Being married isn’t easy; in fact, it can be downright difficult. But my husband and I committed not long after our wedding day to making our marriage work. We saw so many of our friends whose marriages were ending in divorce, and we didn’t want that to happen to us. We wanted to honor the promises we made on our wedding day.
But several years into our marriage things got tough, and neither one of us was happy. We thought about separating, but by then we had two children, and we needed to make it work.
With a little help from some one-on-one time on my part with a counselor, I learned how to share what I needed from my husband and how I was making life more difficult for him and myself. I made changes in the way I communicated with him, and it wasn’t long before he recognized the changes that I had made and that encouraged him to make some as well.
Over the years, we’ve adjusted and modified what we need from each other and our marriage, and we’ve managed to keep it mostly harmonious. We’ve been married for more than 30 years now and here’s what’s currently helping us to keep it together as we’ve transitioned to a new stage in our marriage.
My 10 Rules for a Happy Marriage
1. Be There.
Always kiss each other goodnight, even if you’re not getting along. Hug, kiss, and hold hands, often. Agree to stay together even when things get difficult (obviously, if things have gotten physical, that’s a different story). Write a note to yourselves during a honeymoon period (which can happen many times over the course of your marriage), so you have something to fall back on when it gets tough. Decide why you got married in the first place and why you need to work it out. Stick together – especially when it comes to dealing with your extended family.
2. Be Forgiving.
No one wins when you’re fighting. It’s okay to be the first one to make a move towards reconciliation. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you recognize that where you are as a couple isn’t good for you and you want to work it out.
3. Be Calm.
Make a deal to stay calm when you’re in a disagreement and to refrain from shouting at each other. Use humor to get yourselves back on track when things are difficult. We have several ridiculous statements we say to each other that let the other know we’re sorry and it’s time to get back on track.
4. Be Careful.
Never say anything you can’t take back. Telling your spouse he or she is lazy, stupid, fat, etc., can eat away at them forever and make huge dents in your marriage that won’t go away. If it’s something you thought of in the heat of anger, it’s likely meant to hurt. Instead, swallow those hurtful words and say “I need to walk away,” and then do it. After you’ve had time to calm down, think about what you were going to say and determine if it is accurate, constructive, and helpful. If it’s none of those things, keep it to yourself.
5. Be Thoughtful.
Do the chore your spouse hates the most, never leave the car on empty, pick up after yourself, bring your spouse his or her favorite treat because you thought of him while you were standing in line, tell her about a film you saw the preview of she might like, purchase a book you know he’ll love. It’s not about spending a lot of money; it’s about doing little things that will make him/her smile or that will make his life easier.
6. Be Accepting.
We all have our annoying habits and instead of trying to retrain your spouse, learn to retrain yourself not to be irritated by them. Especially things they have no power over. My husband can’t stand that I talk and snore in my sleep. For years, he would get mad and stomp out of the room in the middle of the night to sleep on the couch waking me up in the process and leaving me frustrated. How could he be mad at something I have no control over? We finally compromised, and now he wears ear plugs, and I sleep on the couch if he has something important he has to get a good night’s sleep for. He snores as well, but I’ve trained my thoughts to find it a pleasant sound because when it’s gone, it means he’s no longer here. Forgiving each other in advance instead of making an issue out of it works for us.
7. Be Patient.
Learn not to be annoyed by your partner’s idiosyncrasies. My husband was always late for dinner, and it used to make me mad when he didn’t drop everything the minute I called him to the table. I took it personally and felt like he didn’t think it was important enough for him to get there while the food I’d prepared was hot. For a few years, I just stopped making dinner, and we ate separately. Unfortunately, while he was okay with it, I was harboring anger toward him. That wasn’t very satisfying and certainly not mature. I tried again, this time telling him dinner was ready 15 minutes before it was. That seemed to work, but there were still issues with timing. I finally decided that he only eats when he’s hungry and not when the clock dictates, and he needs time to finish up whatever he’s working on. I honor his needs now by asking him when he’ll be ready for dinner. If I’m too hungry to wait, I go ahead without him. Otherwise, I make dinner at the time we agreed upon, and we’re both happy.
8. Be Attentive.
Pay attention when your spouse is present. I put down my phone or turn off my computer, even when I have work to do, to give him my undivided attention. He has no electronic time-sucking habits, so it’s easier for him, but getting him to sit down is an issue. Figure out what distracts each of you and declare a timeout from them a minimum of 20 minutes each day even if you have to stay up late or get up early to catch up. Find other time suckers you can get rid of. Turn off the TV, hang up the phone, and then take a walk, sit on the porch, or shower together so you can catch up and connect.
9. Be Thankful.
Acknowledge the good things your partner brings to the marriage and the kindness he or she shows you. Leave a note on the mirror, tuck a handwritten card in his/her lunch, or just say, “thanks” to let your spouse know you recognize his/her thoughtfulness.
10. Be Supportive.
Tell your partner often what you love about him. Be genuine and give compliments freely. Say yes whenever possible to your spouse’s desires when it comes to education, employment, careers, hobbies, friends, and more. Commit to looking at each without fear, jealousy, or anger.
These are the ten “rules” that have kept our marriage mostly on the happy side. The most important rule is that you can’t keep score on who did or did not do what. You have to commit from the heart and find joy and pleasure in giving to and caring for your partner and not waiting for your spouse to make you happy.
How do you stay happily married?