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The Secret to Having a Happy Marriage

First of all, even happy couples argue.

No marriage is happy all of the time. “Like all relationships, there are ups and downs,” says psychologist Erica MacGregor. But when you do fight, happy marriages listen to each other’s point of view, recognize when the argument is going off the rails, and make the necessary repairs, she says. In fact, Dr. Juliana Morris, a family and couples therapist, says that some of the happiest couples she has worked with “have weathered hard times.” So if you and your spouse sometimes argue, or are going through a rough patch, this does not necessarily mean you are in an unhappy marriage. In fact, it probably means you’re normal.

Focus on each other’s strengths.

It’s not always easy to see past minor annoyances, and at times you may even hate your partner. But to have a happy marriage you have to accept your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to set realistic expectations, says Ellen Chute, LMSW. For example, if you’re better with numbers, don’t get angry when they misbalance the checkbook. Instead, make it your job to set the budget. If their strength is cooking, they can manage meal planning instead. “Using our strengths on a daily basis is associated with greater well-being,” says Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, co-author of the book book Happy Together, which she wrote with her husband James Pawelski, PhD. “And when we help our partner use their strengths we experience more relational satisfaction,” she says.

Don’t expect your partner to complete you.

Reality check: Jerry Maguire is a movie character. When he announced “You complete me,” it sure was romantic—but it doesn’t fly in the real world. According to Pawelski, If you rely on your spouse to fulfill you, it can lead to an over-dependent relationship where you are not growing as individuals. Instead, couples in healthy relationships should “complement,” not “complete” one-another, she says. “We should be secure, mature, and whole in ourselves while being open to the other person.” So make sure you nurture your own interests and desires—take a class you’re interested in, make plans with friends—instead of waiting for your spouse to fill in the void.

But still, do things together. And have fun together.

While it’s important to not fully depend on your partner in order to maintain a happy marriage, it’s also necessary to share common experiences. “Injecting new activities and interests into your relationship can strengthen the bond,” says Pawelski.

When couples share a unique passion, or learn a skill together—such as take a cooking class, or tennis lessons—they evolve together. According to Morris, “Happy couples have a zest for life with each other. Whether it’s a love of travel, a strong desire to build a family together, or a dedication to a common cause, these experiences enrich their relationship.”

Choose to be attracted to you spouse.

You get to decide if you think your partner is hot? Believe it or not, yes. “Attraction to your spouse is a decision that you have the power to make throughout your marriage,” says Sunny McMillan, certified life coach, radio host, and author of Unhitched. She recommends practicing “attraction thoughts.” To do this, she says, focus on the attributes you’re most drawn to, like your spouse’s great legs or the way they parent your kids (it doesn’t have to be physical). The good news is that your spouse doesn’t have to be a cover model for you to feel attracted. According to Chute, “Happy marriages are based on a sense of connection,” she says. “Physical attraction is far deeper than looks.”

Laugh with each other.

Life is stressful, so it helps if you can find lightness even when you’re in the thick of it. “Typically when a couple has humor, it means they have perspective,” says Morris who recommends couples find laughter in both good and bad times. She says that she has noticed that couples in happy marriages have an ease around each other. Whether it’s through little inside jokes, a silly unexpected text, or even just watching your favorite comedy together, connecting with your spouse with laughter can increase your bond, she says.

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