We’ve all been there. Walking in a mall or down the road or even just sitting on the balcony of our house, we sight a happily married couple who are the personification of true love. But, like exercise, it doesn’t come easy and it is not particular one action that led to this picture of love that we see. It takes consistent little actions of kindness, forgiveness, and consideration – done everyday for years that led that to moment of magic. Here are 8 things that happily married couples do each day from our friends at Red Book.
1. They stop to say “hello”
Research shows that how you spend the first four minutes of the evening at home sets the tone for the rest of the night. So even if you got there first and are in the middle of a thrilling scene of Orange Is the New Black, press pause when your husband walks in the door. “Stop what you’re doing and hug him,” says couples therapist Bob Taibbi. “A hug, even for 10 seconds, increases oxytocin, the brain chemical that makes you feel connected. It’s a nightly ritual to stay bonded.”
2. They bicker
Arguing over little things—like that time he forgot to write his share of the thank-you notes after your son’s birthday party—is not only completely normal, it’s also beneficial. According to a study published in American Psychologist, getting angry with your spouse and being able to recognize the behaviors you don’t appreciate can actually help your marriage in the long-term. If you become too upset to articulate why you’re mad, say it in an email, suggests Karen Elizaga, life coach and author of Find Your Sweet Spot. “Lay out the reasons why you’re upset, offer up some solutions, and remind him that you love him.” The moment it takes to your collect and type out your thoughts will help set the stage for a more productive conversation once you’ve calmed down. Plus, there’s a better chance your husband will absorb your words if he reads them, rather than listening to you scream them.
3. They celebrate each other
Sure, it’s important that you support each other when something bad happens—he loses his job or your childhood pet passes away—but a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that how couples react to each other’s good news may be even more important than how they help each other cope with sadness. The next time he scores the walk-off run in his company softball game, crack open his favorite craft brew, or post a victorious shot of him to Instagram to show him how proud you are.
4. They have fun together
We know it sounds totally obvious, but it’s science. Research done at the University of Denver showed that couples who make time for fun activities stay together longer. “The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high and significant,” says Howard Markman, Ph.D., codirector of the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies. “The more you invest in fun and friendship, the happier the relationship will be.” So play a round of HeadsUp, go to an amusement park (without the kids), or if you’re short on time, try one of these quickie date ideas.
5. They talk about what they ate for lunch
You may not find it fascinating that he had Chipotle for lunch again, but listen up. “Sharing the minutia of our lives with our spouses, no matter how insignificant the details seem, goes a long way toward fueling a connection and establishing intimacy,” says Charles Orlando, author of The Problem with Women… Is Men. He may brush you off and try to end the chat with, “Work was fine,” but talking about meetings and water-cooler-banter is an important way to stay up-to-date on each other’s lives.
6. They have inside jokes
Whether a funny line from a movie grabs you both and you work it into a text later, or you reminisce about an awkwardly hilarious moment during dinner with your in-laws, you’re sharing experiences and building memories together, says Taibbi. “Every time you do something that makes your partner smile, it drives a physical change and allows your body to release chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin in both of your brains,” says Orlando. “If you keep each other laughing, you’ll both feel happier and closer.”
7. They pucker up
“Studies of long-term happy couples show that frequency of kissing, more than frequency of sex, is linked to relationship security,” says Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., author of The Boyfriend Test. “There’s real value in hand-holding and spit-swapping.” For some couples, kissing is second nature—a smooch good-bye in the morning, a peck after dinner—but we’re talking about more than that. Passionate, rom-com-worthy kissing is the name of the game.
8. They have an open dialogue
When you first started dating, you probably couldn’t wait to hop in bed with each other, but as life goes on, we tend to start ignoring our sexual impulses. “Everyone has fantasies,” says Orlando. “It’s just a matter of getting out of your head so that you can explore them. It all comes down to trusting your husband, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and creating a safe space for him to open up as well.” If he tells you he wants to try a certain role-playing scenario, acknowledge it without a single giggle. That way, when you’re finally ready to admit that you did read 50 Shades of Grey—and liked it—you can expect the same.