I asked happily married couples to tell me about their lives together and how they keep it together.
Whether you’re casually dating or in a long-term relationship of some kind, you may wonder what the secret is to being happy — and staying happy. Even though every relationship is different, couples who radiate joy seem to be doing something right. So how do happily married couples stay together?
Lauren Dummit, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, as well as the co-founder and clinical director of Triune Therapy Group, agrees. “In my own marriage, acceptance and unconditional love are two key elements that contribute to our marital satisfaction,” she told I AM & CO. “Of course, we all have flaws or things about our partner that annoy us; we will never find someone ‘perfect’ because perfection does not exist. We are all human, which means that both people are inherently flawed and inherently worthy.”
She says that, oftentimes, it’s about finding someone whose “flaws” we can tolerate. “I try to remember this on a daily basis, which sometimes requires me to voice my feelings or to set a boundary,” Dummit said. “Often, it’s just about recognizing that when I am feeling self-righteous in my irritation, instead, I choose to recognize this as ego and to recognize that my partner has flaws just like I do.” She then turns her frustration into gratitude that her husband accepts her “warts and all,” and then tries to transform her frustration into compassion.
Below, seven happily married couples reveal how they stay together.
1. Kate, Actress & Stand Up Comedian
“My husband and I started out as platonic best friends for a couple of years. He is 10 years younger than I am, and I never thought for a moment that he would fall in love with me, and yet… that is what happened. We have been married now for 11 years and counting. The friendship and excitement we feel for one another when one of us has a success only deepens over time.
Listening, simply listening, to each other and providing a safe space to be as vulnerable as we feel ready to be with one another is so important to us. Listening doesn’t mean fixing anything — it means ‘I see you, I hear you, is there more to that?’ We sometimes call it ‘holding the bucket’ for one another when a clearing of the mind needs to happen, and holding the space when great joy is taking place.
My husband has my back, and I have his back. We have both been married multiple times, and we have learned from experience that there is nothing worse than being with the wrong one, and nothing better than being with the right one.”
2. Carol, Author Of Random Notes: About Life, “Stuff” and Finally Learning to Exhale
“My husband and I have been married 45 years. When people learn this, they ask me: ‘What’s your secret?’ So I asked my husband. First, I’m a talker; him, not so much. But he had a ready answer. He said, ‘It’s because I never know what you are going to do from one minute to the next, and I find I like it.’ I’m also a romantic; him, not so much. A firm believer in keeping relationships both interesting and exciting, I’ve taken it upon myself to plan activities for us. Retired twice — from the military where we traveled extensively and a second time, healthcare and education, respectively — I have and continue to plan trips for us. These have included exotic places such as Aruba or a quaint bed and breakfast in South Carolina. Or, we may eat dinner in the dining room on good dishes simply because it’s Wednesday of what has been a crazy three days at work.
He is loving, adventuresome (willing to try new things), and has always supported my every whim. We always respect each other in every way, even when we disagree. Finally, when he reaches for my hand as we cross a busy street, it still makes me as giddy as a school girl — and that he holds it longer than necessary does things to my girlish heart.”
3. Nicholas Cao, Health Psychologist
“I’ve been married for six years and have a few pieces of advice on staying happily married.
1. Have fun with one another and add humor into your life. Decide on things you as a couple (without children around) do with one another. Every now and then, make changes and try out new things together.
2. Agree about how money is spent. Money isn’t everything to everyone, BUT it is often at the root of several life issues when it comes to family and relationships, so discuss financial commitments with one another.
3. Make time to listen to one another — without interrupting — and to express yourselves. There is no perfect recipe for how often this is done, but generally, the more often, the better. If this ‘checking in’ process is left for too long, it’s more difficult to make sense of what’s been going on with clarity.
4. Agree on some boundaries when it comes to conflict. As an example, my wife and I never sleep apart from one another if we’ve had an argument which hasn’t been resolved. We also agree to never put each other down in front of others, no matter how hard things may be between us.
5. Never lose sight of the qualities and characteristics that you love about your spouse. And, every now and then, show your love for them in your own way (i.e., this could be through gift-giving, spending quality time together, and/or giving them words of encouragement), which acknowledges their positive qualities.”
4. Christy, Co-founder Of The “Great Husband Guide” & “Great Wife Guide”
“My husband and I are happily married. We even founded a business called Great Guides, which includes the Great Husband Guide and the Great Wife Guide. We founded the business because we were so happy as a married couple and so impressed with each other’s dedication to making one another smile every day.
Our guides focus on doing small things every day to make your spouse smile. No matter how exhausted you are, giving your spouse a compliment, doing a small favor for them, telling them a joke, etc., can go a long way to keeping you happy. We’re also really good about telling each other how much we love each other, particularly when one of us is leaving the house.”
5. Sonya, Dating And Relationship Expert & Founder Of The Blog HerAspiration.com
“We stay happy in several ways.
1. We communicate. I can tell my husband anything, from how it annoys me to see his socks on the floor to how stressful work is. In the former case, I know he’ll just pick up his garments and throw them in the laundry basket. In the latter, he’ll fill a glass of wine for me and give me a hug to boost my morale.
2. We decide everything together; from the smallest things, like what show to watch on Netflix, to big decisions, such as how to invest our money. When we don’t agree on things, we talk and come to a compromise that makes both of us happy.
3. Little attentions. We already know what makes the other one happy, so we do those little things as often as we can. I love to surprise my husband with an unexpected cup of coffee when he’s overloaded with work, while he never forgets to leave a sticky note with cute words somewhere in the house for me to find when he’s not around.
4. We keep things entertaining. Falling into a routine is common when living under the same roof, but a simple strategy helps us avoid this — we still do many of the things we did as a couple before moving in together. We love to go on dates and eat out every weekend, pay unexpected visits to the other one’s office just to say hi or book city breaks to surprise the other, to name just a few.”
6. Lauren Dummit, LMFT & CSAT, As Well As The Co-Founder & Clinical Director Of Triune Therapy Group
“As far as staying happily married, there are several ways my husband and I do so.
1. Most importantly, honesty and trust are the foundation of our relationship. Since we trust each other implicitly, we have created a solid foundation in which to pursue our dreams. He is my best friend, my confidant, and my comforter when I need nurturing and support. As with everything in my life, connecting with gratitude on a daily basis helps keep the love alive and vibrant.
2. One of the things I appreciate most about my marriage is that we give each other the freedom to be ourselves without trying to control the other. This often requires me to remember that certain aspects of his personality were the traits or characteristics that attracted me to him in the first place. We are both invested in each other’s happiness, which means we support each other in our autonomy and pursuing our needs, wants, and dreams, even if it means less time with each other.
3. Sometimes, it’s a matter of choosing to pick my battles. I have to remember that conflict resolution is not about making the other person wrong so that I can be right, but about sharing my or our experiences so that we can have a better understanding of each other. I like to use language such as, ‘I know this was not your intention, and that this is just my stuff, but when you said ..., I felt...’ to effectively communicate and share my experience.
4. When he shares something that I did that he didn’t like, I try to mirror and validate his feelings, and then put myself in his shoes, expressing empathy and recognition how that must have felt from his perspective. Then, I either apologize or ask for suggestions regarding how I might respond in a more supportive manner next time.”
7. April, 40
“I’m 40, my husband is 42, this is our second marriage, and we have seven children. These are the main reasons, in my opinion, as to why we have a good relationship and a good marriage.
1. We’re both willing to compromise. Whether it’s about what’s on TV, decor for our home, or activities we do as a family, each of us is willing to meet in the middle — or let the other person have it their way, so to speak, on issues or items that we don’t feel overly strong about.
2. Excellent communication is definitely key to our relationship, too. We’re able to openly and honestly talk about anything and everything without feeling like there’s judgment or criticism, and we’re always communicating about finances, needs, and goals for the family. Also, communication builds trust, which is one of the most important aspects of having a happy relationship.
3. We’re thoughtful. We both show each other that we think of the other person, from picking up their favorite snack or treat to a surprise lunch at work. We both actively care for the children, i.e., taking turns getting up at night with a baby or sick child and taking turns cooking breakfast, showering, or getting them off to school.
4. We have sex frequently. I don’t think there’s ever a reason to forgo having intimate time together; there’s an emotional connection through that skin-to-skin contact you have, and I think it’s a very important one to maintain. You can always squeeze in a quickie: Have sex before you get out of bed in the morning, while the coffee is brewing, jump in the shower together, while dinner is in the oven, or just as you lie down in bed.
5. We make time to pursue hobbies and interests of our own. You and your partner don’t have to be joined at the hip every waking moment you are not at work; having time to do things separately and with your friends is another very important aspect to having a happy and healthy relationship. Being able to have a little break for yourself is needed once in a while, too.
6. We share everything: our income, the bills, and the responsibilities of the household. There is none of this dividing-things-in-half or one person pays one bill and the other person another; all our decisions and major purchases are made the same way: We talk them over and decide on what we are doing.
7. We don’t sweat the small stuff! If you worked late or wanted to catch a last-minute cup of coffee with a friend after work and your husband decided to feed the kids cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Cheetos for dinner... let it go! The kids ate, they are happy (and are currently thinking Dad is the best ever), and guess what?! You didn’t have to rush home and still cook dinner late in the evening.
8. We don’t start petty arguments. So your husband didn’t load the dishwasher the way you would have. Guess what?! Let it go! It’s now one chore you don’t have to worry about doing. Be thankful he did it for you. Bitching about small, dumb, insignificant things will not only cause unnecessary stress, but it’ll deter anyone from wanting to help out independently again.
9. We stick out the rough times together. We support each other’s ambitions and goals, and we work together to find a way to make things work for the benefit of the entire family. Whether it means someone works a shift that sucks so that we can accommodate the other person’s work schedule — such as when a car is being repaired — we always find a solution and work toward a common goal together.”