5 secrets of a successful, happy marriage

5 secrets of a successful, happy marriage

Author: Canadian Living


5 secrets of a successful, happy marriage

Four in 10 marriages end in divorce, according to a 2011 study by the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, and that number keeps rising. But how do couples stay together? Here are five little secrets to keeping your relationship strong.

1. Don't ignore the elephant in the room
If annoyances accumulate, you may find yourself in a delusional state, where the wrong squeeze of the toothpaste tube leads to divorce court.

Bill and Colleen Tully of Toronto have been married for six years and have only had one major fight. "We weren't telling each other issues that were brewing," says Bill. "If you're not communicating that 'It really bothers me when you do this,' it's only going to fester and get worse. The issues were buried and I can barely remember what they were. It was the minor things that were building."

Be honest and up-front before little irritations and misunderstandings turn into resentment. If it leads to an argument, that's OK. Fighting can be good, says Maureen McEvoy, a registered clinical counsellor and certified Imago couples' workshop therapist in Vancouver. "You [and your partner] have two world views. Having complaints is useful because it means you're both still in the relationship and there's energy there. But how you fight is important."

How to fight fair

After 22 years of marriage, Philippa Dowding, a children's author in Toronto, says fighting fair is the advice that stuck with her from premarriage classes. "Don't bring up stuff from the past. If you accept that people have differences, you can work them out. It makes you stronger because you understand each other's motivations."

Responding with a cool head is important to ensuring you're heard, says Rebecca Murray, a marriage and family therapist at the Montreal Therapy Centre. "When someone feels listened to and understood, often that takes the edge off the anger."

Page 1 of 4 -- A little thoughtfulness can go a long way. Find out just what to do to maked your partner feel loved on page 2.
She suggests staying away from criticizing, but offering a complaint can be OK. "Focus on something specific – 'I don't like when you do X' – rather than [something vague such as] 'You're so irresponsible,'" says Murray.

Marriage counselling sessions and couples' retreats often focus on teaching couples how to have discussions without blame, and there are several books, including The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers, 2000) by relationship expert John Gottman, that take you step-by-step through the talks.

2. Give a lot

A little thoughtfulness goes a long way. It can be as simple as saying thank you when your partner brings you a mug of tea, or giving him a compliment, even if it's by voicemail or text, for being so sweet.

"When you feel disconnected, consideration slips away," says McEvoy. Showing one act of appreciation a day makes deposits in the emotional bank and shows your partner he or she matters.

London-based Alanna Clear and her husband, Mike, spent eight months interviewing couples from Alaska to Argentina to put together their upcoming documentary Going the Distance: The Secrets of Lasting Love. One of the things Alanna learned is the importance of not taking your partner for granted. You can have a date night to show you care, she says. Or "it can be a Post-It note on the fridge or buying him Maltesers at the supermarket."

3. Be present

Relationships are like living things, and you can't treat your spouse like the backdrop to your life, says Dr. Sue Johnson, director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (Little, Brown and Company, 2008). If you don't take time to turn to each other and share, the emotional bond disintegrates from neglect.

Page 2 of 4 -- Want to know how to cement your close ties to your partner? Find out how on page 3.

First, get rid of that background buzz you hear every time you're trying to read the paper or watch your favourite show, and adjust the signal so you can listen to your partner's broadcast frequency. Reconnect by taking 15 minutes to talk without distractions. If you don't, after a while you'll feel like good roommates or, worse, each other's executive assistants.

Annie Dolcetti and her husband, Michael, of Woodbridge, Ont., celebrated their 25th anniversary last year. Annie says talking is key. "It's the only way to find out what you like and dislike."

The secure emotional bond reassures you that someone has your back, Johnson says. And, Murray adds, "It's important to make time for each other. Couples, particularly those with young children, get caught up in the chores of everyday life. They're talking about the kids and what they have to do and what to pack for lunch tomorrow morning. They end up not talking about their hopes or dreams, or what each of them is doing or what they're stressed about."

You don't need to go out on date nights, says Johnson, although doing things together is another chance to cement your bond. "Talk about yourself and your softer feelings," she says, whether it's something you're worried about, the news or a show.

4. Dab it with superglue
Mutual interests create shared memories and forge deeper connections. "You need to do things together, go on adventures together where you both grow," says Johnson.

When Colleen Tully wanted to enter a watermelon-carving competition, Bill helped rig a light for the angler fish she created. "We talked about it for a month before we did it. We giggled the whole time," says Colleen. "It was pure fun."

Make sure it's an activity you both want to do, says Johnson. It could be something as simple as watching a movie together. "But then go have coffee and talk about the sections that moved you. That's the important part."

Page 3 of 4 -- Three married couples share their secrets for marital bliss on page 4.

Having said that, you don't have to do everything together. "Take time out with friends to do things that nourish yourself and you'll have more to give the relationship," says Murray. "Just don't leave your partner carrying all the weight."

Annie Dolcetti and her husband have a lot in common, but they also have independent interests. "For him, it's taking in a concert," she says. "I'll go to a movie and dinner with my friends, and to the gym." As long as you and your partner are securely committed to the relationship, a little "me time" will enrich it.

5. Get touchy-feely
"In intimate bonding, some things are not about words but about touch," says Johnson. This can mean sex, but it can also just mean physical affection.

"Women say, 'You only want an orgasm,'" she says. "Men say, 'Well, you know, I ask you for sex because that's the way I feel desired and get affection and touch.'"

Turn and hold your partner at night. Brush your hand against his shoulder as you pass in the hall. Caress his cheek or hug him. "It's a physical manifestation of the bond," Johnson says. Your partner will feel special and valued, and even the sex will get better.

3 couples share their secrets for years of happy union
Shelley and Stephen Snow, Montreal, married 25 years
"Trust, love and respect have to be kept in the forefront. You need to be able to talk about conflict. We had some difficulties in the first year or so of our marriage. We weren't able to communicate well and resentment built up. The arguments we had that were serious were about the ridiculous things." – Stephen

"There has to be an openness to what the other person is feeling. Love has to be there. Sometimes love is an action more than a feeling. There are times you might not feel loving toward your partner, but continuing to act in a loving way is helpful to keeping a marriage strong." – Shelley

Michael and Rene Abrams, Toronto, married 34 years
"We don't feel we have to be joined at the hip. We each have our own social life, but at the end of the day, we like to be together. We have never had a serious fight, but we fight a lot over silly things. We air our laundry immediately – there's no harbouring frustrations." – Michael

Jocelyn and Leonard Schwartz, Toronto, married 42 years
"It's how much I like him and how good he makes me feel. He took me exactly as I was and he has always been proud of me. You show mutual respect and love." – Jocelyn

"Each person has to be allowed to express themselves and not feel worried about being scolded. You do things together and the bond grows. If you can't have fun with them and intellectually communicate with them, you won't have a good marriage. Having the same thermic level also helps, so one doesn't want to sleep with the window open and the other with a blanket." – Leonard

This story was originally titled "5 Secrets of Happy Couples" in the February 2012 issue.

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5 secrets of a successful, happy marriage