25 Ways to a Happy Marriage
Janill Gilbert stashed this in Love
1. Don’t roll your eyes at your mate. It’s a “painfully obvious sign of contempt,” writes Tara Parker-Pope in her latest book, “For Better: The Science of Marriage.” Research has shown it’s a powerful predictor of a troubled relationship, worse even than raising your voice.
2. Prepare for temptation. It’s possible to train yourself not to cheat, according to Parker-Pope. When an illicit urge pops up — as you’re talking with a flirty stranger in a bar, for example — fill your head with a particularly warm memory of your partner and consider what you stand to lose.
3. You don’t have to like every quality your partner has. You do have to decide whether you can live with those qualities, says Loren Gelberg-Goff, a longtime marriage and couples counselor. You won’t be able to change them.
4. Don’t agree to anything if you don’t mean it. “Don’t promise to put $100 into a savings account every week if you don’t intend to do it,” Gelberg-Goff says. “It will only create more anger and resentment.” In other words, don’t just say “yes” to avoid conflict.
5. Decide as a couple how you are going to compromise. “I think if you always try to find a middle ground, you can end up with two unhappy people,” says Courtney Horwitz, 35, of Brooklyn, who married Lawrence, 39, nine months ago. “We’re more like, OK, this is really important to him, so we’ll do it his way, and this is really important to me, so we’ll do this one my way.”
6. Make sure you really want to be married. “You need to know that you want it,” says Tina Trachtenburg, 45, of Brooklyn, who has been married to Jason, 40, for 15 years. “You are going to go through many phases with your partner. It’s going to take more work than you ever realized, and it’s not for everyone.”
7. Stick to the present. Don’t bring up old conflicts or things that went wrong in the past, says Jason Trachtenburg, a Brooklyn musician. “It doesn’t pay to bring up past hurts or reopen old wounds. It only creates resentment, and that’s not something you want to play around with.”
8. Follow the 5-to-1 rule: five compliments for every criticism of your partner, says Gelberg-Goff. “You must be willing to find more that’s positive in your partner than is negative,” she says.
9. How you fight is more important than what you fight over — and the first three minutes of an argument give a good indication of how healthy your marriage is, Parker-Pope writes. Couples who start fights with name-calling or personal criticisms are more likely to spiral out of control and are likely to be more unhappy in their marriage than couples who have learned to fight neutrally. Research shows that couples who speak in low, quiet voices, look each other in the eye, sit or stand at the same level and use open questions like, “What are the next steps for us?” fare better when things go awry. The most successful couples also know how to de-escalate their fights, either by asking for a break or using humor to defuse the tension.
10. Don’t interrupt. Fred Sander, an Upper West Side psychiatrist with 40 years’ experience as a marriage counselor, says some couples can’t let each other finish a thought. For them, he invokes the four-minute rule. “It’s important to listen respectfully,” he says. “Let one person speak for four minutes and the other listen, then trade. If you listen for four minutes, at least you know what the other person is feeling instead of just shooting them down.”
11. Have sex. It can be as often or infrequent as a couple wants, but don’t let intimacy fade completely, Sander warns.
12. Avoid the words “never” and “always.” “It doesn’t let a partner breathe when they’re told they are ‘always’ doing X and ‘never’ do Y,” says Sander.
13. Watch out for these three types of marriages: the pursuer-distancer (one partner, usually the woman in heterosexual unions, is eager to discuss problems while the other prefers to withdraw from conflict), the disengaged marriage (individuals who have tied the knot but live almost as if they were single, often ending their unions with the feeling “Is this all there is?”) and the operatic marriage (emotionally volatile marriages frequently marked by great sex but awful fights). These three have a very high risk of divorce, writes Parker-Pope. But caught early enough, the sinking relationships can be righted.
14. Be prepared to split household chores — or take them on completely if that’s what works for your marriage. “I need the dishes done so I can concentrate, so I’ve learned to turn housework into a Zen activity,” says Jason Trachtenburg. “You’ve got to find a way to make things fun, or you’ll be jumping in front of the next train.”
15. Create a world that the two of you share. Every couple should have things they do together that they both enjoy, even if it’s just going to the movies. “We like each other’s jobs, and we like each other’s friends,” says Shelly Strickler, 69, of Brooklyn, who will have been married to Larry, also 69, for 48 years this June.
16. Only one person gets to have a tantrum at a time. “Look, sometimes even the most sane adult needs to act like a 2-year-old,” says Gelberg-Goff. “Whoever starts the tantrum has dibs. The other one has to be the adult.”
17. Be prepared to talk about finances without judgment. If one person wants to pool savings and build an empire and the other views marriage as a spiritual union and doesn’t worry about money, it’s going to be a rocky road, says Gelberg-Goff.
18. Be flexible with gender roles. Shelly Strickler was longing to start a career in broadcast journalism shortly after they married and had kids. “She was unhappy; I could feel it. I encouraged her because it felt like it was right for the marriage,” says her husband, Larry. “It was over two years of my family going through big bumps, and I picked up the slack with the children, but it was all worth it.”
19. Respect your partner’s territory. “Courtney really likes to cook, and the kitchen is pretty much her domain. I took it over a few times without alerting her to what I was doing, and I’ve learned it’s better to communicate beforehand the things that affect both of us,” says newlywed Lawrence Horwitz. “I’ve also learned I shouldn’t speak for her.”
20. Hold hands. A recent study gave women electric shocks while measuring their stress levels as they held hands with a stranger, then with their husband. Any hand-holding lessened their stress — but none as much as the touch of their spouse, writes Parker-Pope.
21. Have high standards. Couples who refuse to accept negative, hurtful behavior from the start tend to be happier down the road, says marriage therapist John Gottman.
22. Stick it out for 10 years. If you make it that far, your chances of lasting increase. Most divorces occur in the first decade, writes Parker-Pope.
23. Stop projecting your fantasies onto your partner. “Too often, couples complain their partner is not who they want them to be, or who they thought they were when they married. Successful couples accept their spouses for what they really are,” notes Sander, an expert on the so-called Pygmalion effect on relationships.
24. Make couple time, especially when children enter the picture, Sander says. Marriages can benefit greatly from occasionally leaving the kids with the grandparents for the weekend.
25. Be an optimist. It’s simple, but if you think positively about your marriage, your marriage will often be positive. California field mice can be faithful for life, research shows. Why not you?