All of my advice works both ways. When people focus on meeting their spouse more than halfway, everyone feels fortunate and no one feels cheated.
This is the single most important thing. If you get this right by choosing a man of good character traits, your odds of a happy marriage surge.
My husband was in my social circle in grad school. I picked him out as the father of my children before he looked twice at me. How did I know he was the one?
He was very smart. He had excellent social skills. He was a good listener, generous and kind. He had a very ready laugh and a sharp wit. These qualities added to his attraction, but two things stand out in my memory as having sealed the deal:
Mr. HUS was extremely earnest in everything he did. He had a seriousness of purpose and strong motivation, but he also was a very sincere person with a huge heart. This was obvious in all of his dealings with others.
I recall a moment at lunch one day when my husband told a story that was self-effacing and charming. His vulnerability came through. I trace my falling in love with him to that precise moment.
Not a single day goes by when we don’t express our mutual love and gratitude for one another.
Appreciate the small gestures and romantic moments, but don’t forget the big stuff we often fail to mention:
“Thank you for being such a good father. I love how our kids seek your wisdom and guidance on important life choices.”
“Thank you for providing so well for our family.” (I often use Bob Cratchit’s toast to the “founder of the feast.”)
Listen carefully, even when you’ve heard it before. If you can help solve a problem with constructive strategic advice, do so.
Never criticize. It’s so rare that I have an issue with my husband that when something is bothering me he sits up straight and listens carefully. This is a way of saying you should pick your battles very carefully.
Never ever mock your partner with sarcasm, ridicule or any kind of put down. Never laugh at your partner’s expense, especially in public.
Defuse tension with humor whenever possible. I’ve been known to laugh in the middle of an argument and declare that I realize that I sound ridiculous. I’ve also teased in a loving way during disagreements, knowing that if I can get my husband to smile, we’re back on track.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to go to bed mad. In my experience, staying up late to beat an issue to death is stressful, wastes time and makes for a night of bad sleep. Usually if I ask my husband to postpone a discussion to a time when we’re less tired, we can resolve the issue quickly and without drama. When your attachment to your partner is 100% secure, you can rest easy knowing you’ll work things out later.
Actively Display Faithfulness
Avoid any situation that might feel threatening to your husband or compromise trust. Be impervious to attention from the opposite sex. Never speak admiringly of the attractions of other men.
Never marry a man who lags your previous partners. It is important to be able to tell your husband that you have never felt this way, never had sex this good, never been so happy in a relationship. If you cannot say that honestly, you do not belong together.
Expect the same behavior from him. I once told my husband that there was only one thing that would ever make me leave our relationship. Not catastrophic illness or injury, not unemployment or poverty, nor any of the many reasons people divorce. Except one: Infidelity. When I told him this he said, “Fair enough, that will not be necessary.”
And it hasn’t been. My husband’s conduct has been beyond reproach in this area, and he actually makes me feel sexy and beautiful, even at my advanced age.
Raising a family together forges the strongest bond human beings experience. It is life’s greatest project and privilege. This is not to say that DINK (double income, no kids) marriages can’t work, be enjoyable, and last. But having a family is about more than consumption, it’s about producing. Or more specifically, reproducing.
Our family is the centerpiece of our marriage. No part of our relationship is untouched by the mutual love we share with our children. Appreciating my husband as a father strengthens my love and attraction to him. And our children, who have at times challenged us for years on end, bring incomparable joy into our lives and make us feel so grateful.
Nurture Your Sex Life
You can’t have a great marriage without great sex. Do what it takes to make that happen. Never stop flirting with your husband.
If you want sex less frequently than your partner does, be generous and responsive when they initiate. And take the lead yourself sometimes – your goal, aside from the pleasure of sex itself, is to make your partner feel like the sexiest (and luckiest) man alive.
Plan Your Time Together
I recall reading about the families of the Columbine shooters – they all retreated to their own rooms in the evening. Four people living separately in the same house. Don’t do that.
Eat dinner together regularly. Spend time together afterwards. My husband and I don’t spend every evening together. Sometimes he watches sports while I read in the next room. But we often choose to do something the other enjoys for the shared experience. He got me into Breaking Bad. I recently liked the book The Circle by Dave Eggers so much he is reading it now and we’re enjoying discussing it. He’s a history buff, so I’ve been watching The Roosevelts with him.
Enjoying one another’s company is key to a happy marriage. Get out and do new things together. Travel, arts events, and local outings are all ways that you will enjoy being active together. We take long walks every weekend. These experiences create memories but they also create lots of opportunities for conversation. You can’t be happily married to someone you don’t find interesting and enjoying to talk with.
Do your chores together. My husband and I have not had an argument over the division of household labor in 30 years of marriage. On the weekends when he’s home, we tend to do work at the same time. I garden while he works in the yard. We tackle the basement or attic together. I do laundry while he paints the garage door. It just wouldn’t feel right to sit around reading a Russian novel if he was working around the house. Usually, we both agree to knock off at the same time, shower and go off to do something fun. This system has worked beautifully because we’re both pitching in regularly.
Plan Your Time Apart
It’s good to have independent interests and same sex friendships. In our house, each of us has one or two nights a week when we’re out attending meetings or gatherings. I enjoy having “me time” and I think it’s good for my husband as well. I appreciate his need for male companionship.
I also like being home alone sometimes – I can have my favorite comfort food for dinner – scrambled eggs – and curl up doing something that probably wouldn’t interest him. I’m glad to see him when he gets home and fills me in on his evening.
If I had to sum up all of the above in one sentence it would be this:
Choose a partner who will give 100% to your marriage, and then aim to give 110% back.
In this way, you’ll never need to wonder what’s in it for you. You’ll never compete with your own husband. You’ll find an embarrassment of riches and love – and the well never runs dry. At least it hasn’t yet. I’ll give another progress report on our 40th.
What works for you in your relationship? Share your best practices!