How many times have you heard the phrase ‘marriages are hard work’? A whole heap I’m sure.
We tend to talk about marriage in a negative way, but instead of focusing on how much ‘work’ a marriage is, I prefer to talk about the habits of marriage – more specifically, the habits of a successful marriage.
Because any action we repeat can lead to a habit, and this can include the actions we have towards our marriage.
So why not make them positive ones? Habits don’t seem like hard work once they’re created.
Think about your nighttime routine, you probably shower, brush your teeth, maybe read a book or watch Netflix, then go to bed.
These are habits you’ve created and are easy to stick with. They still require effort, but it’s second nature because you’ve created a habit around it.
We can do the same with our marriage.
If we make a mindful and conscious decision to implement these habits, to create this positivity around our marriage, then it doesn’t feel like hard work every day.
Because it’s a natural part of your marriage. It leads to security and happy marriage that is both uplifting and fulfilling.
Having a solid foundation of these habits helps you weather the rough patches because the habits are so ingrained you can focus your energy on the challenges you’re facing without your foundation falling down.
They keep your marriage strong when you are tired, or stressed, or just dealing with the day-to-day that life brings.
These aren’t a step-by-step guide to a happy and successful marriage, but they are common traits found in marriages that are successful, that are happy, and that are strong.
1 – They Put Each Other First
One of the beautiful things about marriage is that you no longer have to be on guard and put yourself first.
This doesn’t mean you come second to everyone else and you’re walked all over. Not at all.
As someone who is an avid supporter of self confidence, especially in marriage, I would never suggest putting yourself down.
This only works when both parties are putting each other first, otherwise there is an imbalance and someone is left without their needs being met.
I don’t have to advocate for my time alone when I am stressed and tired, I don’t have to put up my hand and say I need self-care, because my husband recognizes this (often before I do) and makes sure I have the time to fill my own cup.
As I do for him.
I can see when he is exhausted or tired and needs to take time to himself, as an introvert he often needs time alone to ‘fill his cup’ and I make sure this happens for him.
I’ve had people argue this point with me, and that is absolutely okay.
They say you should put God first (I’m not religious so I cannot attest to that and each to their own) or that you should put your children first, but I disagree, and here’s why.
My husband and I are setting the example of what a happy and successful marriage looks like for our children.
When they are grown and leave home, we need to still have our marriage strong and thriving, and it will only do this if we give it the attention and care it needs and deserves.
This doesn’t mean we don’t meet our children’s needs, or that we ignore them for our own benefit.
Together we care for our children and make sure they are happy, but we don’t do this at the sacrifice of our own marriage.
Putting each other first is a habit that forms over time, it’s not one that can just be switched on, but when it’s in full swing, it takes a massive mental load off, and it makes me feel closer to my husband and recognize the little nuances he has with his moods and behaviors.
2 – They Might Argue, But They Don’t Fight
I read a comment on Facebook a few days ago that said ‘all couples fight’ and honestly, it makes me so sad that people genuinely believe this.
However, I do think there is a bit of a disparity when it comes to understanding the differences between arguments and fights.
First of all, not all couples argue.
My husband and I have had fewer arguments than I can count on one hand, and I’ve had people tell me that this means we mustn’t be honest with each other in our marriage. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
We rarely argue. We discuss deep and sensitive topics, but we do so in a respectful and open way.
He is allowed his opinion and it doesn’t have to be the same as mine.
But we don’t begrudge each other our own opinions and thoughts. This is just how our relationship works. It’s not better or worse than anyone else’s, it’s just how we communicated.
That being said, there are some key differences between arguments and fights we need to address.
Arguing looks like:
- Disagreements about a particular topic
- Sometimes heated discussion, usually able to be discussed calmly
- Able to listen to each other and hear each other’s point of view
- Sometimes emotional and may need to take a break
- Able to be respectful and still feel like you can cuddle after
- Come to a conclusion that may be a compromise, or may be an ‘agree to disagree’
Fighting looks like:
- Yelling and loud protests
- Always heated discussion
- Name calling and swearing
- Personal attacks
- Feeling uneasy, scared or threatened
- Actual threats being made
- Not focused on a solution, only on who is ‘right’
Anytime I write about what fighting looks like it makes me feel uneasy, and that’s exactly what fighting is.
Fighting isn’t healthy.
Fighting isn’t a form of communication – it is an attempt to show strength, an attempt to intimidate, and an attempt to elicit fear.
It is not okay.
Arguing, for some people, is a form of communication, and as long as both parties are okay with this, then it can be okay in a marriage.
Arguing isn’t disrespectful to each other, but you need to be mindful of how each other is feeling. This is why point #1 is so important.
3 – They Value Each Others Contributions and Show Gratitude
One of the complaints I hear over and over again from women is that they don’t feel valued, that their role as a mother and housekeeper is underplayed, and that they don’t feel like their husband is grateful for all they do.
I don’t need to tell you that raising children and keeping house is the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs.
And sometimes it feels like your husband gets to get a day off when he goes to work.
But then if you go back to the 1950’s you’ll see all kinds of marriage advice about how to make your husband’s life easier and that home should be a place of relaxation because he may have had a hard day at work.
Somewhere between the early stages of dating and trying to impress, and the married life, many couples lose the feeling of need to show gratitude and appreciation of the other.
In a survey I conducted of over 1000 women, there was a clear correlation between increased happiness in marriage and feeling as though they were valued.
And it goes both ways. A happy and successful couple knows the power of ‘thank you’, they know to appreciate the little things that are done for them and they show gratitude in their own ways.
4 – They Understand People Change, But They Don’t Expect You To
I read a quote from an article where a man who was celebrating a significant wedding anniversary was asked if he felt as though he had missed out by being married to the same woman for so long (I don’t remember the exact article so if you know the one, please tell me).
He seems surprised and objected, saying he hadn’t been married to the same woman for all this time.
When they were newlyweds he was married to a firey career woman who loved adventure.
When they were expecting their first child he was married to a beautiful, strong pregnant woman.
When they had children he was married to a kind and gentle mother.
When their children grew older he was married to a woman finding herself again.
And when their children left home he was married to a woman who had found new purpose and a renewed love for him.
His point was that people change throughout their lifetimes, and in marriage, we need to acknowledge, accept and help facilitate that change.
We cannot expect to be married to the ‘same person’ 10 years later when so much happens in that time.
Likewise, we cannot marry someone and expect them to change in ways we want them to.
Those who have a successful marriage understand that people change over time and they enjoy experiencing these changes together.
They don’t try and make the person into who they want them to be, instead, they love their spouse for who they are.
5 – They Know It’s Not A Competition
We’ve all seen (or been in) those relationships where everything is a competition. I work harder than you. You are messier than me. I do all the housework. You spend all the money…
People who have a successful marriage know that there is no competition in marriage. It’s not about who does more than whom.
Or who works harder than the other. It’s about being heard, being valued and being supported.
In all the advice given that says ‘communication is key’ these are the actual points that make effective communication possible in a marriage – being heard, being valued, and being supported.
And while a little competitiveness can be fun, it’s when this competition turns into an intent to cause emotional hurt that it becomes a problem.
‘I won that game of scrabble’ is very different to ‘I win at parenting because I do all the work’.
6 – They Support Each Other
If you haven’t noticed yet, support of each other is an underlying concept in almost every single one of these points, however, it’s so important it deserves a mention on its own.
Whether you’ve got big goals and aspirations, or whether it’s just day to day life, your spouse should be your number one support person.
The one who you turn to simply because they make you feel better, and the one who champions you through every goal you have.
Support can look different for different people, and can be shown in many different ways, so it’s important to also understand what support looks like for you and your spouse.
This can tie greatly in with your Love Language – for example, your Love Language might be ‘words of affirmation’ and you find you feel most supported when your spouse tells you how amazing they think you are and how much they believe in you.
It’s important to know each other’s Love Language because you may feel like you’re being supportive, but you’re showing support in your Love Language, not your spouses.
7 – They Understand Each Other’s Personalities
Understanding each other’s personalities is more than just knowing someone, it’s truly understanding who they are, what they want, and how you can support them.
A successful marriage brings out the best in each other, not the worst, and understanding each other’s personalities is part of this.
This isn’t something you just do once and ta-da, you know your spouse. As individuals, we are always changing and evolving, and our personalities are too.
This is one of the most exciting parts of marriage – you always get to learn more about each other, discover new things, and find new ways to understand each other. It’s a constant, ever-evolving, always changing, organism of its own and it is amazing.
8 – They Have Fun and Laugh
Couples who are in a successful marriage aren’t just there because they love each other and put each other first – yes, these qualities are absolutely important, however, there’s one habit and one trait that gets overlooked far too often and that is fun and laughter.
When ‘life’ takes over, and we get into the routine of work, kids, mortgage, bills, extracurricular activities, carpooling… it all gets a little mundane.
This is where couples find they fall into a ‘rut’ because they’re missing the thing that kept them so darn interested and so excited at the start… fun.
Think back to when you first started dating your spouse… what did you do?
What did your time together look like? Did you talk about the bills you had to pay? Or did you spend time sharing your hopes and dreams? Did date night include scrolling your phones while watching Netflix?
Or was it about the fun and excitement of trying something new or going somewhere different?
Somewhere along the line, we forget that our marriages are meant to be fun. This is one key area where successful marriages stand out from the rest – they remember to have fun.
9 – They Spend Time Alone As Well As Time Together
I remember hearing a story from my Nan one day, she was telling me about a friend of hers who was coming to visit.
This woman had been friends with my Nan for decades, and had been married to her husband for 40 years. They were taking a little trip to celebrate and stopping to see my Nan on the way.
Somewhere in the conversation, my Nan mentioned that in their 40 years of marriage, they had never spent a night apart.
My teenage self was amazed by this idea and I’m sure subconsciously somewhere in my mind this imprinted the idea that spending all of your time together was true love.
Fast forward a decade (okay, a bit more than that), a divorce, a ton of therapy, years and years of research on the psychology of marriage and happiness, and interviewing over 1000 people in relationships and I can tell you, spending all of your time together is not what love looks like.
In fact, spending time alone is just as important as spending time together.
While some people see wanting to spend time alone as a threat to their relationship, it’s actually been shown to be one of the key things that help create a successful marriage.
Spending time alone gives a person the opportunity to focus on interests that are important to them and develop themselves as individuals outside of their relationship.
This leads to people who feel more fulfilled and are more confident in themselves, both important factors in happiness that flow into our relationships too.
10 – They Take Time To Connect With Each Other
While we’ve just talked about how important it is to spend time alone, it is equally as important to spend time together – and I’m not just talking about living in the same house and going about your daily lives together.
Spending quality time together, where you take time to connect with each other, is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful marriage.
We’ve all heard the stories of couples who felt like they were more ‘roommates’ than a married couple, or those who have their children grow up and leave home, only to realize they don’t actually know each other anymore.
These are all stories from people who allowed the daily life, the mundane, to get in the way of their time together.
Your time to connect with each other doesn’t have to be date nights (yes, you can survive and have an amazing marriage without date nights, they aren’t the be all and end all), but it does have to be intentional.
Get up together in the morning and have a coffee together before the kids wake, even if it means you have to get up half an hour earlier.
Turn the TV off a night and put your phones down and have a conversation, ask each other questions.
It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful, it can be fun and light-hearted. The point is that you’re taking the time to focus on each other.
11 – They Plan Their Future Together
Planning for your future is great, creating goals and plans to achieve them is fantastic! I’m here for it. But, a successful marriage is one where you plan for your future together.
This means taking each other’s goals and aspirations into account, listening to each other, compromising, working out what it is you want to achieve in life, what you want to do, and then doing it… together.
You don’t even need to be planning too far ahead, looking at the next 12 months and asking each other what you want your life to look like a year from now is a great way to find out what each other is thinking in terms of goals and the direction of your life.
Without planning your future together, you’re both trying to steer a ship and neither of you really know if you’re going in the same direction.
Talking to each other about your future, and making plans together, means you’re not only in the same ship, but you’re actively moving towards the same destination.
With all of these habits, even the most successful marriages don’t get them right one hundred percent of the time.
But they are mindful and purposeful in how they approach their marriage and their relationship with each other. They take time to make their marriage a priority, and they really do value each other.