The Newlywed’s Guide to a Happy Marriage

Don’t go from lovey dovey to angry birds: Here’s your guide to a having a long, happy marriage right from the start.

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What to watch for:

What to watch for:istock/Neustockimages
When University of Oklahoma researchers studied newlyweds, they found that expressions of love and affection between a wife and husband drop by half in the first two years of marriage, and researchers find that most couples experience a significant drop in happiness about 18 months after the wedding. Perhaps that’s the reason why national divorce statistics show that most marital splits occur in the first five years—and that couples married for about three years are especially vulnerable. This early, important stage can seem scary, marriage experts say, because we see our own shortcomings reflected in our spouses’ actions now, just as we saw our own sterling qualities reflected in our partners before. Now:It’s time to make love happen instead of waiting for it to happen to you.

1. 
Uncover your hidden marriage expectations.


1. 
Uncover your hidden marriage expectations.
istock/vivanity
We all come into marriage with a set of mostly unconscious ideas about how great things will be—that no human spouse can meet. “Expectations like ‘Everything will be fabulous, this is my one true love, this person will make me finally happy, I’ll avoid every mistake I’ve made in the past’ put a huge burden on ourselves and our spouses and our marriages,” says Patty Howell, a relationship counselor and author of World Class Marriage: The Art and Science of Relationship Success. “We judge what’s really happening very harshly when we use those standards.”

2. 
Talk calmly and confidently about your needs and wants.

2. 
Talk calmly and confidently about your needs and wants. istock/Geber86
Your spouse cannot read your mind. Many spouses report that sharing their feelings, thoughts, desires, and expectations feels scary; others just don’t know how. Why it’s vital: Clamming up in order to preserve the status quo will just leave you resentful and angry and keeps your spouse in the dark. Coming on too strong will put your partner on the defensive.

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3. 
Listen empathetically to your spouse.


3. 
Listen empathetically to your spouse.
istock/mapodile
Create a safe haven where your partner can reveal his or her innermost emotions, thoughts, ideas, and expectations—without your jumping to conclusions, inadvertently criticizing your partner’s vulnerable feelings, or trying to fix things when your spouse simply needs a listening ear. The combination of open, honest talk and empathetic listening fosters acceptance and deeper understanding—making the two of you feel safer and closer.

4. 
Be your real, full self and let your spouse be, too.


4. 
Be your real, full self and let your spouse be, too.
istock/StudioThreeDots
New research from the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that newlyweds who act as friends as well as lovers have happier marriages. Try to be more genuine, more empathetic, and more accepting—friendship skills that go beyond communication techniques to bring your heart, soul, and whole being into your relationship.

5. 
Sort out the laundry...and the dishes...and the vacuuming.


5. 
Sort out the laundry...and the dishes...and the vacuuming.
istock/monkeybusinessimages
Housework can be an early battleground for couples. Think about how to get past traditional roles and divide the work fairly. Don't be afraid to talk about it and make plans—it's not a petty subject.

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6. 
Become expert money managers.


6. 
Become expert money managers.
istock/Goldmund Lukic
No subject sparks more couples conflicts than money. Research shows that newlyweds today face a new challenge: significant debt brought into marriage from school loans, car payments, credit cards, medical bills, and the wedding and honeymoon. Find out how your money personalities can work for—not against—you as you set a calm, organized course toward meeting your financial goals and achieving your dreams.

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