There isn’t a married couple in the world who doesn’t look at other couples and compare themselves. Are we as happy as them? Is our marriage as good? It goes the other way, too. We are SO glad not to be them. Wow, I must be really lucky that my husband doesn’t do what her husband does. And on. And on.
Doing this is only natural. We all want to know how our relationships stack up and how we measure up. Are we as happy as we could be? Or are there ways we could improve our love and make it better?
The truth is there always are.
So what do happy couples do differently? What are the tricks and special things that make one marriage last for decades while others fizzle out quickly?
We asked several experts to give us their thoughts on seven things happy couples do to keep their spark alive year after year.
1.) They have inside jokes and rituals. Do you and your husband have all kinds of inside jokes and things only you do? Think about it. My husband I have very silly nicknames for each other that only we know, and when we use them, we both crack up. Every time. It’s small, but it’s ours. It bonds us.
“One of my husband’s and my little rituals is that when we are going up or down stairs or an escalator, we always stop with me on the upper step and him on the lower step so my arms wrap perfectly around his neck. One of us says, ‘Stair hug!'” confesses Heidi Poelman, author of The Two-Minute Marriage Project. “It’s just silly and started 15 years ago, but it’s fun for us.”
2.) They check in during the day. My husband and I used to talk all day long. Just little emails back and forth. Later, we would text or call. There was never a day that I didn’t know what was going on with him during our nine-hour work separation. Now that we have kids and much busier lives, that has fallen by the wayside. I miss it so much. And I should, according to Poelman.
“Happy couples take interest in what the other has going on during the day and call to check in,” she says. This is especially true on the big days. “Remember if your spouse had a doctor’s appointment or a big meeting,” she advises. It’s true. It goes a long, long way.
3.) They say “thank you.” It’s so easy to forget in the rush of the day to say thank you to our spouses. But we have to. We need to treat them as we would treat our friends, and we wouldn’t have very many friends if we forgot to express gratitude, would we?
“Happy couples offer positive feedback to one another,” says Toni Coleman, psychotherapist and relationship coach. “A small thanks, an acknowledgement of something their partner did that made their day a little easier, an upbeat comment during a hard moment — staying positive has a powerful impact on a spouse, especially when the woman is positive.” Yes! Remember, happy wife, happy life!
4.) They let things go. There is nothing more annoying than a wife who holds on to anger and is still crowing to her friends about a fight she had with her husband a month before or a husband who is silently holding a grudge and sulks about it for weeks afterward. Talk to him about it. Have it out. Then let it fly. It’s the only way to feel good about your marriage.
“Happy couples don’t make a big deal of the little moments of anger, impatience, frustration that pass between them,” Coleman says. “They accept them for what they are, often offer a brief explanation or apology later, maybe talk it through briefly — but the ripples are minimum.”
5.) They bring things up. It may seem like the opposite of “letting it go,” but it isn’t. Let the fights go, but bring up your worries. If you think your spouse is sad, ask him. Don’t assume he’s fine or think you are too busy to deal with it.
“If you’re worried that your partner isn’t feeling loved or appreciated,
don’t let it pass. Ask about it,” says Dr. Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist and the author of Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.
6.) They volunteer together. Whether it’s helping out at a soup kitchen or taking a trip to help at an orphanage in Peru, happy couples find purpose together.
“Happy couples nurture their relationship as their primary bond, but they also remember that they’re part of the bigger world,” says marriage and family therapist Paul Sigafus, director of the Colorado Counseling Center. So get out there. Find a cause and work for it together. That passion and love will carry over into all parts of your life.
7.) They aren’t “cool.” Part of being in a good couple is being humbled. Our husbands see us at our most vulnerable, and they are supposed to love us anyway. So drop the act. Stop being “cool.”
“Today’s popular culture is cynical and ‘cool’ — expressions of love are often looked on as embarrassing and awkward,” says Dr. Tessina. “Set aside your reluctance and let each other know when you feel loved, and appreciate your spouse’s efforts to love you.”
Obviously we are leaving out a host of other things couples can and should be doing — sex and affection being at the top of that list — but these are some of the more unusual gestures and habits that keep couples happy through the years.
In the end, it’s not the big things that end marriages (at least not always), it’s the little things that build up over time. Don’t let that happen in yours.