Surprising Secrets of the Most Happily Married Couples

Think you know the rules for a healthy, happy marriage? Some of these secrets from happy couples may make you rethink how you relate to your mate.

They fall asleep at the same time

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Wives who are happier with their marriage overlapped with their husband’s sleep schedule about 90 percent of time, according to a recent University of Pittsburgh study that tracked sleep patterns and relationship satisfaction scores for 46 married heterosexual couples for 10 days. Women who weren’t as satisfied with their marriages overlapped with as little as half of their husbands’ times asleep, the study found. If your schedule doesn’t let you go to bed at the same time as your partner, try to find other times during the day to connect, study author Heather Gunn, a psychologist and sleep researcher, told the New York Times. “My hunch is that the person feels a need for more closeness or security. We don’t innately need to go to bed at the same time; the desire usually comes from someplace else.”

And they're not afraid to go to bed mad

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Even the happiest couples will fall asleep while they’re still fuming over a fight, says Shaunti Feldhahn, social researcher and author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference. Trying to force a resolution can lead to saying words you could regret in the morning. The trick, Feldhahn says, is to revisit the issue the next day with a clear head, instead of ignoring or forgetting about it. Of the 1,000 couples she talked to, the partners who rated their marriages the happiest were eight times less likely than those with unhappier relationships to pretend the fight had never happened when they woke up.

They each have a strong squad

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Regular guys’ and girls’ nights out make your marriage stronger. People with large friendship networks are typically happier in relationships than those who focus all their energy on romantic partnerships, says Pepper Schwartz, co-author of The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship. “They aren’t as isolated and dependent only on each other,” Schwartz says. “It doesn’t take away from the relationship, but enriches it.”

They’re not brutally honest

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Telling the truth is important in a relationship, but make sure to use a kind tone and not be too blunt. (And these lies are perfectly fine to tell your partner). Feldhahn’s research has shown that the happiest couples are considerate of a spouse’s feelings when expressing something that might be hard to hear. “Some couples talk to their spouse like they never would with a close friend,” Feldhahn says. “The happiest couples used the same tone of voice in private as they would with a friend in public.”

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They don’t always put their kids first

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No one needs to be told that having kids—of any age!—is exhausting, but focusing all your energy on your offspring leaves little time to give your significant other attention, says Irina Firstein, a licensed individual and couples therapist in New York. “Couples with kids can’t just come home and be together,” she says. “When the kids go to bed, that time becomes very precious.” Make that one-on-one time matter by staying off your phone and not wordlessly zoning out in front of the TV. If you do want to catch up on your favorite show, make it meaningful by cuddling on the couch and talking about it with your partner, Firstein says.

They’re OK with PDA

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Happy couples are more likely to hug and hold hands in public than less happy ones, Schwartz says. Not only does hand holding make it harder to argue, she says, but it also lowers tension and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “It serves as an emotional reassurance that you’re a couple and a team; you’re not just on your own,” Schwartz says.

They assume breaking up is not an option

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Protections against a breakup, like setting aside money in a separate bank account, show you don’t trust your partner, Feldhahn says. The happiest couples she interviewed tended to share bank accounts, make themselves emotionally vulnerable, and never bring up divorce, she says. Doing so makes couples more likely to work through problems instead of contemplating ending their relationship. “All the things you do to protect yourself builds a little wall,” Feldhahn says. “The happy couples did the ‘foolish’ thing of jumping in completely with no escape hatch.”

They compromise, not sacrifice

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Relationships should be about mutual happiness, which means you should be flexible when disagreements arise, Firstein says. Instead of automatically giving in to your partner’s demands, find a middle ground you can both agree on. “I don’t like the word ‘sacrifice’ because it leads to resentment,” she says. “Compromising means sometimes we do things my way, sometimes yours. Both give a little bit.”

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They keep score ... of the good stuff

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While tallying up everything your significant other does wrong is a harmful habit, noticing the good things can start a cycle of nice gestures from both partners. Taking note of your partner’s loving acts will make you more likely to do something sweet in return, Feldhahn says. “It starts with noticing what the other person is giving,” Feldhahn says. “Because the happiest couples are keeping score, it’s natural that they want to give something back.” These couples reveal the stories of the moment they knew they had found true love.

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