7 secrets to a happy marriage

One of my lovely colleagues is getting married next week. It has made me feel so nostalgic (read: old) for those days of young love, with a whole life’s journey spread out before you. This week, my husband and I celebrate our 10-year anniversary. That’s crazy. I look at this bride-to-be and it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was in her fancy shoes. But I think about all I’ve experienced since the day I donned that white dress and veil, and know I’ve learned a lot about how to cultivate a happy relationship. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but we’ve built a solid foundation that I’m happy to plant my feet on every day.

Many of these tips seem cliché, but clichés come from real life on repeat, and nowhere does that seem more true than in marriage (except maybe in parenting).

Choose the right partner: I know, you’re saying “duh” but it’s not always so obvious when you’re in the throes of a relationship. Remember that the person you’re marrying is the one you actually get—there isn’t some new and improved version that emerges at the end of that aisle. So whatever bugs you about him or her now, you’ll have to decide if you can live with it, and not resent your partner for the next 50 years. Marry someone you love to talk to. Be honest with yourself and don’t settle for less than what you need in order to be happy; your relationship should make your life easier, not harder. People evolve, but they don’t change in significant ways. Choose carefully.

Don’t keep score: I remember reading once that the best way to have a good partner is to be a good partner. How that partnership plays out in your house may look very different than it does in mine, but make sure it works for both of you. Keep in mind that your roles aren’t occupations with specific job descriptions. You’ll find, at times, you do a lot more than your fair share. Other times, your partner does. A good rule of thumb is not to keep score. If you both always try to give 75 percent, even if you fall short, you’re in good shape.

Reign in your expectations: Marriage is peaks and valleys. It can’t be all romantic surprises and stimulating conversation every day of your life. It’s not always easy or fun. Life gets in the way. And it’s natural to get annoyed or angry with someone you spend so much time with, but it can be pretty devastating if you walk into marriage not realizing that’s a completely expected part of a healthy, long-term relationship. Recognizing that it’s just a valley, instead of a 50-foot cliff, can help squash any rash actions or judgments that come as a result of your partner not meeting your expectations from time to time.

Be kind: So much of a good relationship is based on just being nice. We can fall into the habit of saving our worst for the one we love the most because we know they’ll take it, but that can lead to a sad, bitter spiral. Treat your partner with the respect you would give any other friend, even—especially—when you’re upset.

Go to bed mad (it’s OK!): I’ve never been a big believer in this ubiquitous advice. I know me, and I know that sometimes I just need to sleep on it to get over it, and everything is better the next day. Sometimes, I’m just in a bad mood or being awful (see last point) and there’s nothing more to it. If you think it will help to just hit the sack to move forward, you have my permission. It totally works for me.

Be yourselves: You’ll meet lots of other fabulous couples and sometimes, it’s hard not to play the comparison game: Why aren’t we more like them? They do such fun things. How do they afford that? They seem so in love. Social media has only fed this fire because you see the highlight reel of everyone you know and wonder if all those relationships are better than yours. They’re not. And at the end of the day (or of Facebook) you and your partner will have each other, and should only live the life that makes you happy. If that means binge-watching TV instead of portaging the Kawarthas, so be it. Accept yourself and your partner as you are, and appreciate the things that brought you together and keep that knot tight. There’s nothing more prone to failure and misery than trying to live someone else’s life.

Give space: This was my husband’s contribution to this list, which is kind of funny. It’s no secret that Sean and I don’t have all our passions in the same basket. He’s a sports fanatic. I am not. So, while I’ll watch hockey sometimes and catch a ball game with him (I will not watch MMA!), I’m happy when he goes off and does these things with other people who love it (or on our bedroom TV, which they say is a no-no, but totally saves our marriage). Likewise, I like to go to the theatre. He’ll go with me on occasion, but I know he’s indifferent, so I got together with some girlfriends and we bought subscriptions for a theatre series. We go every couple of months throughout the year and we love it. I don’t think you can expect one person to be your everything; it’s OK to have others to fill in the gaps (as long as the gaps aren’t too big).

Of course, there are lots of other things important for keeping your relationship happy—communication and laughter and support—and different people need different things from each other. I guess the secret is to know what you need, and never settle for less.

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