Live in a 'Couple Bubble'
"A Couple Bubble is your relationship’s safety and security system," advises Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, a couple therapist known for his pioneering work in helping partners form happy, secure, and long-lasting relationships. Think of it as a cocoon—created by a couple’s values and promises to each other—that protects the relationship from outside forces. The Couple Bubble is guided by affirmations such as “Our relationship is more important than my need to be right,” and “You’ll be the first to hear about important information,” Tatkin writes in his book Wired for Love. Bottom line: "When safety or security is threatened, you fix it…fast," advises Tatkin. To create your own Couple Bubble, write a mission statement together, where each of you communicates your values, goals, plan, and desires. It will help identify where your values are in sync—and where they clash, says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. When the going gets tough, your mission statement will remind you both what you stand for. Here are 14 little things you can do right now for a happier marriage.
Learn to fight well
Bickering, fighting, and even slamming doors is normal couple behavior. No one is perfect and sometimes emotions takeover. Learn to take care of yourself and your partner simultaneously, advises Tatkin. “Go for win/win solutions and head as fast as you both can toward mutual relief," he says. "If your partner appears angry, fearful, or overly stressed, wave a flag of friendliness before continuing." Agree on a safe word—ideally, something cute that will crack a laugh, like "booty." When someone yells "booty," it's time for a breather. For more tips on fair fighting, check out marriage advice from the 1950s that still applies today.
Try a Netflix intervention
Watching and discussing movies that center around romantic relationships can cut the divorce rate of newly married couples in half, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The study participants who watched one romantic movie a week, followed by a 45-minute discussion of how the movie couple’s interactions compared to their own, divorced at a lower rate (11 percent) than couples who received no intervention at all (25 percent). Even better: The lighthearted movie approach worked as well as more intensive therapies. The results suggest that many couples already possess relationship skills; they just need reminders to put them into practice, say researchers.
Make daily eye contact
Remember when you first started dating and couldn't wait to lay your eyes on each other? Oh yeah! What about as you walked down the aisle, eyes locked? This is a really special way to connect: "Eye contact has the ability to rekindle the love shared between partners. Learn to gaze at each other. Practice every day for at least 40 days—it will become a habit," says Tatkin.
Smooch every single day
"Kiss each other every morning and every night for at least 12 seconds," says sex expert Ava Cadwell, PhD, who holds a doctorate of education in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. This is a surefire way to keep passion alive and never go to bed angry—and maybe initiate a little foreplay before bed. Here are 6 ways kissing makes you stronger.
Do stuff together
We’re not just talking about date night. Start a garden, take up hiking, or go to one of those wine and paint parties. "Partners cultivate love in shared experiences," says Emma Seppälä, PhD, science director at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine. "Couples intensely in love participate in novel, engaging, and challenging activities together. Some of the greatest moments of intimacy in a relationship come from the simple joys of cooking or exercising together, exchanging ideas over common readings, learning a new and challenging skill, or sharing spirituality." Indiana newlyweds Alex and Joy agree: "We joined an adult dodgeball team and it's so much fun. Not only are we teammates, but we made new friends too." The couple also likes to camp—something they never did before tying the knot. "It's really romantic to be under the stars in the darkness and quiet," Joy adds.
And do stuff alone
When Philadelphia couple Emma and John wrote their own marriage vows (swoon!), they made a point of asking each other for space. People think vows need to be all mushy and poetic—and great if they are—but real-world vows and values are cool too. Plus they work. "Taking responsibility for one’s own happiness has the potential to drastically improve the quality of your relationship," advises Seppälä. "Personal happiness is associated with intensity of love, especially for women." In other words, tending to one’s own well-being via a night out with friends or a trip to the gym is not selfish. Also, what else does space do? It makes you miss your spouse, which in turn can bring on a happy reunion or cuddle fest. Yes! Read these other surprising secrets of happily married couples.
Talk out the pet peeves ASAP
Sam and Kelly from New York City have been married for seven months and did not live together prior. "Seeing gobs of his toothpaste in the sink made my blood boil," Kelly admits. "Why does she eat most of her Greek yogurt but put the cup and spoon back in the fridge?" says Sam. If you're laughing while reading this—it's OK. Sam and Kelly learned to laugh too. "Finally I confronted him about the toothpaste by rubbing that gob on his nose one morning. We both broke out in hysterics," Kelly says. "I kissed it off and told him I could no longer deal with a sloppy bathroom." She says that's when they ended up having a boozy brunch in Brooklyn and making a list of all the silly stuff that bugged them: "the pantyhose and thongs jungle" drying in the bathroom, clipping his toenails in bed and making a (cringe) little pile... and the list went on. "Talking about things we always did in private made us realize we are a unit now," says Kelly.
But be super gracious
A recent study at the University of California-Berkeley found those who experienced more gratitude in their relationship also felt closer to their partner and tended to engage in more constructive and positive behaviors. "They were more responsive to their partner and were more likely to remain committed,” says Dr. Seppälä. “When one person feels grateful, their partner naturally feels appreciated and secure which, in turn, increases commitment and satisfaction in the relationship." So don't take unloading the dishwasher, chatting with the in-laws on the phone, or double-checking the doors are locked before bed for granted. Say thank you! Say I love you! These health benefits of gratitude are pretty amazing.
Drop your exes
Do you still feel close enough to an ex to share good news or dish secrets? "This is the time for a benign disconnect from all exes—including the ones that you’re connected to through social media, says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert. Unless you co-parent with an ex, you shouldn’t have one-on-one contact either. "It makes your spouse feel suspicious at worst, and second-best on a good day. Keep your true friends close, but let go of the exes. You had your time with them, and it’s over," says the AskApril columnist.