Everyone wants a great marriage, but discouragement often sets in when confronted with the reality of what “I do” really means.
I want to offer up 10 secrets to a great marriage so that you can begin to thrive with your life partner.
Blissfully, I walked down the aisle, eyes locked with the man I vowed to spend the rest of my life with. I was hopeful and encouraged by the future. Little did I know, marriage was going to require daily work.
I can testify that it is well worth the effort, and I want to pass along some secrets I am learning on this journey that will help to transform your own marriage.
Related: If you like exploring tips for making a great marriage, you also might like reading about how to become a happier parent.
10 Secrets to a Great Marriage
Work on Yourself
If you want to transform your marriage, the best place to start is with self-reflection. There are two players in the marriage. You may feel that your husband is 80% to blame for the marital issues. That may or may not be the case. If that is the case, you still have 20% you can work on to try and send your marriage down a different course.
If you are a wife, there are some traps I see that we often fall into (raising my hand…guilty as charged): treating your spouse like one of our kids, being controlling, being disrespectful, nagging, putting other priorities ahead of your husband, disengaging sexually, and not thanking or complimenting your spouse for what he does for the family.
We also often resort to focusing on how we can change our spouse.
Let me tell you a secret: The best way to change your spouse is to change yourself. If you act disrespectful to your spouse, he will often be unloving to you and visa versa. One big question still remains, what if I change myself, and he still doesn’t change. I respond to that question here.
Set Realistic Expectations
We often enter into marriage with expectations.
These expectations are set because of what we observe in media, in others (and often only what we see in public and not behind closed doors) and what we saw in our own family. There are expectations on the big things – how to parent, how to spend and save money, how household responsibilities are divided, and decisions about how to interact with extended family, just to name a few.
There are also daily smaller expectations that can lead to disappointment.
How will we spend Saturday?
How will preparations for different special occasions be handled?
Who will put the kids to bed tonight?
Unrealistic and unspoken expectations set us up for disappoint. Read this post to learn how to set and communicate about this topic.
Assume the Best in Your Spouse
Your spouse is not your enemy.
This person married you because they love you. If they are bringing up a challenge in your marriage, it is because they care, and not because they want to harm. Often times their own baggage, life circumstances, or personality quirks lead to the destructive behavior you see.
In “Highly Happy Marriages” by Shaunti Feldhahn she notes that highly happy couples respond with the internal assumption, “He must not have known how that would make me feel, or he wouldn’t have done it.”
Personally, I find that I can project a lot of negative assumptions on my spouse. What he did made me feel bad so he must not care. Instead, I have had to try and shift my mindset to realize that I am most likely interpreting his actions through my own insecurities or misunderstandings.
In Feldhahn’s interviews, she found that even in struggling couples, 80% of the people said that they absolutely care about their spouse and want the best for them, even during the painful times. An additional 17% said that they feel this way sometimes.
Most likely, if you feel your spouse doesn’t want the best for you it simply isn’t the truth. Go into disagreements with the mindset that your spouse does care about you, and it will contribute to the success of your marriage.
We are broken, hurting and imperfect people. Your spouse is going to mess up. You are too. Forgiveness is a huge key to success. Read this post to better understand what forgiveness is. How often will you have to forgive? Often. It’s part of living closely with people. It’s really hard to do, but it is essential to a great marriage.
Be Friends and Lovers
Successful couples continue to get to know one another throughout their marriage. I believe regular date nights are key. In the book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” Gottman discusses the road map in marriage. The main idea is that you are still talking about dreams, likes & dislikes, hardships, joys, and daily life together.
Being friends involves doing things together, talking about life, and caring for the other person’s needs. Being lovers includes date nights, love notes, sex, and trips together.
Just think back to when you were dating and wanted nothing more than to be with that other person. Your goal is to continue to grasp at that desire.
Pick Your Battles
We can become nit picky and have a desire to bring up every annoying infraction. I would encourage you to decide what is a major and what is a minor in your relationship.
It is often said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It is good advice when it comes to marriage. There are things we can always choose to just let go of, keeping in mind what I said earlier about assuming the best in your spouse.
Often times, that small feeling or offenses will be completely forgotten as you move on from the situation.
Compliment Your Spouse
Making a concentrated effort to compliment your spouse helps you dwell on the positive rather than the negative. It not only changes your mental opinion about your spouse, but it becomes a huge encouragement for them. Men especially do well when they are complimented in front of others.
One of the chapters focuses on the internal and often unspoken insecurities of men.
She notes that “affirmation is everything” in helping build into the security of your husband. Her studies found that 52% of men frequently feel unappreciated in their home. Affirm your husband in your mind, with your friends when he is not around, in front of your children, and in front of his peers.
Women are also crying out for reassurance. The opposite of this is also true. Please stop cutting down your spouse in front of your friends, his peers, or your own children. This is damaging and will never help build into a strong marriage.
Learn to Serve
We often enter into marriage repeating our vows to “Love, honor, and cherish in the good times and bad.”
Our often unspoken hope is that our spouse with complete us, being the key to making US happy.
It will never work.
Our spouse will be used to refine us, but he or she will never make us whole. We often don’t recognize the importance of sacrifice and service when it comes to marriage. Often times we find that we treat strangers better than we treat the one we have chosen to live life with daily.
We need to re-define love. We often see love as a feeling. It is actually a choice.
Love is choosing the best for the other person.
Become a Student of Marriage
Being teachable is an important component of not only personal success, but success as a couple.
When we wanted to become a teacher, an accountant, a real estate agent, or a doctor, we went to school to learn. There is continued education that can be had and should be had in each field.
Why enter into a career with that mindset but not realize that continuing education is what we should be pursuing in the most important relationship on this earth?
I entered into marriage with great role models, and yet I find I need so much guidance because my selfish nature wants to take over. Where can you become a student?
Friends of mine don’t reserve counseling for the hard times. They see counseling as similar to visiting a dentist. You go to a counselor to stay on top of marriage and have regular check-ups. Some churches offer marriage classes. I’m involved in a marriage enrichment program called ReEngage, which they offer throughout the country. I’ve heard the military hosts marriage classes and retreats.
The books I suggested in this post are great reads that will help you continue your marriage education. Look into marriage retreats that might be available in your area or plan a getaway to attend one. Find trusted mentors who are full of wisdom to offer and are willing to invest in you.
Having a strong marriage will transform your family, so it is well worth the time and financial investment.
Remember “For Better or For Worse”
Those vows – don’t take them lightly. I know you didn’t understand how bad “the worse” would feel.
I would encourage you to try tips 1-9 to make a huge positive impact on your marriage, but I’d also encourage you not to flirt with with word divorce.
You are wondering, “You want me to live like this for the rest of my life?”
The answer is no. I don’t.
I want you and your spouse to become a better you, together. People often leave their marriage, only to enter another one where they discover that their own struggles follow them. They also suddenly realize the person they married still does not complete them and brings their own baggage into the marriage.
Divorce can make things even more complicated and icky than they seem now. Of course, if you are in an abusive situation where you are putting yourself or your children at risk I encourage you to seek help immediately.
It may not mean the end of your marriage. Your spouse can find help and healing. However, I would never ask you to stay someplace where you or your kids are in danger.