Happy Marriage Advice Every Couple Could Use

It's not diamonds and flowers that make a marriage, but the little things—and taking these small, simple steps over time will yield bigger, happier results.

From Stealth Health (Reader's Digest Association Books)
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    Say thank you at least once a day.

    You thank others for little courtesies, but do you thank your partner? To avoid taking each other for granted, try to show your appreciation at least once a day. Say it like you mean it—even if it's in response to something that's his or her "job" (like washing the dishes). If there's something you appreciate, large or small, speak up! Praise reminds your partner of your love, and knowing you are loved makes you more willing to iron out differences when they arise. 

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    Do something for your partner that you did when you were newlyweds.

    Bake a batch of homemade brownies. Send flowers just because. Tuck little notes into his briefcase or leave private messages on her voice mail. Not only will you generate new emotional connections, but thinking back on your honeymoon period will also help you reconnect to those warm memories.

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    Reintroduce meaningful conversation into your relationship.

    When you were courting, did you talk for hours about current events or the meaning of life? And now all you seem to talk about now is the grocery list or how much to spend on a new sofa? Asking about each other's day isn't enough. Try this: One night while you're in front of the TV or in the car, make a remark about something your partner deeply cares about that's bigger than the both of you—sports, politics, anything to get the ball rolling. Keep it rolling! Also, don't forget to share funny stories too; a recent study found that sharing humorous experiences significantly reduced the amount of conflict couples felt.

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    Get active together.

    That could be to develop a new common interest (the couple that plays together, stays together). How to get your partner to join you? Be sneaky. Say you need help in the garden, want to do minor remodeling to the bathroom, that a friend just happened to give you two tickets to whatever. Chances are, you'll have a good time and want to do it again. Another way to spend meaningful time together is to do service projects together. Giving to others moves you out of yourself and your own problems and supports a broader, more spiritual view of life. Rekindling your spirituality or engaging in a physical activity are also good ways for you two to get closer.

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    Each morning, ask, "What's on your calendar?"

    Does he have a big meeting? Is she dreading a phone call to an important client? Is she having lunch with an old friend? Talking about the daily details of your lives is just as important as sharing hopes, dreams, and fears, so asking about those details is a great way to build understanding and rapport. And don't forget to ask how that meeting, phone call, or lunch turned out. Your thoughtfulness will make your partner feel loved and cared for. 

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    Treat your spouse with respect and admiration in public.

    Whether you're at a party, a business meeting, or just strolling down the street, give him or her subtle signals of your connection. Hold his hand. Smile at her. Put your arm around her. And never, ever, make fun of your partner in public.

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    Walk out your disagreements.

    When you and your partner are at odds, ask if he'd like to go for a walk to hash things out. Being outdoors and walking at a steady pace can melt away the tension so it's easier to talk honestly, form compromises, or apologize.

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    Learn how to let things go.

    Wet towel on the floor? Resist the urge to complain. While it's irritating, it will undoubtedly happen again...and again...and again. Instead, recite a modified Serenity Prayer: "I accept the things I cannot change." You'll be amazed at how quickly your resentment melts away. Another tip: Try to air grievances at the same time each week in a formal meeting (no TV or phones). If you discuss what's bothering you in a structured, formal way, issues won't come up so often at other times, and if they do, you'll be able to discuss them more calmly.

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    Learn how to ask nicely.

    You want him to hang a shelf? Mow the lawn? Asking her to throw in a load of laundry? Make sure you ask, rather than demand. We all tend to respond better to requests than orders. For example, instead of saying, "You should...," say, "Could you...?" And instead of saying, "Why didn't you...?" say, "Next time it would help me if you could try to..." If you're the one being asked, deliver on your promises. Failing to keep your word can destroy the unity and trust in a relationship. It's better to say, "Let me think about it" than say you will do something but drop the ball.

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    Respect your physical time together.

    A few ways to do that: You may associate snuggling with bedtime, and it is a lovely way to end the day. But cuddling in the morning will keep you feeling close to each other all day. Set the alarm clock five minutes early. Talk, or not. What's important is that you both start the day connecting physically and feeling secure and loved. • Schedule time for lovemaking, an activity that's so crucial to a loving, intimate relationship. It may not be as spontaneous as you'd prefer, but there's something nice about looking forward to a night (or morning, or afternoon) of sex. • When it's time to turn in, do it together. This may take compromise: If your partner is dead tired, give up your nightly ritual (television, surfing the Internet, whatever) at least a few nights a week. Talk about the day, or simply be close while each of you reads. If you're the morning person, maybe you can occasionally stay up. The point is, you're together when the house is quiet and the demands of the day are done, and are making the most of it. • Make your bedroom peaceful—not a place to argue, bring up complicated subjects, or discuss difficult parenting issues, but for good things only like sleep, companionship, romance. When your bedroom feels emotionally unsafe, you'll start to avoid each other.

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    Take time for yourself.

    Go ahead, take that writing class—or any other interest you might have outside of those you share with your partner. It makes you more interesting to your partner and everyone else. Moreover, a little "me time" allows both you and your partner to grow as individuals and reduces the pressure on each of you to fill the other's every need. You should also have a regular girls' (or boys') night out. If it's been a while since you've connected with friends or relatives, start arranging a day—or night—spent in their company. One study found that couples who have individual friendships outside their marriage were more satisfied with their marital relationships than those who didn't.

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    Be sincere about your love.

    Write a love letter or e-mail. Don't worry that you're not a writer; just be simple and sincere, rather than trying too hard to be romantic. Describe how your partner makes you feel, and mention specific qualities you appreciate or quirks you find endearing. Recall your past times together and describe your hopes for the future. And once a year, renew your commitment not only to your partner but also to keeping passion and intimacy in your relationship, maybe by taking a romantic getaway on your anniversary or celebrating with a once-in-lifetime event.

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    Work to improve yourself.

    Demonstrate your love by working to improve something about yourself that bugs your partner. For instance, if she wants you to be healthier, go to the gym or take up a nightly walk (preferably with her). If he's a neat freak, stop throwing your dirty socks on the floor and leaving your dishes in the sink. Saying "I love you" is always nice, but showing it is really fundamental.

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    Always put your marriage first.

    This is a golden rule: Of all your relationships, your spouse always comes first. After all, the kids are going to leave someday; hopefully, your partner isn't. Plus, giving up your life as a couple to indulge your children simply sets an uninspiring example: Grow up, become an adult, then you, too, can subjugate your existence to that of your children. Putting your marriage first means things like deliberately setting aside time for the two of you, whether it's a weekly date or dinner alone a few nights a week (feed the kids early).

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