There’s a lot of general advice out there about how to make a marriage fairy-tale perfect, but what about the specific, day-to-day behaviors that make a relationship work? Millennials are great at marriage, but we still have plenty to learn from the experts. We turned to 11 relationship pros for suggestions about behaviors and habits that can make life sweet after “I do” — for years to come!
1. Take the time to ask questions. Be proactive about asking your spouse if there’s anything you can do to help them on a given day — even if you’re worried they’ll say “yes” and add another five items to your to-do list. Similarly, if you’re picking up signals that your significant other isn’t totally on their game, make sure they know that you notice their behavior and that their happiness (or unhappiness!) matters to you. “If you’re about to sit down and watch your favorite show and you notice that your S.O. is sad or preoccupied, stop and ask them what’s up, even if you’re dreading that what they might say may take an hour [to discuss],” says licensed psychologist Erika Martinez. Asking the question can go a long way!
2. Don’t go to bed angry. You’ve probably heard this one about a million times, but experts says that it’s actually important to a healthy relationship. According to author and married millennial Danny Zoucha, science has proven that heart waves (like brain waves) can travel as far as 15 feet. “How close do you sleep together, again?” he says. “If your heart is distressed, angry, sad… you’re not only influencing your own night’s sleep, but [your spouse’s] as well, setting up your next day for disaster. It’s better to stay up all night sorting it out than do that to yourself.”
3. Know when it’s time to end an argument. We all know how good it feels to be the one who’s “right” in a fight, but let’s be honest — it’s way more important that the fight ends with the relationship intact. Certified counselor Jonathan Bennett advises that arguments should be wrapped up within 30 to 45 minutes whenever possible. “By drawing out apologies and the opening of communication, you’re also drawing out the resentment, stress, and anger,” he says. “Even if both sides have to give a little bit and stop being stubborn, communicating and resolving an argument in a reasonable time is ideal.”
4. Set healthy boundaries with your other loved ones. You love your parents, in-laws, siblings, and kids, but for the health of your marriage, it’s crucial that these other special people in your life aren’t too involved in your relationship with your spouse. Kimberly Hershenson, a New York City-based therapist who specializes in relationships, notes that fights and sex within your marriage are two topics that should not be discussed with others.
5. Keep compliments specific. Hey, it’s nice to get any kind of compliment, but the truth is that all kind words aren’t quite created equal. The more specific you can get with your spouse, the more special he or she will feel. “Saying ‘You look pretty’ is good… saying ‘That dress brings out your gorgeous eyes’ is better,” says marriage therapist Caroline Madden. “Likewise, saying ‘Thanks for staining the deck’ is good, but saying ‘The deck looks fabulous. Thank you for working so hard in the sun all day’ is better.” Madden also emphasizes the importance of learning to gracefully accept the compliments that your spouse gives you (hint: A smile and a thank you is all it takes).
6. Hold a weekly meeting. Certified life and wellness coach Dani Faust says that her number one piece of advice to married millennials and moms is to make couples’ meetings part of the weekly routine. Set aside a regular time for these meetings so that you and your partner can both prioritize it among your other commitments, and prepare for each discussion by creating a list of positives (“gratefuls”) and negatives (or challenges) from the week before. Share your lists, and start the meeting by addressing the challenges, as well as how to overcome them. End the meeting on a positive note by talking about your “gratefuls,” and close the meeting with physical touch. “Doing this each week forces you together to look at the marriage and hear the other person’s point of view in a non-accusatory way,” Faust says. “It is bookended with positivity to keep the mood collaborative and loving.”
7. Learn something new every day. If you’ve said “I do,” you might be convinced that you already know everything there is to learn about your spouse, but you could be wrong! Married millennial Tyler Turk — founder of the date-night subscription box Crated With Love — thinks you probably are, and suggests taking a moment every night before bed to share with your partner one new thing you learned about them during the day. “It doesn’t need to be something huge or epiphanic — just something new you discovered about your spouse,” he says. “Every day you do this, you are getting closer to your partner, while getting to know them on a deeper level.”
8. Stop trying to read minds. “If you are worried or unsure about something in the relationship, don’t try to read into the situation, but rather ask your partner about it,” says psychologist, author, and coach Jenev Caddell. “Their reality is often much different than what you may be imagining, so give them the chance to share it with you.” Stop testing your mind-reading powers and address conversations in your marriage head-on.
9. Do what your S.O. wants to do. This may sound pretty straightforward, but many of us don’t do it nearly enough. “If your partner enjoys something that isn’t necessarily your favorite, do it anyway,” says blogger and millennial wife Lauren Hamilton. “What are you losing by doing something that makes your partner genuinely happy?”
10. Be more emotionally present. What does it mean to be totally emotionally available? “You need to not check your phone, make good eye contact, and be focused and present during a discussion,” says therapist Rhonda Milrad, who works as Chief Relationship Adviser for Your Sage. “This type of connection results in your partner feeling loved, accepted, and respected by you.” Set your phone aside and get ready to see what happens when your S.O. really feels like a priority.
11. Go to bed at the same time. You may be a night owl, while your spouse prefers an earlier bedtime, but for the sake of your marriage, it’s best to get under the covers at the same time. Work schedules and other commitments may get in the way, but do what you can to align your routines whenever possible. “Knock off social media, TV, or catching up on paperwork so you can go to bed together — and [don’t wait to get into bed] until you’re exhausted,” says relationship expert Daphna Levy. “This nurtures communication and can help your sex life.”
What specific things do you and your spouse do to keep your marriage happy and healthy? Tweet us @BritandCo!
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