I think some people look at marriage as one of those things you have to just throw yourself into, sink or swim—but this is not really the case. The foundation of a happy marriage can be built up long before you ever say “I do.”
How do you build a happy marriage? By making healthy relationship behaviors a habit. When treating your partner with love and respect becomes deeply ingrained in your day to day, it feels less like work and more like love. Taking time for one another should be a priority that becomes second nature once you do it long enough.
Here are six habits that will have a positive and transformative impact on your marriage, starting now.
01. Greet one another with joy—Every. Single. Time.
This habit may seem like one of the easiest to practice, but for many couples it can be one of the most challenging. According to Dr. Bill Doherty, author of The Intentional Family, the way a couple greets each other at the beginning or end of the day can have a huge impact on the quality of their marriage. As Dr. Doherty explains, if you greet one another well, you look forward to that reunion. If you greet each other poorly, you begin to dread seeing each other. Makes sense, right?
Make a ritual out of greeting one another that you stick with no matter what. Marriage counselor and Verily contributor Peter McFadden dances with his wife at the end of every day. Whether it’s a long hug, a kiss, or a cheerful “Hello! I love you!” stick to it every day. Your marriage will thank you.
02. Set aside daily undistracted communication.
Perhaps the greatest enemy of a happy marriage is distraction. When we let one busy day turn into the next without spending distraction-free time with our partner, we begin to take them for granted. According to Dr. John Gottman, storied marriage researcher and author, two minutes of undistracted communication a day can have more impact on your marriage than spending a whole unfocused week together as a couple. Having meals together, sans cell phone, is a great way to get that quality time. If meals don’t work for your schedule, plan to have coffee or tea together at some point in the day. Dr. Doherty likes the idea of sharing some kind of hot drink because it has a sense of ritual and a very clear beginning and end.
03. Ask a lot of questions.
Closely related to setting aside undistracted communication time, get in the habit of asking your partner questions—and really listening to the answer. This is the secret to ever-growing intimacy.
Marriage gets boring when a couple stops learning about one another. Constantly being in touch with your partner’s developing thoughts, ideas, and dreams makes them feel understood and builds shared meaning between the two of you. Do you know your partner’s worries and stresses at the moment? What are their hopes and aspirations? What are their goals this year? Are they different from last year? Make it a daily habit to find out.
Need some inspiration for good questions to ask? There are a lot of great suggestions here.
04. Affirm one another a lot (and at least once a day).
Affirmation and gratitude are important parts of making your partner feel appreciated and loved, but it doesn’t flow naturally for everybody. If your love language isn’t words of affirmation, showing verbal appreciation can be difficult. Even if you are a naturally affirming person, it’s easy for the day to get away from you before you have a chance to thank your partner.
The solution? Make affirmation and gratitude a ritual you live by every day. Krizia Liquido, Verily’s Lifestyle Editor, takes time every evening before bed to show gratitude and appreciation for her husband. They each share three—and only three—things they appreciate about the other, from something they did that day to a personality trait. Krizia says that limiting it to three things keeps her and her spouse from taking one another for granted. If you are in need of inspiration, read more about Krizia’s ritual and how it works.
05. Ask for what you want.
According to Zach Brittle, Gottman-certified therapist and co-founder of ForBetter.com, if there is one skill a couple should master before the wedding day, it’s asking for what you want. This seems like another habit that would come easily, but Brittle has found it is one of the most difficult things for married couples to do. Instead of simply telling our partners what we want, we tend to shroud our desires in complaints and criticism—two behaviors that are the biggest contributors to marital dissatisfaction.
Why don’t we simply ask for what we desire? We assume our partner knows what we want, we fear the answer to our request, and oftentimes we just don’t know how to ask. But asking for what we want can be learned and can become an intimacy-building habit in a relationship.
06. Keep it 5:1.
According to Dr. Gottman, there really is one secret formula that can be found among all of the happy-stable couples he has studied: 5 to 1. Happy couples have positive interactions most of the time—or five times more than negative interactions, to be exact. Dr. Gottman found that marital happiness isn’t about whether a couple fights or has problems. What’s much more important is that they spend most of their time repairing, laughing, snuggling—basically, doing things that build up intimacy. This tendency toward the positive comes naturally to some couples, but it can also be learned by making it a habit. By stocking up on positive interactions such as loving greetings, affirmations, and quality communication, you can protect intimacy and positivity when conflict or unpleasantness takes a hit.
Photo Credit: Gideon Photography