Creating my happy life on the other side of fear.

Monday, 23 November 2015

10 secrets to a happy marriage

10 secrets to a happy marriage

My husband and I have been married for almost eleven years. Our marriage is the most important part of my life, and has top priority above everything else (even the dogs - gasp!).
Finding someone who is always in your corner, cheering you on and helping you through difficult times is the most precious gift there is. I love the life we have created together, but it wasn't smooth sailing right off the start. I learnt some valuable lessons along the way, and today I want to share some with you!

1. Quit the nagging.
That one is huge, and has been particularly difficult for me. I come from a long line of accomplished naggers, and happily continued that tradition in the first few years of our marriage. To my surprise, it didn't get me any results. On the contrary, the more I nagged, the less he was inclined to do what I wanted him to do. Hmm, curious. 
More or less inadvertently, I slowly changed my approach. Instead of complaining for the millionth time that "you never do anything around the house" (the most common quibble we had), I would ask him sweetly if he could help me. He never said no. 
The odd time when he cooked, or cleaned up after himself, I would praise him profusely.
Sounds a bit like training a dog? That's because it is. I thought to myself: Rewarding positive behaviour works for dogs and children, why shouldn't it work for husbands?
It totally does.
Less nagging (I will never be able to quit completely), more help around the house: We are both happy campers these days.   

2. Support each other's interests.
Rich has always had a broad variety of interests and hobbies. I have an entire category on the blog dedicated to his biggest hobby: Our farm. It is time-consuming, makes going away challenging, costs money and is a lot of work. But it makes him happy and content. 
I dedicate a lot of time to the blog (we are talking hours every day) and yoga. We are both very supportive of our hobbies, and give each other the space and time we need.  

3. Don't listen to outsiders. 
This is sort of a continuation of the precious point. Over the years there have been dozens of people telling us that what we are doing is wrong: We have too many animals. I will regret not having my own kids.
Am I sure I want to be with someone who is 25 years older?
Is he sure he wants to be with someone that young?
You have to do your own thing, and ignore everything else. Everybody's relationship is unique, and only you two know what works for you and makes you happy. The outside world is just noise you should tune out.  

Married bliss

4. Don't take him/her for granted.
Having been with someone for a long time makes it easy to take that person for granted. We have all these expectation of them, and get mad when they don't always fulfil them. It's good practice to stop and pause once in a while to reflect what the other person is doing for us. 
Before we (finally) installed our timer, we would always manually turn on the coloured lights strung up in our driveway for each other when one of us got home late. It's such a small detail, but every single time I approached our home and saw the lights twinkling, it made my heart swell with happiness. I knew he had thought of me. 
Doing little romantic gestures for each other is so special, and keeps the spark alive.

5. Make time for each other.
I get it, we are all busy. Jobs, kids, housework, friends, social life - it's tempting to put our relationship last. Don't, though. Go on dates, have at least one meal a day together, talk to each other. It's easy to drift apart, but may be much harder to find your way back to each other. Don't risk it. We should be partners first, everything else second.  

6. Develop your own language. 
People who are freshly in love, flooded with hormones and a stomach full of butterflies, sometimes fear the times when the first spark is gone. While those first few crazy weeks (or months, if you are lucky) are exciting, what they don't know yet, is that what comes after is better
Getting to know the person you love is thrilling. But creating a life together is the real high. 
Since we are both bilingual, we literally created our own language, a curious mix of English, German, and made-up words. We have tons of codes, insider jokes, and shared memories. Our shared history is a treasure chest that is more dear to us than anything else.  

7. Do your own thing. 
Every married couple sleeps together at night, right? That's just how it's done. As soon as you have said "Yes", you have also said "No" to solo sleeping. 
Or have you?
Who says that you have to do it?

We have our shared bedroom, and we slept together in it for years, just like we were supposed to. Except for the (many) nights when Richard would fall asleep on the couch, soothed by the sound of the TV in the background. And I could snuggle up in the bed all by myself, hot water bottle by my feet, reading for hours before turning off the light.
Because here is the thing: We are compatible life partners, but incompatible sleep partners. I can't sleep with the TV on. Richard can't fall asleep when it's too quiet. I pile on the blankets and like it toasty warm, while Rich gets hot flashes and is drenched in sweat when in bed with me. I talk in my sleep. He snores.

We continued our somewhat uncomfortable sleep situation until we got our first house dog two years ago. After the obligatory beginning phase of swearing that "the dog will never sleep in the bed", I sneaked her in one night when Rich was away, and the rest is history. The dog sleeps in our (my) bed, and Rich sleeps in our guest room next door most nights. 
We have never been happier.   

Romance

8. Stop trying to change him. 
I never thought of myself as a wannabe-man-changer, but I sure behaved like one. Many of the qualities I admired about him (and fell in love with) drove me batty later: His independence, masculinity, self-assuredness. For a while there I tried to make a compliant, obedient "yes dear"-man out of him. Incidentally, the same kind of men I used to date before, all relationships that never worked out for that very reason.

We are strange creatures.

You don't have to love all your spouse's idiosyncrasies. I sure don't. But I did learn to live with them. Instead of getting angry about him never putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, but scattering them all over the house, I get exasperated now. That's progress! I have learnt to accept that he will most likely never change that behaviour, and you know what? If that's the worst he does, I got off easy.   

9. Be best friends.
He is my best friend in the world. I am his best friend. I believe that this bond is stronger than the marriage-bond. You wouldn't betray your best friend, would you? It seems easier to betray your spouse. I know it sounds horrible, but look at the evidence all around us. Divorce rates are higher than ever, and I know more married people's infidelities than I care for. You have to be great friends to make a marriage work.  Because if you are friends, it won't feel like work. It will feel like way back in your childhood, when you and your best friend were playing hopscotch and eating ice cream together: effortless, fun, and with the promise to last forever.

10. Laugh together. 
The most important secret of all: Have fun together. We still make each other laugh every day, and the day that will stop is the day I know we are in trouble. Laughing is one of the best things in life, and doing it together with the person you love? Priceless

What are some of your relationship secrets? Please share in the comments!





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