There are tons of books, websites, and other resources out there that take pages and pages to tell you the fourteen step process to having a happy marriage. They are making something very simple and making it complex.
Yes, there are a ton of different issues that can make a marriage better or worse, like arguing over finances. But, assuming that you picked someone you are actually compatible with as your spouse, the core of what you need for a happy marriage is much simpler.
I’ve been married nearly four years. I know that’s not a terribly long time, as marriages go, but it’s enough for me to have learned what the difference is between when things are great and when there is the occasional friction. That friction doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I can look back and see the same thing, every time.
So, without further ado, the very simple secret to a happy marriage is to remember these three things:
Spend Quality Time Alone Together
Quality time, not quantity time… spending time together of low quality can actually make things worse, causing you to feel like your relationship is going sour (“We’re not as close as we used to be”), possibly resentful, and eventually even sick of each other. Put the emphasis on quality… and then put the emphasis on alone. You can get some medium quality time with your spouse when the kids are around, but the kind of quality time you need to have a great marriage only comes when you are alone, and don’t have to worry about being interrupted.
This one is not so hard when you don’t have children, unless one spouse is absent a lot or you work different shifts. Once you have children, though, it can really be difficult to get away together. Whether you have children or not, though, don’t forget to go on dates with each other… after all, you were dating when you fell in love, right? Make the dates quality time together… dinner out, a movie, flowers, whatever you both enjoy.
Put Your Spouse At The Top Of Your Priority List
This one can be very hard to notice when it’s you doing it to your spouse, but it usually isn’t hard at all to identify when they are doing it to you, though there is some natural tendency to not address it directly. That is, you get hurt by, and sometimes resentful of, your spouse because you feel like you’re not important to them, but you don’t want to admit that “weakness”, so you displace it onto some other, smaller issue, like not taking out the garbage, or not keeping up with the laundry, or whatever else… anything that doesn’t show that you are “weak” because not getting enough attention hurts you.
This particular issue seems, in my experience, to come up the most when you find a new project that you are passionate about doing. For instance, I know that when I started this site, I was investing so much of my passion and attention into it that I was taking it away from my wife. She didn’t complain, but after a little while I noticed what I was doing. So if you’re starting something new that you are passionate about doing, make sure you step away from it every once in a while to make sure you’re not letting your spouse slip down the priority list.
Take Care Of Each Other
“Take care of each other” can mean a ton of different things to different people, but the essence of it can be boiled down to this: Spend the time and effort to do little things for your partner to show them how much they mean to you. You can buy your wife (or husband, if they’re into it) flowers for no reason. You can stop what you’re doing, drop everything, and go spend a couple minutes hugging and kissing, even if you then go back to what you were doing. You can give them a spontaneous foot rub, assuming you’re in private, and they aren’t TOO ticklish. You can even simply call them from work for no other purpose than to tell them that you were thinking about them and you love them.
The specifics aren’t important… what’s important is that your spouse sees that you feel that they are worthy of your time and effort. One of the most effective things that I’ve seen is to make them something. I made my wife a jewelry box, and a charm link bracelet, and they are some of her favorite things she has ever received. She made me a card and a plaque (she burned (woodburning) her wedding vows onto it… I read it any time I feel negative emotions, almost always fixes it) that are two of the very few things I’d run into a burning building to retrieve. These things didn’t take much money, or even a whole lot of time, to make… but they DID require that we REALLY invest our SELVES into the creation, which is what makes it so special.
If you remember those three things you will very seldom have any serious problems. It’s when you forget one, and let your partner slip down your priority list, or just get quantity time together instead of quality (or you don’t do it alone… ie you bring the kids), that’s when you’ll see problems start to creep into your marriage.
And do you want to know the really annoying thing about it? It’s usually quite hard to trace the problems that come up back to those three things… unless you are already aware that they cause, or more accurately the lack of them causes, the vast majority of relationship problems. You just use smaller issues to poke around the edges of those bigger issues.
It can be really difficult to admit that you haven’t been doing one of the things above… it means admitting that you’ve been neglecting your spouse, that you’ve been taking the attention you should be giving them and spending it elsewhere. It means admitting that you’ve been doing something, or not doing something, that hurts your spouse and your relationship. That hurts when you truly love each other.
So… any time you notice that your marriage, your relationship, is starting to have friction, look back and see if one of you has been neglecting one of the three points above, and dow what you can to remedy the situation.