All that dancing and laughter—weddings are a lot of fun, but being married isn’t always a piece of cake. (Sometimes it’s more like the frosting chunk that went up your nose during the smash—good intentions, but the wrong outcome.) There’s actually a lot of work that goes into living “happily ever after,” so whether you’ve been married for years or just tied the knot, we asked the experts what couples can do to have a happy marriage. Follow their helpful tips for a stronger, healthier and yes…more blissful bond.
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.
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 misbalance the checkbook. Instead, make it your job to set the budget. If their strength is cooking, they can manage meal planning rather. “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 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.
But still, do things together. And have fun together.
While it’s important to not fully depend on your partner in order to maintain a happy marriage, it’s also necessary to share common experiences. “Injecting new activities and interests into your relationship can strengthen the bond,” says Pawelski.
When couples share a unique passion, or learn a skill together—such as take a cooking class, or tennis lessons—they evolve together. According to Morris, “Happy couples have a zest for life with each other. Whether it’s a love of travel, a strong desire to build a family together, or a dedication to a common cause, these experiences enrich their relationship.”
Choose to be attracted to you 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 practicing “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.”
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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 humor, 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 an ease around each other. Whether it’s through little inside jokes, a silly unexpected text, or even just watching your favorite 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 if you could do the dishes tonight.” See how much nicer that sounds?
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 savor 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.
Appreciate each other.
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 do you part?
Sara is a freelance writer in New York, where she hides her favourite candy from her husband, two kids and even her golden retriever. The goldfish never asks for anything. Sara’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Women’s Health Magazine, Eating Well, shape.com, Scary Mommy, Runner’s World, Prevention, Seventeen, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Brides Magazine, among other publications.