From the time we are young, many of us dream of that perfect fairytale relationship. We long to be swept off our feet and whisked off into the sunset to live happily ever after. But what does that happy, healthy marriage look like in reality? It’s rare we get to see our hero and heroine after their blissful resolution. And when we actually see issues in the relationship, they magically disappear when the couple suddenly remembers how much they care for one another. Love conquers all.
Unfortunately, that’s not really how things work. Signs of feelings that once were are not enough to repair damage. Although true happiness is possible, it something we must work for. Luckily, even after relational stress, all is not lost. There are things every couple can do to design a happy, healthy marriage. Based on the research of Judith S. Wallerstein, Ph. D., co-author of the book “The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts,” all healthy marriages share these seven points. Living by these rules will have your relationship well on the way to thriving.
Separate from the family you grew up in.
No, you don’t need to reach the point of estrangement, but you do need to detach enough that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings. (Wallerstein) In a healthy marriage, your partner should become your key source of support. Get into the habit of turning to your spouse first and encourage them to do the same. You should be each others number one emotionally, financially, and physically. Letting go can be hard, so if this becomes an issue for your extended family, set a time you and your spouse to have a hart-to-heart conversation setting boundaries. They can still be part of your life, they aren’t losing you, but they need to respect your marital relationship. Clear, firm, loving communication can go a long way.
Create oneness built upon mutual affection.
Feeling is not enough. You must act. It is the expression of love — shown in affection and genuine interest — that will meld you together. Give tender signs of affection. Have a good connection around non-sexual physical touching, hand holding, cuddling, kissing, and hugging. (Thomas) Such reassuring touches promote feelings of comfort and security within the relationship. In order for both partners need to feel as though their needs are being met, your relationship also must reach beyond the physical. Be curious about one another’s feelings, thoughts, passions, hopes, dreams, and lives outside your home. When you are actively engaged in understanding your spouse, you validate them as an individual which, in turn, draws you closer as a couple.
“The road to a great romantic relationship begins with your gentle expressions of positive regard toward your partner. When the relationship is primed for success with those little behaviors, the [relationship] that follows can be infused with intimacy and passion.” (Rich)
Set boundaries within your marriage to protect each partner.
It may seem counterintuitive, but setting personal boundaries — respecting and maintaining individuality, freedom, and personal integrity — will actually strengthen your connection. It is critical for each partner to have the ability to have their own friendships, professional goals, and hobbies. “A strong, healthy relationship brings to mind a Venn diagram — there is adequate overlap to keep the connection strong, but each person has aspects of their lives that are theirs along, and that boundary is respected by both parties.” (Bonior) Love can only exist where there is freedom and responsibility. Boundaries help define the freedom we have and the freedom we don’t have. Without clear boundaries, a couple cannot know each other, and without knowing each other, they cannot truly love each other. (Cloud & Townsend)
Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship.
“Having an ongoing sexual relationship in your marriage is important… Maintaining your physical connection gives your marriage staying power and protects it from the stresses of life.” (Thomas) Protect your sexual relationship from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations. Do not allow them to continuously push intimacy onto the back burner. Make time, wether it be spontaneous or planned, for regular sex. Frequent sexual activity triggers your sex drive, sense of romance, and attachment. It also releases testosterone, dopamine and oxytocin. (Wu) Improved sexual satisfaction leads to greater marital satisfaction. (Rich)
Please note, true intimate connection during sex can only happen when both individuals feel safe physically and emotionally. (Johnson) When that mutual safety does not exist, the issues will only be exacerbated.
Confront and master the inevitable crises of life.
Life is going to throw some curveballs. It’s inevitable. Death, illness, job loss, mental health decline, infertility, financial hardships, there’s a myriad of hardships you may have to face. It can take all you have to confront these issues head on. When you lean on one another, letting go of expectations and replacing them with patience and unconditional love you can make it through even stronger than before.
It won’t be easy. Crises often bring out the worst in people, they can turn surly, irritable, and rude. Your spouse most likely isn’t trying to hurt you, but emotions can sometimes get the best of us. Marriage should be a safe haven in which partners are able to express their differences, anger, and conflict. (Wallerstein) In those tough times, keep in mind the things you love and respect about your spouse, remind your spouse of things when they’re at their low points. Knowing you are behind them and see them, even through their occasional ugly, you can maintain the strength of your marital bone even in the face of adversity.
Use humor and laughter.
Laughing together can be an indicator of how strong your relationship is. Author and professor of human development at Cornell University, Karl Pillemer says, “one of the best pieces of advice from people who have been in very long marriages is to lighten up. And this is what the ability to laugh does for a couple.” (Borresen) This doesn’t mean you need to master landing the perfect joke. You can watch funny movies, tv shows, or comedians together. It reduces stress and anxiety. Humor, when used to create a more relaxed atmosphere rather than as a distraction from dealing with problems, predicts greater marital stability. (Greengross)
Nurture and comfort each other.
When we think of nurturing and comforting a child, it’s easy to recognize what kind of things need to be done. But how do you nurture another adult? The truth is, adults need many of the same things children do. There are three categories of nurturing: conversational, physical, and action.
- give your full attention when they are speaking
- try to understand what they are thinking and feeling
- act as a sounding board
- give continual support and encouragement
- holding hands
- give massages
- doing one of your spouse’s usual chores
- buying flowers
- making their favorite meal
- send them a text just to say thank you or to let them know you’re thinking of them
The key to nurturing and comforting your spouse is to be in tune with their needs. If you know how they are feeling and what kinds of things make them feel loved, then you will know what needs to be done.
Building a Healthy Marriage
There are steps every couple can take to construct a happy and healthy marriage. Separating from the family you grew up in, creating oneness through mutual affection, setting boundaries in your marriage, establishing a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship, confronting life’s inevitable hardships together, using humor and laughter, nurturing and comforting one another will have your relationship thriving. While these points are not the only signs of a healthy marriage, they are key indicators that your relationship is doing well. If you aren’t there now, don’t worry. Recognizing where your relationship needs some work is the first step to creating a healthy marriage.
Other Posts You May Like
Bonior, A. (2018, December 28). What Does a Healthy Relationship Look Like? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/friendship-20/201812/what-does-healthy-relationship-look
Borresen, K. (2017, August 4). Marry Someone You Can Laugh With. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/marry-someone-who-makes-you-laugh_n_597ba4b3e4b02a4ebb758504
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1999). Boundaries in marriage. Zondervan Publishing House.
Greengross, G. (2018, November 17). How Humor Can Change Your Relationship. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/humor-sapiens/201811/how-humor-can-change-your-relationship
Johnson, S. (n.d.). Why Emotional Safety is the Defining Feature of Good Sex. Retrieved from https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/783/why-emotional-safety-is-the-defining-feature-of-good
Mayo Clinic. (2019, April 5). Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
Rich, J. D. (2017, December 5). How Sex Is Connected To Marital Satisfaction. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/parenting-purpose/201712/how-sex-is-connected-marital-satisfaction
Thomas, L. (2012, February 16). 9 Tips for a Hot and Healthy Marriage. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/save-your-sex-life/201202/9-tips-hot-and-healthy-marriage
Wallerstein, J. S., & Blakeslee, S. (1996). The good marriage: how and why love lasts. London: Bantam.
Wu, K. (2019, February 27). Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship. Retrieved from http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/