So make sure you nurture your own interests and desires—take a class you’re interested in, make plans with friends—instead of waiting for your spouse to fill in the void.

Perfect your communication skills

Let’s kick things off with one of Pillemer’s points. As a result of his research, he uncovered five keys to a successful marriage, one of which is communication. According to Pillemer, his subjects couldn’t stress this enough. Not only is conversing with your partner the best way to build a deeper connection, but it’s also crucial for solving any obstacles you encounter. Pillemer notes that the subjects in successful marriages believed all problems could be remedied with open communication, while individuals with failed marriages believed poor communication was the downfall.

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Choose to be attracted to your spouse.

You get to decide if you think your partner is hot? Believe it or not, yes. “Attraction to your spouse is a decision that you have the power to make throughout your marriage,” says Sunny McMillan, certified life coach, radio host, and author of Unhitched. She recommends practising “attraction thoughts.” To do this, she says, focus on the attributes you’re most drawn to, like your spouse’s great legs or the way they parent your kids (it doesn’t have to be physical). The good news is that your spouse doesn’t have to be a cover model for you to feel attracted. According to Chute, “Happy marriages are based on a sense of connection,” she says. “Physical attraction is far deeper than looks.”

Negotiate a Mutually Satisfying Sexual Relationship.

Both you and your husband need to be willing to work on this aspect of your relationship. Dr. Warren makes several recommendations, including buying a book on marital sex, seeking counselling if needed and improving communication.

Understanding Must Precede Advice

Especially when it comes to perpetual issues, it’s critical to understand that “solving” is a bad strategy. Empathy and understanding is always the first step to resolution. Get really good at saying, “I can appreciate how you’d feel that way because…”. Start by trying to understand. Check if you got it right. Then try to understand some more. Understanding leads to safety. When you and your partner both feel safe enough to discuss your differing views on an issue, it opens up the door to creative problem solving together.

Outsourcing can work wonders.

“If there’s some chore you both hate, and you can afford it, outsource. This can mean buying a dishwasher or getting a neighbour kid to mow the lawn for a few bucks. Whatever you pay is probably worth avoiding a marriage full of arguments and resentment over who’s turn it is to deal with it.”

You Don’t Have to Have High Standards

Seven Principles. Five Secrets. It’s a lot to remember. The good news is that you can start anywhere. Anytime. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be today. Try a small act of kindness. Maybe a surprise gift. Maybe just say “thank you”. Dr. Gottman’s research revealed that even the simplest gesture could initiate a positive feedback cycle which builds trust and intimacy and, ultimately, happiness.

Appreciate each other.

You may be grateful for your partner, but unless you actually express those feelings, he or she may not have any idea. Everyone has their own preferred love language; a way they best show and receive love. And while you may think your partner inherently knows just how much you appreciate them, that’s not necessarily the case.

When you’re with someone all the time, it’s easy to take them for granted, but according to MacGregor, you should verbally express your appreciation every day. Whether you’re calling positive attention to something thoughtful they’ve done, or letting them know something you like about them, “We all need to feel appreciated and reinforced for the things we are doing right,” says MacGregor. For example, if your spouse makes you coffee in the morning, tell them it started your day with a smile. “If we don’t feel valued, we may become resentful and grow apart.”

Accept and expect change.

Pawelski believes that to be truly happy in marriage, couples must be willing to grow and adapt. “Our needs are always changing, people are growing, and relationships evolve,” she says. “So what we need today may not be what we need years from now.” Morris agrees: “It’s crucial to bend, flex, and pivot with each other in a balanced dance,” she says. Because in successful marriages, each person supports the other so that they can grow to become the best person they can be, and that means maturing as individuals and together as a team. Until death does you part.

Act as a team

From the moment you said “I Do,” you became one of two people in a partnership. “This viewpoint involves seeing problems as collective to the couple, rather than the domain of one partner. Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner’s responsibility,” Pillemer said. By combating any and all obstacles as a collective unit, not only will you be helping your partner, but you’ll be strengthening your relationship, too.

Laugh with each other.

Life is stressful, so it helps if you can find lightness even when you’re in the thick of it. “Typically when a couple has humour, it means they have perspective,” says Morris who recommends couples find laughter in both good and bad times. She says that she has noticed that couples in happy marriages have ease around each other. Whether it’s through little inside jokes, a silly unexpected text, or even just watching your favourite comedy together, connecting with your spouse with laughter can increase your bond, she says.

Be kind to one another.

“It’s so important to be respectful and understanding of your spouse,” says MacGregor. “If you are critical and judgmental, it usually ends in defensiveness and resentment.” So to keep things happy within the marriage, avoid attacking your partner’s character when you’re upset. For example, she says, don’t say “you’re such a slob! You never clean up your dishes.” Instead, try saying something like, “Because I made dinner, I’d really appreciate it if you could do the dishes tonight.” See how much nicer that sounds?

Learn to listen and reflect

Being a good listener is a vital communication skill. Not everyone is able to hear what someone else is saying true. But if you and your spouse can listen to one another, and then reflect back on both words and feelings, you’re setting yourselves up for success.

According to Lynn R. Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker, the secret to a happy marriage is reflective listening. “Making your spouse feel heard and understood more often than not makes them feel cared for and loved,” Zakeri told The Cheat Sheet via email. “The problem is that this is hard for us to do because if we disagree with what our partner is saying, acknowledging and validating their words can feel very difficult.” And that brings us to the next point.

Listen to your spouse’s needs.

“13 years here. No matter how well you know your spouse, don’t dismiss the need to make it clear when something is really important or serious to you. Personal priorities evolve over time, and both parties can benefit from keeping up with this. I mean, there are big things like sex, careers, and politics, but if I say I want a kitten, then I really want a kitten.”

Stay Close To Family And Friends

Today marriage has become a two-person cocoon that we expect to get all our support and intimacy from. That’s not healthy or realistic.

Keep friends and family in the loop. Your marriage should be your primary relationship — not your only one.

Don’t stop saying ‘I love you’.

“Say ‘I love you’ every day. You never know if that morning your spouse could be hit by a car, have a heart attack, or a myriad of things. They’re three small words that mean everything to your spouse. Let them know you love them.”

Keep your promise.

Marriage is a commitment. Always remember the reasons you wanted to spend the rest of your life with your spouse.

Marriage requires commitment, but some people don’t take that responsibility to heart. They fool themselves into thinking it’s like getting a new roommate, pooling their finances together, or an excuse to have an extravagant party. The truth is, marriage joins two people. “…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” While those words sound wonderful, your actions determine the fate of your marriage.

People who put their heart into their marriage reap one of the greatest treasures in life. You’ll have a soul mate to share your hopes and your fears, your laughter and your tears, your joy and your sorrow. The fact is, the love of your life will make your highs higher and your lows much easier to bear. As Audrey Hepburn said, “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” Marriage, like infinity, offers no limit to your happiness.

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