Before we were married, my husband and I read a book together called “The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman. It takes a scientific approach to warding off divorce and offering couples practical tools for a happy marriage. We put into practice the principles in that book and even take it out from time to time to reference it or re-read it. We often gift it to newly engaged or married couples because it has been so instrumental in our own relationship. In addition to putting those principles into practice, these are our 10 personal secrets to a happy marriage.
1. Have Common Values
Jeff is a local church Pastor and we share a common mission- to make the world better by striving to be more like Jesus and helping others follow Jesus. This mission informs every priority of our lives. Your values shape what you spend your money on, what you spend your time on and ultimately how you relate to one another. When your values are aligned, you can truly build a life together.
2. Trust and Respect One Another
This seems basic but many couples let trust and respect fall by the wayside and it can breed insecurity and contempt. I admire Jeff and respect him because he has so much to teach me. On the other hand, there have been times when trust has been broken in our relationship and we’ve had to work hard to repair it. Don’t be afraid to repair it. The way you keep trust and respect is to keep your word to your spouse and focus your mind on the positive things about them that first drew you together.
3. Practice Forgiveness
We yield to one another in our relationship and influence each other. Strive to be the first one to say you’re sorry. Jeff has mastered this relationship skill. I’m still learning from him. I do forgive easily and let things go, but he usually says he’s sorry first. Kudos to him for being such a good man. I don’t know if we’d be happily married if he wasn’t so good at being the first to say he’s sorry. It humbles me and inspires me to be better. Forgiving one another and letting go of those hurts we inflict on each other is pivotal because in any relationship there is bound to be offense, it’s how we deal with those offenses that make or break the relationship. Always go to the other person and say ‘I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”.
4. Do Life Together Daily
We enjoy doing life together as much as possible. Jeff always makes my morning coffee for me, in fact for the first 10 years of our marriage I didn’t know how to brew a good cup of coffee because he always made it for me. We have our coffee together as we do our Bible reading and prayerful meditation to start each day. We workout at the gym together. I literally follow him around the gym like a puppy from machine to machine and we do our workouts together. Just the other day a stranger at the gym said to me “I think it’s so cool that you two work out together. My x-wife and I never did that. She would do her thing and I would do mine. Maybe that’s part of why it didn’t work”. I was so sad to hear this so I want to encourage as many couples as possible to do life together. We cook together, we clean the house together, we watch movies together. Whatever it is the two of you like to do, find at least one common thing you can do together daily.
5. Never Reject Each Other
I think one thing that makes our relationship uncommon is the way we give ourselves to one another. There has never been a time that we have denied each other’s physical advances. Whether that be putting out a hand to hold when we’re walking in public or offering a kiss in private. We always just naturally reciprocate. We are lucky because it has not been something we have needed to be intentional about, it just stems from how we relate innately to one another but I realize for many couples it is a struggle. We get enough rejection from the world every day, we don’t need to be rejected by the one person who is supposed to want us and love us.
6. Take Time For Each Other
We have always relished Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays as excuses to nurture our relationship. Jeff was legendary around my office for the epic flowers he always sent. We have never had a designated weekly “date night” throughout our marriage because that just didn’t work for our schedules but we have taken at least three or four getaways per year (usually around these milestone celebrations) even if only for one night at a time. This helps us to get out of the routine of our daily lives to focus on each other and not take one another for granted. We also often look fondly back on the “in love” stage of our early relationship and remind each other of how we felt. Things like “remember when you used to show up on my doorstep with Starbucks before I went to work” or “remember when we used to.” These little reminders keep us feeling thankful for what we have.
7. Speak Each Other's Love Language
If you haven’t read the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I highly recommend it for any relationship, marriage, work, children or otherwise. The book defines love language as “what makes you feel most loved” and breaks love language down to 5 categories: physical touch, words, acts of service, quality time and gift giving. Jeff and I have the unique privilege of sharing common love languages of physical touch and words of encouragement, so it comes quite easily for us to make each other feel loved. If your love language is gift giving and your spouse’s love language is acts of service, it’s important you are doing acts of service for them, not buying them gifts. We typically communicate love in our own native language so if you can learn what makes your spouse feel loved and try to relate to them in that manner it will strengthen your relationship. To get a jump start on this, just hand a blank piece of paper to your spouse and ask them to write down 20 things that make them feel loved. They may surprise you.
8. Divorce is Not An Option
Jeff had been through a divorce. It was something that left him insecure in our relationship at first because he always felt like one day I would change my mind too and decide to leave him. I wanted him to be 100% secure in my love for him. So, from day one we decided that divorce did not exist for us. It was not a word that would ever be uttered in our home. It was not a thought either of us would ever think of as a resolution. We committed to loving each other forever. Forever means forever and we will honor that commitment we made before God. We refuse to break it, no matter what. Thinking this way has given us great freedom in our relationship because we are not afraid to tell each other how we really feel about things, we are not afraid to argue because we trust that we are both in this together to the end. That freedom can be a powerful tool in your relationship arsenal.
9. Be Attractive for One Another and Compliment One Another Often
I don’t think a morning would go by when I was dressed for work that Jeff didn’t compliment my outfit on my way out the door. He is always the first one to compliment me each day. I tell him how handsome I think he is or how cool I think he is. I also make an effort to be attractive to him. I ask his opinion on clothing and hairstyles because at the end of the day, he is the one I want to impress.
10. Resolve Conflict
As I write this post, my husband and I have just resolved a fight that lasted half the day. I share that because I think one of the most important things for a happy marriage is being able to resolve conflict. Our kids will tell you that we argue a lot. Part of that is because we have polar opposite personalities but whenever we fight, we commit to resolving the conflict. One of us doesn’t walk out of the room in the middle of an argument for example. The Bible says to “be angry and not sin, do not to let the sun go down on your wrath”. In other words, don’t go to bed angry, try to resolve the conflict by the end of the day. There have been only a handful of times in our 14 years of marriage that we have gone to bed angry and in those cases, we always resolved the conflict first thing in the morning. This is important because it keeps bitterness from taking root in your relationship.
ONE LAST THING
These are our ten secrets to a happy marriage but there is a bonus secret that is the one we could not have done without. That is "pray". Pray for one another, pray with one another, pray when you're mad, pray when you're sad, pray always. There have been times when we couldn't talk to each other about things but we could always talk to God. God is a great listener, better than a therapist, and much cheaper too. If you commit to prayer, not only will your marriage grow, but you will continue to grow as well.