My niece recently introduced me to her new fiancé. Later she pulled me aside and asked me what the secret is to a happy marriage.
I replied to her, “My advice as a counselor is love, commitment, trust, respect, healthy communication, autonomy and intimacy. But personally, I am happily married after 30 years because I am intentional about having harmony in my relationship, so it makes it easy for my husband to live with me.” Which means I am consciously crafting myself to be the wife I desire to be.
I should probably call these skills or tools to being happily married, not ‘secrets.’ It takes skills to have a healthy relationship, and that starts with the one we have with ourselves. If we do not love and value ourselves this will make it difficult to have a loving, fulfilling marriage.
My parents did not model a good marriage, and because of that I did not have healthy relationship skills growing up. When I first married, I had thoughts of leaving after the first year because I had no idea how hard it was to share finances, chores, a bed and life goals with a husband who had different ways of doing things than me. I had to change my perspective from what I wanted and how I did things, to what was best for our relationship. Having a “what’s best for the relationship” mindset has been a great skill in helping me monitor my words, which causes less arguments with my husband. This relationship mindset also helps when I make financial decisions. “Is this decision best for our budget and financial growth?”
Becoming intentional about the type of marriage we want to create with our partner requires us to focus on what we can control: our words and behaviors. We don’t have control over what our partner says or does. We only have control over how we want to respond to what our spouse says or does. Creating a marriage that lasts and is fulfilling requires us to ask our partner what he/she needs from us and letting him/her know what we need. These conversations have helped me gain insights into becoming a better wife to my husband. When I counsel couples, one of the first homework assignments I give them is to write down what qualities they think makes a good wife and a good husband. I ask if they are being the partner they wrote down. Most couples are so focused on what their partner is not doing right, they forget to be the best partner they can be.
Another skill I practice that has helped me become a better wife is daily self-care. Taking time to exercise, meditate, journal, hydrate, eat healthy and get enough sleep, equips me with the energy and mental ability to give in positive ways to my marriage. I find when we don’t take good care of ourselves it impedes our ability to be a healthy, contributing partner.
Recently, I read an article that demonstrated couples who pray together, not only report happier marriages but have less than a 1% chance of divorce! (1) So now I practice that skill as well. Each day I ask God to help me love my husband like God does and help my husband to love me like God loves me.
So, when you choose to be intentional about creating the marriage you desire by practicing a ‘relationship centered’ mindset, asking your partner what he/she needs from you, valuing yourself so you can see the value in your partner, doing daily self-care, and praying for your marriage, these tools can give you confidence that you are bringing your best self to your marriage.
Having a good marriage is evidence of you practicing healthy relationship skills, which increases your odds of having long-lasting, fulfilling relationships with people you love.
Written by Elisabeth Davies, MC
Counselor and author of Good Things Emotional Healing Journal for Couples
(1) The Couple That Prays Together: Race and Ethnicity, Religion, and Relationship Quality Among Working-Age Adults by Ellison, Burdette and Wilcox.