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    It takes knowledge and commitment to raise healthy, smart, and emotionally well-adjusted kids. But did you know that it takes just as much commitment and investment (maybe even more!) to grow an amazing marriage?

    Many couples make the mistake of dividing their time and energy between their kids and their career, forgetting that their marriage needs attention, too. They assume the marriage will “take care of itself,” and end up disillusioned (or devastated) when they realize too late that they’d taken for granted the one partnership they’d dreamed of growing old with.

    Read on for the secrets to a happy marriage.

    1. Be grateful for what you have.
    Forget your fairy-tale ideas of happy ever after. Real life is more dynamic, and thereby more exciting. Set aside all those “observations you’d like to point out” about how other couples seem happier or sweeter or better off, or how other spouses seem more romantic or caring or responsible. Instead, make a list of the 10 things you’re grateful for about your spouse.

    Once you truly commit to making this list, you’ll start to remember the qualities that attracted you to your spouse in the first place. The value of this exercise is that it gets you into the mindset – not Brangelina’s or the Beckhams’ – so you could build on each other’s real strengths and qualities.

    This list will also remind you that you actually live with another human being – flawed, yet fab – who said “I do” to spending his life with you, even if you’re not perfect, either.

    And that’s more than what other people have.

     

    2. Improve the way you communicate with each other.
    Three things to remember about communicating with your spouse:

    FIRST: Even though you were “joined as one” doesn’t mean you can now read each other’s minds. You can’t. So when you start to think, “If he really loves me, he should know that (fill in unmet expectation here)..” tell yourself to stop, and simply tell him what you need.

    SECOND: You need to accept that men and women are different, and one of the major differences has to do with the way they communicate. Generally, men communicate with facts, while women communicate based on emotions. So if you’re a wife, don’t talk to your husband like you would to one of your girlfriends and expect him to react in the same way. Instead, tell him in simple and direct terms what you need, without making him feel guilty (for something he failed to do before) or using a “you-should-already-know-this" kind of disapproving tone.

    If you’re a husband, remember that your wife is not a man so you need to listen more and “fix her” less. And even if you think it’s not in your nature, challenge yourself to make the effort of sincerely complimenting your wife with words whenever you can.

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    THIRD: Be aware that as husband and wife, you have a tremendous impact on each other, simply by the words you can use on one another.

    Marriage counselor Bob Grant, author of What Husbands Can’t Resist, summarizes it best: “What you call each other, you will become.”

    Want a caring, responsible husband? Look for moments when he shows even the smallest act of love and responsibility, and tell him right then and there. “I’m so lucky to have such a caring, responsible husband.”

    Want an affectionate, sexy wife? Catch her during those times she shows affection or looks even the slightest bit sexy, and tell her that.

     

    3. Learn how to argue effectively.
    Arguments are not necessarily bad – as long as you know how to do it right. It’s wrong when arguments make you see each other as enemies: he did this so he’s to blame, she did that so it's her fault.

    You know you’re arguing the right way when you think:

    “You know what, we are husband and wife, we belong to the same team. We're up against (fill in the problem you’re facing here) together.”

    When you argue this way, you realize that no one needs to be right or wrong and that you definitely are not enemies. Instead, you are allies, banding together on the same side, helping each other find a solution to the same problem.

    In a marriage, when you try to prove how the other person is wrong, you might end up being right - BUT the marriage always loses – and so do you. If you learn to let go of your need to “be right,” learn to identify the real issue, and be humble enough to reach out to your spouse for help, then you all win: you, your spouse, and most especially, your marriage.

     

    4. Agree on family-of-origin boundaries.
    “Many arguments arise from family-of-origin expectations,” says Lucille Montes, M.D., Ph.D., marriage and family counselor at the Familiaris Counseling Center in Alabang.

    It’s a situation she encounters over and over in her practice, particularly among Filipinos. “Aside from the question of how to deal with in-laws, couples also have discussions about how to divide their time between both families of origin.”

    When there are no clear agreements, couples end up in heated discussions over where to spend Christmas, New Year’s, Mother’s Day, and every other holiday. Weekend visits can be problematic, too. “There’s also that danger of having either set of parents dominating you both, making you forget that you’re now establishing a family of your own.”

    The simple solution? As a couple, set your own guidelines on what’s fair, realistic, and supports your growth as a couple and as your own separate family unit. Commit to these decisions and follow through.

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    5. Agree on how you’ll manage money.
    “How a couple handles their money is one of the nuts-and-bolts of building a successful marriage, but few couples actually even discuss this during courtship,” says Dr. Montes. “This leads to a lot of frustration."

    Celebrity psychologists Dr. Phil McGraw strongly advises married couples to follow four steps when it comes to handling money:

    STEP 1: The husband and wife need to combine their financial resources. This creates a strong level of trust and commitment in both parties, not just to the marriage but also to the family unit.

    STEP 2:  Discuss and decide together how the money will be spent, saved, and invested. It’s important to note that in this step, both spouses should have equal say in the decision-making, regardless of who brings in more money. Both spouses need to come from a place where they believe and trust each other’s contribution to the family – whether through financial input, taking care of chores, or time spent with the children – so that the issue of “who brings in more” becomes irrelevant.

    STEP 3: Set aside money for “romance” (between the husband and wife, of course) – this is an investment that should be at the top of your priority list.

    STEP 4: Allot a certain amount for each spouse “to spend however they want, without the need for explanations.” This is necessary for each spouse not to feel “trapped” or burdened by always having to live within a budget, and create a feeling of enjoyment and well-being.
     

    6. Be aware of each other’s expectations and needs.
    As relationship expert John Gray says: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

    For married couples, this awareness is important. They need to remember that they are two different people with totally different expectations from the same marriage. This is why you must keep trying to communicate your thoughts, needs, and expectations, even if it means learning and using your spouse’s “language”.

    Many of our expectations of what marriage should be like come from the media (i.e., portrayals of marriage in commercials, movies, and TV shows), our own observations about how our parents were with each other, and how we’re wired as men and women. Dr. Gray says, for example, that man’s basic need is the approval and trust of his wife, while the woman’s basic need is to be validated and assured by her husband.

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    “The media tends to make the wife expect more involvement from the husband at home, even when he’s already working full time outside,” says Dr. Montes. “This often happens when there’s a new baby, and the wife ends up spending more time at home doing routine work. Her discontent with her role makes her forget that while she is doing her share for the family, her husband is doing his share as well by working. You have to sit down and talk about how to really help each other. Figure out how you can compromise realistically. After all, your husband needs to be awake at work, too.”

    Growing up in a family where our parents fulfilled certain roles also influences our ideas about what a happy marriage should be like.

    Vince’s mother did everything for their dad,” says Grace Cruz, a working mother of two. She and Vince have been married for 17 years. “My mother-in-law was always the one who prepared her husband’s baon, ironed his clothes, and reminded him to take his vitamins – while holding the glass of water and the opened bottle of pills, of course,” Grace shakes her head. “I know that sometimes Vince is disappointed that I don’t do all these things, too. But he needs to remember that I’m not my mother-in-law. We’re two different people.”

    Having expectations isn’t bad; in fact, they can make you work harder at keeping your marriage exciting and more enjoyable. But having these expectations, not letting your spouse know, and forgetting that he has needs and expectations of his own are sure recipes for arguments and frustrations.


    7. Make time for growing your marriage.
    You know you need to spend quality and quantity time with your children. This is the best way to make sure you pass on good values, get to know their personalities, and show them in a very real way that you love them.

    The same thing is true about your marriage. After all, one of the reasons you got married in the first place was so you could spend more time together!

    Inspirational author Bo Sanchez advises married couples to go out on dates at least once a week. It doesn’t even have to be an expensive one; you can have a picnic and watch the sunset together. But it has to be a real date –with the two of you focusing on each other and really getting to know each other’s thoughts and dreams. “Make it a priority!” says Sanchez. “Put it in your calendar, and, unless there’s an emergency, do not postpone or cancel your date with your spouse.” Like Charles Buxton says: “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.”

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    Many believe that it’s love that keeps a marriage together. This is actually misleading, because the wonderful truth is that it works the other way around. The late humor writer Judith Viorst used to say this of her marriage of more than 50 years: “When you fall out of love with him, or he falls out of love with you, marriage is what keeps you together – until you fall back in love again.”


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