Today is my 20th anniversary. I met my husband in 1991, and after dating for a few years and finishing our education, we married. I grew up listening to fairy tales that all ended with the prince and princess living happily ever after once they were married. Imagine my surprise when after marrying the man who I’d determined was indeed my Prince Charming, we had our first argument! I couldn’t recall a single chapter in any of my favorite fairy tales that had prepared me for such an event. And yet, we found a way to survive that first argument, and hundreds more thereafter. Having a happy marriage doesn’t mean that you will always be happy. You can be a good person even if you don’t ALWAYS do the right thing. You can be smart and sometimes make a dumb mistake. And you can have a happy marriage, even if every minute in your marriage isn’t blissful. So, the first secret to a happy marriage is to rethink your definition of what a happy marriage is.
For me, being happily married means that I don’t second guess that in marrying my husband, I made the absolute best choice for me. It means that though life may not always be perfect, I am happier more days than I am not, I am proud of who I am and of my spouse, and that I am filled with hope for our future together. My husband makes me feel like the smartest, prettiest, most interesting person in the world. Likewise, I haven’t met anyone else who can hold a candle to him. We’re not ignorant of each other’s flaws. It’s just that they are ones we can easily live with because they come in a package deal that nets us far more than either of us had ever hoped for. I love meeting other couples that feel this way about one another and I wish that everyone could find the same joy.
What can you do to help ensure you have a happy marriage? Well, I’m certainly not an expert since I have only my own experience from which to draw, but I hope that what I have learned along the way might help.
I have plenty of friends and relatives who are divorced. In most of their cases, it was a good choice for them. I also know a lot of people who either don’t believe in divorce (typically for religious reasons) or are unwilling to do it because of the complications it causes, even though they are in marriages to people that they will probably rarely enjoy happiness within their marriage. That’s because the person they committed to spend the rest of their life with turned out to be the wrong person for them. People can change over time. Other people can be incredibly deceptive about themselves and thus, you don’t know who you’re dealing with until it’s too late.
I can think of a few reasons a couple might be in a rush to get married, but I can think of many more reasons why it’s better to wait. I knew within the first month of dating my husband that he was the man I would spend the rest of my life with, but we waited almost 3 years before marrying because we both wanted to finish our education first and since we met during a huge transitional period in our lives (in college, him recently back from a deployment to Kuwait), we wanted to make sure our feelings and relationship would stand the test of time. We roomed together towards the end of college, along with other roommates and though it’s probably a controversial topic, I highly recommend it! There’s no experience like living with someone else to discover their true colors.
How do you know if you’re choosing the right person? I wish I could offer something more insightful than “you’ll just know” but for me, that really was the answer. I had such a strong sense of “This is right” when I started dating my husband. Immediately, all of my past relationships seemed so superficial and immature, even though I had considered them serious relationships when I was in them. Other people see it too. Think of the happy couples you know. If you are observant, I think you will find that when they are together, each of them is their best self. My best friend always talks about how she hates when some women change into completely different people around their husbands. Alone, they are charming, witty, and outgoing. With their spouse, they are reserved, self-conscious, and dull. Those are women who chose the wrong spouses (in my opinion). Your soul mate makes you whole. You will feel like you’ve found a part of yourself you didn’t know was missing but can’t imagine doing without.
This tip should come as no surprise. There’s a reason it’s always included in relationship advice—it’s a necessity. Personally, I’ve violated the don’t-go-to-bed-angry rule many times. I have a hot temper and require significant cool down time to have a civilized conversation. Over time, I have learned to push my husband away gently when I am too angry to be kind by telling him exactly that. He doesn’t like it, but he prefers me telling him what I am thinking to the silent treatment where he is forced to fill in my side of the conversation with his wild imagination which usually involves threats of divorce or a list of all his flaws. Ultimately, we humans are pretty selfish beings. So, we tend to view things from our own perspective and ignore evidence that doesn’t align with the storyline we’ve developed in our own heads. If you work on your communication skills as a couple, you will learn to be less dogmatic and view things from each other’s perspective. While marriage counselors can certainly help in this area, you don’t have to resort to counseling to improve your communication skills. There are plenty of other resources. Some of my favorite books on the subject are:
There are also some great websites that include activities, articles, and worksheets you can use:
Don’t Air Your Dirty Laundry
Before you complain about your spouse to another person, remember that it takes 5 positive remarks to counteract a negative. So, unless you are raving about how amazing your husband is on a daily basis, a few complaints about him will turn your friends and family against him. Since, aside from your husband, these people probably influence your thoughts and emotions more than anyone else, their negative opinion of your husband will start to wreak havoc on your relationship with your husband or with your friends and family.
Think of Intimacy as Exercise
This tip has dual meanings. First, a good workout in the bedroom can rival a gym workout in terms of physical fitness and cardiovascular improvement. However, the more helpful correlation is to acknowledge that though you might not feel like doing a workout right now, you know you will enjoy it and be happy you did it later. Women and men are wired differently and the truth of the matter is that in general, men have more physical urges. And while they will typically initiate physical interaction, over time they start to feel undesirable if we NEVER initiate or even worse, constantly refuse their advances. I don’t know many women who hate the actual activity, we just aren’t as enthusiastic as our male counterparts until the party is in full swing. So, like getting yourself to the gym, remember that this other workout is just as important to the health of your marriage.
Remember That You Hold Each Other’s Self-Esteem
If I had to limit myself to just one tip, this would be the one I would choose to share. Every difficult moment in my marriage can be tied to a time when either I or my husband forgot this very important fact. Most of the time when you argue as a married couple, it is over feeling disrespected or unappreciated. Once you have found the person who completes you, that person’s opinion means more to you than anyone else’s. So, if you feel unappreciated by that person, you feel like you don’t have any value. We fight to gain back our self-esteem.
Years ago, I read Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.” I know her opinions rile a lot of people up and I’m not here to sell you on her philosophy or to criticize it. I just want to share what I learned from the book and how it affected my marriage. Her general premise is that men are simple creatures in that all they really need is to be made to feel valued by the women they love. Sure, there are some jerks out there that will probably always be jerks no matter how they are treated. But my husband did turn out to be that easy to understand. To keep him happy, I just had to remember to show him my appreciation and admiration for the things he does. In turn, he’ll walk to the ends of the earth for me in order to encourage more ego-stroking. It’s a wonderful circle of appreciation and support for one another.
Next time you have an argument with your spouse, try diffusing the situation with a sincere compliment to your husband about something you appreciate about him. I think you will be amazed at what a different direction the conversation will take. Once you’ve seen for yourself how powerful this rule is, you simply need to remember it. You can’t take for granted that your spouse knows that you love and respect him. It takes constant reminders. And when you’re not getting what you need for your self-esteem, make sure you share that knowledge with your spouse because you will find that he simply assumed you know how wonderful you are and didn’t realize you needed to be told.
These are my own lessons learned from 20 years of marriage, with plenty of ups and downs. I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions too so please share them in the comments.