Happy Couple on Beach

How to Have a Happy Marriage

This blog is motivated by the belief you can significantly increase your chance of having a truly happy marriage if you do just three things.

Those three things are:

1. Maintain a shared calendar — and put your marriage on the calendar.

From my work with more than five thousand couples over the past 18+ years, I am convinced 50% of marriage misery would be eliminated if couples just had a shared calendar.

A shared calendar promotes teamwork. Chaos — the third leading cause of divorce — can easily take over a marriage when teamwork is absent.

More deadly to marriage is the failure of couples to make time for each other and for fun. The renowned marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman surveyed 60,000 couples. Their most common complaint, by far: “we’re not having enough fun in our marriage.”

The longer I am married, the more credit I give our shared calendar for keeping us on track. Thanks to our calendar, we feel like we’re a team, we make time for each other, and we make time for fun.

2. Don’t force the conversation, schedule it.

Talking at the wrong time is the single most common couple communication error. My wife & I completely transformed our communication when we learned not to spring issues on each other.

We adopted the rule: if you’d like to discuss a topic, ask the other person once: “when can we talk?” Never make the other person ask twice. Commit to talk at a specific time. Keep your promise.

The advantage of scheduling a conversation goes beyond talking at a time good for both of you. With time to calm down and think — and a deadline motivating you to get ready — you can make a commitment to always be cheerful and constructive when you talk, even about difficult issues.

My wife & I discovered we literally have thoughtful conversations when we schedule them. Our conversations are “full of thought” when we give ourselves time to prepare. We are more open to the other’s perspective and more creative in problem-solving and planning.

We have found a great conversation is worth waiting for.

3. Greet each other with joy — each and every time you reunite — whether you feel like it or not.

Professor Bill Doherty argues the single biggest threat to marriage is spouses simply getting too comfortable with each other. Love can die little by little, day by day, without couples even realizing it.

My wife & I allowed this to happen in our own marriage. After the initial flurry of romance in our courtship, we became roommates in marriage far quicker than I would like to admit.

Our marriage sprang back to life when we committed to the daily ritual of dancing with each other at the moment of reunion. Each dance is an opportunity to remind ourselves: “this is not my roommate, this is the love of my life!”

Every day has glory in it — every task has meaning — when you remember you are living with the love of your life.

The single best advice I can give couples is to commit to daily rituals that renew your love for each other every single day. A ritual for the moment of reunion is most important.

All together, I urge couples to craft three simple, two-minute daily rituals: one to begin the day on a positive note, one to reunite on a positive note, and one to end the day on a positive note.

With a strong “rhythm of connection” in place, couples can remain positive — and connected — no matter how busy or frustrating life gets.

In my experience working with couples over the years, I have found most marriage difficulties are rooted in the failure to do these three fairly simple things: maintain a shared calendar, schedule conversations, and establish daily rituals of connection.

In the pages of this blog, I will elaborate on how couples can incorporate these three “essential bits of practical marriage advice” into their married lives.

“Big picture” inspiration for your marriage

I also hope, through this blog, to encourage couples to think differently about marriage.

Entering marriage, I had an overly simplistic view of what it took to have a happy marriage: just marry the right person — then you could expect to live happily ever after.

When we began to struggle in our marriage, I thought maybe I had married the wrong person — or that I was the wrong person.

I have now come to believe marriage is not supposed to be easy. A good marriage is not automatic, it is an achievement.

You can even call a good marriage a “work of art.”

Three “big picture” insights, in particular, have helped us see a deeper beauty in our married life. These three insights inspire us every day:

1. Love is creative — not critical

What does it mean to love someone?

In the midst of our early struggles in marriage, I read widely and came across this passage by a Polish playwright that transformed — forever — my understanding of love and marriage:

One does not love a person because it is easy.
Why does one love at all?…
[In the end] one question is important:
Is it creative?

Creative! If I love my wife, I will build her up. I will encourage her to become, over our lifetime together, a more complete person. This is what it means to love someone — to be creative in love.

Too many of us choose to go down the opposite path. Bickering — repetitively pointing out each other’s flaws — is the leading cause of divorce for couples married less than seven years.

Boredom — a failure to be creative in love in a deeper way — is the leading cause of divorce for couples married longer than seven years.

I had thought my wife & I were good as long as we weren’t fighting, but it’s not enough to “get along.” Marriage is too long for that.

If we are going to enjoy being married to each other for a lifetime, we need to keep our time together interesting.

And that means — throughout our married life — we need to encourage each other. We need to challenge each other to dream — and we need to work as a team to make our individual and shared dreams come true.

That is a creative love.

A creative love “enhances your life and broadens your horizons.”
2. Love is joyful — in good times and in bad

A second “big picture” insight into marriage came when that same Polish playwright argued love is joyful. Your home should be a happy home, day in and day out — not just every now and then.

At the time, I was hoping for a peaceful marriage. After a long day of work, all I wanted — I thought — was a quiet evening at home.

But we are not meant to live peacefully together. Marriage can — and should be — so much more than that.

After I got into this marriage work, I spent six months of train rides home reflecting on the question, “what do I truly need from my wife?”

After six months of reflection, my answer was: “I truly need just one thing. I need my wife to smile at me when I walk in the door.”

Her smile means I am welcome in my own home — and that the love of my life is happy I am alive. I want to feel this way every single day.

My wife & I made a promise, on our wedding day, to love each other in good times and in bad. At the time, I had thought this promise only applied during the big bad times we would face — “I will love you if you are ever diagnosed with cancer.”

But the promise to love applies also to all of life’s many “small bad days.”

I promised my wife I would love her after a good day at work — that’s an easy promise to keep — but I also promised to love her after a bad day at work. This is a promise I have violated — without even realizing it — hundreds of times.

I urge couples to truly live their wedding vows. Pay special attention during the “small bad days” of your life, as this is when you are least likely to love.

Make a commitment to love more — not less — when you are tired, frustrated, stressed.

Give each other the beautiful gift of a joyful marriage — each and every day of your married life together.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but here I am vowing I would love my wife… even when she is tired and cranky. It is the failure to love in life’s many “small bad times” that silently undermines so many marriages.
3. The purpose of marriage is to challenge you to grow — to grow as individuals and to grow together as a team

You will be married every day for the rest of your life. That is a lot of time to spend with one person.

I have come to believe the only way we are going to enjoy our married life together is if we each grow as individuals — and grow together as a team.

I didn’t take me long in marriage to realize — if my wife was going to be happy living with me — I needed to get better at lots of things.

To cite just one example, my wife wanted me to be more affectionate. I could have told her, “sorry, that’s not who I am.” Instead, I committed to daily rituals that challenged me to grow in affection, little by little, every day.

Today, I am an affectionate husband. My growth as an individual has made every day of our marriage better — for both of us.

They say you shouldn’t expect your spouse to change — and there is wisdom in this – but it is not wrong to ask.

Most importantly, you should look at yourself. Out of love for your spouse, you should try to change — and you can change.

What gives marriage and family life its majesty is that it is an engine for growth. But growth is not automatic. It needs to be embraced.

Marriage is a great adventure — and you want to be married for a lifetime — when your marriage motivates you to become a better and more complete person.

In the pages of this blog, in addition to sharing with you the best practical advice for your marriage, I will be expanding on these three great themes: be creative in your love, give each other the gift of a joyful marriage each and every day, and strive to grow as individuals and as a team.

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