Everyone wants a happy marriage.
Sadly, many people don’t have one.
Many live lonely lives in a house with someone they used to love. Others get divorced.
That doesn’t have to be you.
You can improve your marriage. You can have a successful marriage.
You can have a happy marriage.
In this article, we will share with you 29 “secrets” to a happy marriage.
One warning: Don’t expect an instant cure. These marriage tips can help your marriage, but it takes time and patience. You may need to visit a counselor for extra help. And that’s okay.
It’s worth it.
Focus on the good, not the bad
When things are hard, it can be easy to focus on what we don’t like about our spouse. But that’s opposite of what we should do.
If you want to build a happy marriage, focus on the good parts about your spouse, what you like about them. Focus on their good qualities.
And tell them! Tell them what you appreciate them (even if seems small).
One great idea to improve your marriage and to help you focus on the good is to think of at least three things about your spouse that you like about them and tell them.
Another idea is to get some paper and write out what you appreciate about your spouse, and when you start getting negative, go back and look at that list and focus on those aspects.
Assume the best of intentions
As humans, it’s easy for us to assume that other people do things with negative intentions.
They did it on purpose. They did it to hurt us or to get at us.
Don’t do that with your spouse. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Assume the best in your spouse. Assume good intentions. Assume that they don’t do things to get at you, but do things as honest mistakes.
Assume they love you and want the best in you as well.
When you start assuming the negative, ask yourself “Why would a rational human being who loves me do this?”
Show appreciation every day
Show appreciation to your husband or wife every day. Say thank you.
It can be over little things. Thank them for helping pick up the living room. Thank them for helping with dishes. Thank them for listening to you.
Do small acts of appreciation. Write notes. Do something extra to help your spouse out.
We all want and need to be appreciated. When you take that extra step for your spouse to do so, it will mean a lot.
Make time for friendship
Make time for your friendship in your marriage.
Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg in their book Fighting For Your Marriage say that in their research they have found that people of all ages and walks of life, both men and women, say that “the most important goal for their marriage is to have a friend and to be a friend.”
Unfortunately, for many marriages, that isn’t a reality.
Time passes, responsibilities increase, conflict arises, and the friendship aspect of the relationship is put to the backburner.
Don’t let this be you.
Make time for your friendship. Make time to be friends, to talk like friends, and to have fun as friends.
Make it a priority in your life.
Restore (or protect) the friendship part of your relationship. Make it weekly effort (at least) to set aside time to spend time together as friends.
Also, when you are focusing on your friendship, don’t bring up issues that cause arguments. Save that for another time. Use friendship time only for what it is, to grow, build, and maintain your friendship.
Make time for fun
As the years pass and the kids come and work increases, fun is often thrown out the door.
Don’t let that happen. Make time to have fun with your husband or wife.
Start having dates again. Go on walks. Do activities that you both enjoy. Don’t allow issue talk or negativity during this time.
Just enjoy life, have fun, and find pleasure in one another’s company.
Support one another
Be there for one another. Listen to each other. Listen to each other’s heartaches, troubles, and sorrows.
We all want and need someone to be there for us when we have something on our mind and heart and need to talk.
Be that person to each other.
In fact, Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg in their book Fighting For Your Marriage say that “Researchers have also discovered that believing support is available to you is even more important than the support you actually use.”
Be that to one another. Be the person that your spouse can come to and talk to without judgment, criticism or unwanted advice. Let them know and show them that you will be that support for them.
Think as a team (think “we” instead of “me”)
As issues, arguments, and problems arise, think of yourselves as a team facing the issues together.
Too often arguments, fights, and problems become “you vs me”.
Don’t do that. That just makes the issues worse.
In your marriage, you are a team. You are working together to solve the problems.
When you argue about something, come from the perspective of “how can we work together to solve this problem”. Don’t work against each other or label each other as the problem.
Always think from that perspective of a team.
Make your relationship a priority
Make your relationship a priority.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day: kids, work, activities, family, events, community, etc.
When that happens, the relationship often loses importance.
And that’s how many marriages start to drift apart and fail. That’s how people often start feeling lonely in their marriage.
Don’t let that happen.
Make your relationship and the time you spend together (as friends, for support, for fun, and so on) a priority in your life and schedule.
You may have to cut out the number of activities your kids do, your activities in the community, or the extra hours you’ve been putting in at work.
It’s worth it.
Make your relationship a priority.
Learn to listen
Listening is a key tool for a happy marriage.
The problem is that many of us don’t know how to do it!
We say we listen, but we don’t. When others talk, we think about what we want to say instead of listening to what they are saying.
Or we interrupt. Or we give judgments about the other person. Or we give advice when it’s not wanted.
Instead, we need to truly listen.
Focus on the other person, not you.
When your husband or wife is talking to you, focus on what they are saying. Let your goal be to understand them and their viewpoint and for them to feel understood.
Try to see their viewpoint from their perspective. Let them feel understood and acknowledged. Acknowledging someone and their feelings and viewpoint is not the same as agreeing with it.
When you have a disagreement, instead of arguing your point, seek to understand the other person’s viewpoint. Then, after you understand and they feel understood, share your viewpoint.
When you take the time and effort to truly listen, you will find your relationship going deeper and arguments resolving much easier.
Always build up, never tear down
When emotions get high, it can be easy to start tearing each other down.
Remember, you are a team. Don’t tear each other down.
Instead, build each other up. Instead of insulting each other, give each other compliments.
Granted, you may not do that often (or ever) in the middle of an argument, but you could.
Showing appreciation, acknowledging the other person and what they do can go a long way in removing defensiveness and working together to resolve the issue.
But more that, throughout the day, encourage your spouse. Build each other up. Tell them “good job”. Tell them how well they did something.
When you are around friends and other people, make sure to compliment your spouse in front of them.
Compliments and encouragements go a long way in building a happy marriage.
Deal with issues the right way
Too often we handle arguments and conflict poorly.
We get defensive instead of listening. We attack instead of seeking to understand. We focus on what we want instead of the other person or our relationship.
We think “me vs. you” instead of as a team working together to solve a problem.
When you are in a disagreement, make it a rule to never put each other down. Don’t criticize, insult, or exaggerate. Don’t say “You ALWAYS” or “You NEVER”.
Have each person take turns talking, sharing their point of view and why they feel that way with the other person listening without interrupting.
Make sure you understand each other.
Paraphrase each other. Make sure each person understands each other and how the other person feels.
Before you try to fix the issue, make sure each person has spoken and their viewpoint is fully understood by each other.
See the situation as a combination of viewpoints – this viewpoint AND that viewpoint, not OR. Look for the why behind the issue.
Tackle it as a team. You aren’t enemies. You aren’t competing against each other. It’s a problem affecting your marriage, and you want to work together to solve it.
Handle issues and complaints at the right time
There is a right time and a wrong time to deal with issues.
Right when someone gets home from work or right before bed is generally NOT a good time.
When someone is upset or stressed out is often not a good time either.
If you have an issue, don’t just bring it up, ask “is this a good time to talk about X”. If not, then set a time to talk about it later.
Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg in Fighting For Your Marriage suggest if it’s not a good time, the person who wants to wait takes the responsibility for setting a time to do it in the next 24-48 hours.
You can also have set times when you will talk about issues. This will often take the pressure off other conversations knowing you will deal with the issue later.
Also, don’t have issue talk when you are doing things for fun, working on your friendship, or when someone just needs some support.
Bringing up issue talk during those times is a great way to destroy those times and make the other person less willing to open up and share.
Look for the issue behind the issue or criticism
Unfortunately, we can sometimes be indirect in what we really want to say.
We may be afraid of rejection, so we try to say it indirectly to soften it.
An example: Your spouse says “You sure have been working a lot lately. You should take some time off and rest”.
What they might be saying is: “I miss seeing you. I want you to be around more.”
Other times we argue about an issue over and over, but what we are really arguing about isn’t really the issue.
The issue might not be that you leave clothes on the floor all the time. The real issue might be your spouse doesn’t really think you care about them enough to pick up after yourself, or he or she was criticized as a kid about cleanliness, and so he or she is anxious about it.
Take time to listen, ask “why”, and look for the issues behind the issues.
Take your commitment seriously
It can be easy sometimes to threaten the relationship in the heat of an argument.
But that’s dangerous.
You need to take your commitment to your relationship seriously.
If you are serious about “until death do us part”, or in just keeping the relationship together, don’t treat the health of the relationship flippantly.
Don’t throw around the “D” word (that divorce, for the uncertain). Don’t manipulate and threaten to leave or have an affair if you don’t get your way.
Treat it seriously.
Throwing around comments such as those can be a great way to destroy your marriage.
Use timeouts when things get heated
When arguments get heated, it can be easy to speak without thinking and say something you will regret.
Instead, call a “Pause” or a “Time Out”.
When you do this, you both stop and take a break to cool down and think before restarting the conversation.
You can also do this when it’s time when you are having fun, such as on a date, or just talking as friends. If an argument is about to start, call a pause on it and save it for a later date. This can save your fun time from going into the pits.
John Gottman in the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work calls it a “repair attempt”. He gave an example of a couple who, when things started getting heated, would stick their tongues out at each other and laugh. This kept arguments from escalating too far.
You can do something similar, whether it’s just saying “We need to take a Pause” or creating a sign word you give each other (for example, the word “donut”). Or it could be a special phrase you say.
Either way, find a way to stop arguments from escalating between you and your spouse.
Set ground rules for conflict
Setting ground rules for conflict can help you keep arguments from escalating and hurting your relationship.
We’ve already mentioned a number of ideas, such as taking turns to talk, not getting defensive or arguing, not throwing insults, taking timeouts, not bringing up issues during fun time, and so on.
Work together and come up with some rules (feel free to use the tips in this post as examples!) to help guide your disagreements.
Make it safe to talk
It makes sense: if someone doesn’t feel safe talking to you, they won’t!
People don’t feel safe talking to someone when they feel the other person will criticize them, judge them, patronize them, or treat their feelings as unimportant.
Don’t be that kind of person. Show nothing but love, concern, and care for your spouse.
Don’t judge, criticize, insult, patronize, dimish their feelings, or even tell them what to do unless they want advice.
Make them feel safe talking to you.
Know your spouse
When you were dating your husband or wife, you knew just about everything about them: what they liked, what they disliked, their friends, their favorite foods, and so on.
Is that still the case? Do you really know your wife or husband now? Do you know their hopes and dreams, their fears and concerns, their heartaches and sorrows?
Do you know who their best friend is? What there favorite meal and restaurant is right now?
Know your spouse. If you have become distant, take time to talk and get to know one another again.
Let the past stay in the past
One very harmful action some people take is that they never let their spouse free of a past mistake. They always bring it up anytime there is an argument and smash it in their face.
All that does it hurt and defeat the relationship.
Don’t do that.
Once an issue is dealt with, leave it in the past. Don’t bring it up again. Don’t bring up past, resolved issues into a current argument.
All it will do is hurt your relationship.
Don’t play the “what if” game
Never play the “what if” game. The “what if” game is when you look at a person and wonder what it would be like to be married or in a relationship with them.
Don’t go there. Ever.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence – and it’s usually over the septic line.
Every relationship has problems. Don’t let your eye wander. Focus on the relationship you have and on making it the best you can.
Have weekly couple’s meetings
One effective tool in building a happy marriage is to have weekly couples meetings.
A weekly couples meeting is where you have set time where you come together and talk about whatever issues that you need to discuss for your marriage – whether related to your marriage itself, your kids, and so on.
This can help those who tend to withdraw to open up more knowing that the issues will be dealt with later at a set time, and it let’s those who often pursue the withdrawers to back down and give them space, knowing the issues will be dealt with at a set time.
Marcia Berger, in her book Marriage Meetings for lasting love, suggests the following:
- Meetings last no longer for 45 minutes.
- You don’t bring up major issues the first 4-6 meetings.
- You start out with appreciation – you each tell each other what you appreciated about the other person for that week.
- You then talk about chores – what needs to get done and who will do it.
- Next you plan fun times – a date for the both of you, time for each of you by yourself, and any family events or vacations that you would like to do
- Then you deal with any issues and talk about them appropriately.
Whatever format you decide to have meetings in, having a set meeting can help you deal with issues better and help keep the peace during the rest of the week.
Spruce yourself up now
All too often, people spruce themselves up after a divorce so they can get a date.
Why wait till AFTER your divorce? Be the best person you can be NOW to help SAVE you from divorce.
Spruce yourself up now. Exercise, clean yourself up, whatever you need to do. Be the best person you can be for your spouse.
While there are times when it is wise to be tactful, you don’t want to be indirect. Always communicate clearly what you intend and what you want to say to your spouse.
Don’t be indirect, beat around the bush, or take a long time getting to it.
It’s not fair for you to expect your spouse to “get” something that you never said clearly or that they know what you mean or even to assume your spouse should just “know”.
Speak and communicate clearly.
Focus on what you can control
You can’t control your spouse or their actions. You can’t control your kids or their choices. You can’t control the economy, the weather, or the government.
What you can control, however, is you.
Don’t waste energy and time worrying about things you can’t control.
Instead, focus it on what you can – you.
If you want change in your marriage, don’t focus on what your spouse needs to change, focus on what you can change, and do it.
Realize some problems can’t be solved
Not every problem is solvable. Many happy couples live with unresolved problems.
It’s not the problems that are the issue – it’s how you manage it.
You aren’t likely to change your spouse’s personality. If you are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, it’s not likely you will change each other.
But what you can do is to learn how to manage those differences and learn to live with it.
One of you may be super-orderly and the other one more sloppy. It’s not likely you are going to make the sloppy one as orderly as the orderly one, or vice versa, but you can both learn to work together to manage the issue.
Don’t keep score
Don’t keep score with one another or play the 50-50 game.
Don’t compare how much each person is contributing to the relationship or how much work each person is doing.
All that does is create hard feelings and poor motivation. And it becomes a “you vs. me” mentality instead of being a team.
If there is an issue with chores or such, yes, talk about it. But don’t make it a scorekeeping game where you make sure your spouse is matching up to the same amount YOU think you are doing. That’s deadly.
Instead, each of you focus on giving 110% and what you can do for the relationship and for each other.
Do what you did in the beginning
As the years pass in marriage, couples often drift apart.
One of the big reasons is that they stopped doing what they did in the beginning, and they forget why they did it.
What about your spouse did you love? What did you enjoy doing with him or her?
Do the things you did in the beginning. Go on dates. Stay up late talking. Whatever it is, go back to the beginning.
Act like you are in love and devoted
Love is not a feeling or state of mind. It is a verb.
There will be times that you don’t feel love for your husband or wife. Act like you are anyway.
Do the things you did when you did feel in love.
Act it, and the feelings may follow.
Be quick to laugh and forgive
Humor is a powerful medicine.
If you can learn to laugh at yourself and your foibles and learn to find humor even in arguments, you will find life and marriage a little bit easier.
Don’t take things in life and marriage so serious. Learn to let loose, have fun, and laugh.
And as for forgiveness, we all make mistakes (even you!).
Don’t hold on to them. Be quick to forgive. Let go.
Otherwise, bitterness will build and it will not only hurt you but can destroy your relationship.
Having a happy marriage is possible.
It takes the right attitude, the right mentality, and the right skills.
While, in reality, many of these “secrets” aren’t really secret, in a way they are, because many couples just don’t do them.
After looking at this list, do you see areas where you need to improve?
Start to work on those.
Talk with your spouse and work on these together, if possible.
Now to you:
Do you have any other “secrets” to a happy marriage? Please share below!
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