Want a Happy Marriage? Do These Things…
Man were we messy at first. And I mean your worst grease stain, gum in your hair, “I think it would be easier to just buy a new one” kind of messy. Love was always in the mix, but you wouldn’t have guessed it had you observed my husband and I in the legendary ego matches of our early marriage.
We had some fine moments…Like when I told the love of my life I would leave him (during a highly hormonally charged postpartum rant) after he slept through our first night at home with our newborn daughter (to be fair, that was pretty cheeky of him)! Or when I completely forgot his birthday because I was too caught up with my own stuff and then blamed him for it! Classic.
So when a friend of mine told me a few years back how much she admired the relationship between me and my husband and how she hoped for something like it for herself one day, I nearly choked on the rocky road that had lead to that moment. But the thing is, it was true. By then we had achieved a sort of equilibrium that supported a mutually loving and rewarding experience of our relationship. And we’ve since become the target of incessant teasing.
We’re no longer newlyweds (in fact, when we were, we were probably too stressed to act like it) and neither one of us is particularly fond of overly affectionate displays in public, but we now often find ourselves inadvertently caught up in intimate conversation in the midst of social gatherings, me on his welcoming lap, him with his arms around me, those around us giggling and inevitably remarking on how we should get a room…
So how did we get here? How was the tumult settled? How have this high-strung New Yorker and rustic Italian mountain man found so much harmony and, consequently, happiness?
There are many theories out there. Clinical psychologist Kelly Flanagan contends that not keeping secrets is the secret to a healthy marriage. The American Psychological Association includes protecting your privacy as a couple once a baby enters the scene as one of the nine psychological tasks for a good marriage. And I love what Danny Silk says about intimacy and acceptance in his book Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication and Boundaries:
Unconditional acceptance says, “You are not me and I am not you. You get to be you and I get to be me in this relationship.”
Well, as best I could, I’ve reverse-engineered the sometimes epic, sometimes minuscule, changes my husband and I have undergone over the last 8 years and come up with my own.
13 key habits of happy couples :
You figure out which details mean a lot to your spouse and you do them –
A warm meal after a long day at work is something that instantly settles my husband’s spirit. A massage after a long day at work is what revitalizes my soul. We know it. We do it.
You occasionally look at your spouse through the eyes of a jealous lover –
Not getting all Fatal Attraction on each other, but seeing your spouse as a person who could very well be covered by another can remind you of how extraordinary the individual with whom you have the privilege of sharing your life truly is.
You feel pride at your spouse’s strengths, not inadequacy –
The second one of you feels like you have to hide your greatness to shield your spouse from pain, something is off. Not that this can’t happen from time to time when one of you is struggling through something, but it should NOT be the norm. Aim for being your spouse’s biggest fan.
You stop seeing weaknesses in your spouse and start realizing differences instead –
Beware of seeing things that your spouse does differently from you as shortcomings. I used to do this all the time: He can’t just settle in at home on his day off, he always has to be buzzing off to do one thing or another, he doesn’t like to read as much as I do…I’ve come to understand that this is how my husband differs from me, not proof that he is somehow inferior to me.
You assume your spouse’s day was much more difficult than your own –
This can be tough, especially if there is an infant in the home! At this point, it’s generally wise to assume that the person caring for the baby has had the rougher day But aside from this, get ready to greet your spouse with curiosity and empathy about his/her day before you unload about your own!
You become practiced at leaving your comfort zone to meet some of your spouse’s needs –
You’re not going to love everything your spouse loves. And this is fine. Even good. But you can’t bail on your spouse just because he/she is asking you to do something or go somewhere that moves you out of your comfort zone. Stretching is key in a satisfying marriage. If you don’t stretch, your marriage risks becoming boringly brittle and breaking.
You respect your spouse’s discomfort zones –
That being said, respect your spouse’s limits.
You acknowledge the part your psychological junk plays in arguments –
In my opinion, this is one of the most healing aspects of the relationship (second, perhaps, only to #10). When you can observe yourself enough and swallow your pride enough to acknowledge that insisting your spouse never supports you has more to do with the screaming 4-year-old tucked away in your unconscious than with the present situation, you’d be amazed at how quickly angry intensity can be defused.
You are aware of your psychological junk –
I’m with Penelope Trunk. This hyper-accomplished businesswoman, blogger and homeschooling mom makes this suggestion: “Avoid couples therapy. Just go to therapy yourself.” You need to have your blind spots pointed out to you if you want to keep them from sabotaging your marriage!
You speak healing words to the wounded regions in your spouse’s personality –
Say what no one else ever said. Fill what no one else could ever fill. Be the breath of life to the dead bones your spouse had all but given up on.
You are aware of the wounded regions in your spouse’s personality –
You may not be a skilled therapist, and your spouse is responsible for managing his/her own behavior and unconscious material, but when you start to see patterns of vulnerability develop in your partner, notice.
You make love more than you think you need to –
This one’s for you, moms! My husband jokes that he knows better than I do when I need to have sex. I roll my eyes. But, you know what? He’s picking up on my tension levels. I clam up and pull away from him as they arise. Making love, even when I’m not certain it’s what I want or need, breaks down the barriers in our relationship that stress faithfully constructs, leaving us both defense-free, reconnected and relaxed!!
You blindly and unwaveringly stand by your vows –
While the beginning of our marriage was outwardly shaky, there was one very solid constant that prevailed throughout. Aside from the insane postpartum moment I mentioned earlier, it never occurred to either one of us that giving up was an option. Never!
This is what we do and, from what I’ve observed and read, this is what most couples do that have joyfully made it through a much longer haul than my husband and I. So give these habits some effort. Fortify your bond and inject a whole lot more joy into your marriage!
How do YOU keep your marriage going strong? Let me know in the comments section below and I’ll be sure to respond. Thanks!