When looking for marriage advice, it would make sense if newlywed couples sought out guidance from older married couples that exemplified successful relationships. However, a study by Sheela Kennedy and Stephen Ruggles out of the University of Minnesota showed that it is actually older married couples who are contributing to the rise in divorce rates in the United States.((SpringerLink: Breaking Up Is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980–2010))
This dilemma creates a void of successful role models for couples struggling in their relationships.
Having worked with couples daily for nearly twenty years, it has been observed that healthy couples and unhealthy couples follow similar patterns and engage in similar behaviors that either contribute to happiness or unhappiness together.
Regardless of the marriage advice received, healthy and happy couples tend to invest more in their relationships than those rating their relationship as unhappy and unhealthy. Specifically, there appear to be twenty-five things that successful, loving couples do that contributes to overall happiness and success in their marriage.
1. Have Physical Affection Everyday
It would seem that giving physical affection to your spouse is a simple and common sense thing to do in your marriage. However, you would be surprised as to how many couples go day after day without physical contact. This kind of physical contact is nonsexual in nature and is as simple as holding each other’s hands or hugging each other. Loving couples make it point to be physically affectionate with each other at least once a day.
2. Have a Common Vision of the Future
Another often overlooked marriage advice is to have a common vision. When companies are formed, they often create a vision statement of what they want their future to look like. This vision statement helps focus everyone working at the company on what they are creating together and the direction they are heading towards. Similarly, loving couples have a clear vision of what they want their marriage to look like in the future.
3. Be Transparent
Being honest in your marriage is one thing most couples would agree is necessary to building and maintaining trust in a relationship. However, transparency takes honesty to a whole new level.
Being transparent implies that there are no secrets between you and your partner—not even keeping passwords to bank accounts, emails, social media accounts, or even keeping phone lockout screens private. Loving couples seem to do this naturally, ensuring a strong trust bond.
4. Create Face to Face Time
Most couples think that spending quality time together includes watching their favorite shows together or spending time with good friends on a night on the town. Although these activities can be enjoyable, spending time alone together doing an activity where partners have to face each other activates a whole different level of intimacy and bonding that most couples neglect to nurture.
According to John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, loving couples spend over 5 hours of quality time together per week.
5. Make Sexual Intimacy Important
It would surprise most people to learn that many couples struggle with a lack of sexual intimacy. According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior the frequency of sexual intimacy has declined amongst American married couples.((SpringerLink: Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014))
Moreover, it has been estimated in a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family that almost 15% of American couples are living in a sexless marriage, which is defined as having sex less than twice per year.((Questia: The Decision to Remain in an Involuntarily Celibate Relationship)) It goes without saying that a lack of sexual intimacy in marriage points to a serious issue that can contribute to the end of the marriage if not addressed. Loving couples make their sexual life a priority in their marriage.
6. Experience New Things
Another key marriage advice for couples is to try out and experience new things. Everybody says that spontaneity is the “spice of life”, and healthy marriages are not exempt. Couples need to try new things and have new experiences to continue growing together. It is these new experiences that give loving couples new topics to talk about and share.
7. Laugh Together
Humor is such a powerful emotion that it facilitates bonding in a marriage. Couples who enjoy each other’s company and can laugh together build upon their foundation of trust and respect for one another. Laughter truly can be the ‘best medicine” and loving couples get a lot of it.
8. Have Common Spiritual Beliefs
In a study in the Journal of Family Psychology, it was found that couples that shared in religious or spiritual activities together with a shared meaning found more satisfaction in their marriage.((Europe PMC: Finding meaning in religious practices: the relation between religious holiday rituals and marital satisfaction)) It should be said that although couples with different spiritual beliefs can still have a healthy marriage, this area can become a point of contention especially when children are involved. Loving couples encourage, develop, and share in this essential part of a marriage and pass these beliefs onto their children.
9. Be Best Friends
This may be the most common marriage advice in the current generation of couples—be best friends. Friendship in a marriage is just as important as all other parts of a marriage. Along with laughter, healthy married couples enjoy spending time with each other and consider each other their best friend.
Even couples who enter into marriage with best friends from their past convert their spouse into their new best friend. In this way, loving couples always see their spouse as their best friend for life.
10. Keep the Marital Bed Sacred
This applies to married couples who are parents with little children. It is customary for small kids to come to their parents’ bed from time to time when they are scared of the dark or when they don’t feel well. However, many parents “cosleep” with their children consistently. Thus, couples spend many nights apart from each other and don’t even sleep in the same bed with each other. This can take a toll on physical affection and sexual intimacy. Loving couples maintain a sacred space in their bed for each other.
11. Show Small Gestures of Love and Consideration
It is said that “it is all about the little things”, and this is true in loving marriages. Couples who are happy in their relationship make an effort to consistently show love and consideration for their partner through small gestures, such as bringing their partner a cup of coffee, leaving a positive post-it note, or picking up their favorite scented candle from the store.
12. Surprise Each Other
Surprises can come in all different forms, but for the most part, couples who surprise their partner with a gift or fun experience, for example, tend to be happier in their marriage. Taking your partner on a surprise trip or to see their favorite band perform adds a bit of excitement and mystery in a good way. Loving couples see surprises as a way to show their love for one another in a fun and exciting way.
13. Take Something Off Their Plate
In our busy lives, we are often overwhelmed by all our obligations. This can be very stressful for ourselves and our partners. Loving couples can observe that their partner is stressed and take the initiative to step in and alleviate some of the stress by taking something off their plate, such as doing the dishes or running their errands.
14. Create Together
Another important marriage advice is to create things together. Creating a project, a piece of music or even a piece of artwork can be an extremely satisfying experience, and it helps us feel alive. Healthy and loving couples create together, whether that be working in the garden, remodeling their house, or cooking together. This helps them feel like a team and proud of what they have accomplished as partners.
15. Have Common Interests
Loving couples enjoy spending time together and enjoy that time more when they share in common activities. Even if the activity is something that only one enjoys more than the other, the act of engaging in the activity together creates mutual support and facilitates couple bonding.
16. Support Each Other’s Personal Time
As much as couple time is important, each person in the relationship should have personal time. This time is not spent running errands or spent with friends, but it is time for the individual to process their own feelings and priorities in life. Loving couples support their partner’s personal time and encourage it as it adds to the strength in the relationship.
17. Create Time Away Together
Many couples feel guilty about going on trips together, especially when they have to leave behind their children with family or friends. Often, this results in “family vacations” but not time away together alone. Loving couples make sure to create trips away together in addition to family trips.
18. Do Date Night
Every couple has heard of date night together. However, very few make date nights a consistent part of their marriage. It is easy to justify rescheduling date nights when obligations with children and family become more of a priority in a couple’s life. Loving couples, however, understand that if they do not make their relationship the number one priority, it can erode the structure of the entire family.
19. Share Your Vulnerability
Another key marriage advice is to share your vulnerability. Sharing vulnerable emotions is not the most pleasant thing to do with your spouse. However, it is necessary to strengthen the marital bond and help them grow together. Loving couples balance having fun together and sharing their vulnerability because they see the value it brings to their overall relationship.
20. Balance Giving and Receiving
They say that relationships are about “give and take.” It seems that loving couples do more than just that. They can balance giving and receiving with their partner. This is always a tricky thing to do since it involves not taking your partner for granted and keeping them at the forefront of your intentions. It also takes being gracious about receiving from your partner and being open to it.
21. Respect Your Spouse’s Family
Comedians have made entire careers off of mother-in-law jokes and although in-law conflict is often a real thing, it is far from being humorous. Showing respect for your spouse’s family can be very tricky, especially if a conflict existed before you came into the picture and especially if your spouse has a contentious relationship with them, to begin with.
This is also especially difficult if you dislike your in-laws. However, loving couples follow a good rule of thumb of showing respect to their in-laws while also supporting their spouse. This marriage advice might be a no brainer, but it’s important nonetheless.
22. Have Good Boundaries with Friends
External friendships can take a lot of energy to maintain. When balancing the amount of energy and attention needed daily to nurture a loving relationship, external friendships can sometimes put a strain on a marriage. Loving couples set appropriate boundaries with friends that don’t take away from their marriage.
23. Utilize Discretion
You may have had the experience of being around another person that speaks badly about their spouse behind their back. This is not only detrimental to the marriage but also prevents the couple from working on their problems and focuses on seeking validation for their position from others. Loving couples realize that problems will arise in any marriage and utilize discretion when talking about their spouse negatively so they can work on their issues in private.
24. Say “I Love You”
Couples show their love in many different ways. However, some couples often neglect to express it in the simple words, “I love you.” Saying this out loud never loses its impact, and loving couples know that over time, it can mean even more as their love develops.
25. Verbalize Appreciation
One of the needs we have as human beings is to feel appreciated, and this is even more important in marriage. Loving couples not only show appreciation towards each other but also verbalize that appreciation.
Given these specific behaviors of loving couples, it would appear that marriage advice can be taken from what loving couples are currently doing and not from what the experts used to say.
Happy, healthy, and loving marriages in today’s society have adapted to the new challenges by adopting new bonding behaviors that ensure love and a true connection. It would also seem that the adage is incorrect—that if everyone else is doing it, you and your spouse probably should, too.