If you have a happy marriage already, you are probably both good at the basics: You are careful with your words, avoid accusations when fighting, try to compromise when necessary, and have compatible personalities and interests. But you can do more to keep your marriage strong, healthy, and grow even better. Here are a few suggestions that I have found to be true in my work with couples, and which many studies support.
Maintain healthy habits
People who eat healthily, get regular exercise, and have a circle of friends have stronger sense of mental well-being. This makes it easier for them to handle the little stresses in life – and the big ones, too. Having a healthy mindset strengthens the relationships with those closest to you. So keep your bodies and minds strong and healthy for an ever-improving marriage.
Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt
No one’s perfect. When your spouse does something annoying, perhaps even frequently, don’t assume it’s a negative character trait. Assume the best of intentions. When your spouse does something nice, though, do attribute it to your spouse’s innate wonderfulness. When you build up your spouse in your own eyes, and chalk up the things you don’t like to mistakes, a bad day, or “being human,” you both benefit.
Talk about relationships
Following on the previous point, it’s certainly important to discuss something (politely and considerately) that your spouse is doing that you might not like. But here’s an interesting twist: Schedule time together regularly to watch movies about relationships, whether romcoms or dramas, and then talk about them. Studies have found, and I have found in my practice, that even talking about other relationships helps couples strengthen their own marriages.
Don’t think of your spouse as your “soul mate”
We hear more and more about having a “growth mindset” in learning, and the same could be said for relationships. If you think you and your spouse were “destined” for each other, then when things go wrong you might think, “maybe we aren’t destined for each other after all.” Just as with anything good that’s worth doing, whether it’s a school subject, a career, or a sport, marriage takes hard work and there will be setbacks. But recognizing that and committing to working together to continue to grow is having a “growth mindset” and sets you up for marital success.
Every day, think of something about your spouse that you’re thankful for. Especially think about how he or she has really invested in your relationship. This thankfulness strengthens your relationship even if it’s not expressed – but be sure to express it sometimes!
Have supportive friends
That said, your spouse can’t be everything for you, and expecting him or her to be everything can place a terrible strain on your spouse. Having friends strengthens your marriage – as long as they’re supportive and not tearing you or your spouse down. It’s also helpful to be friendly with your spouse’s friends and especially the family. Like the people your spouse likes, but make sure you let your spouse have some friend time on their own.
Celebrate good times
Certainly you should talk about what’s bothering you and give each other moral support when things are tough. But it’s just as important, and perhaps more important, to focus on the positive every day and celebrate it together. Take time each evening to talk about the high point of your day.
Touch as often as possible
I have found that by encouraging spouses to hug a little longer and extend the kisses a little more, their romance rekindles. Little pecks are nice, but they don’t release oxytocin, the “happy hormone,” the way a longer embrace or kiss does. And don’t forget to make love. That’s one of the strongest natural producers of oxytocin, increasing your sense of bonding and satisfaction with each other. Even if age or illness might decrease the opportunity or ability, try to maintain frequent touch.
Do exciting or new things together
Try to commit 1-2 hours each week to doing something new or exciting together. This has several benefits. It gives you a shared experience, it gets you out of a rut and makes life more exciting, and it expands your experiences, which increases your life satisfaction. Interestingly, it also increases romantic feelings for the spouse you’re sharing it with. This may be difficult to do regularly if you have little ones at home but try as often as possible.
You may not be able to do all of these things at once, and you don’t have to. Just start with one or two and build up as you can. Doing so will help your marriage continue to grow stronger and happier over time.