If you've ever seen an elderly couple walking down the street holding hands, you've likely wished the same happiness for yourself and your spouse in the years to come. Happy couples do such things whether they've been married one year or 50. Having a healthy marriage doesn't depend on circumstances, but upon your attitude and actions.
Couples who are able to maintain perspective tend to be happier than those who do not. Psychologist Eli Finkel and others, in a study published in 2013, found that newlyweds who regularly completed a writing exercise in which they wrote about marital issues from the perspective of a third party experienced less decline in marital satisfaction than those who did not complete the exercise. A happy marriage doesn't mean that you won't disagree. The study found that couples still had arguments, but were less affected by them.
Focus on your spouse's needs more than your own, and you'll be well on your way to marital bliss. In an NBC Today interview, the authors of the book "Project Everlasting," Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller, point out that marriage is never a 50-50 proposition. Woe to those who try to attain absolute equality -- they wind up doing so much score-keeping that their relationship becomes heavy with resentment and the weight of unmet expectations. Always give your relationship everything you've got and throw out your mental calculator.
The Little Things
Each day, ask yourself, "What is one thing I can do to make my spouse's day better today?" The answer might be doing the dishes, filling up the car with gas, preparing a favorite meal or picking up a six-pack of your spouse's favorite beer at the grocery store. Although thoughtful Christmas, anniversary and Valentine's gifts are nice, over time, it's the little things that can establish the bedrock of a happy marriage -- or break it to bits. Continually drinking the last of the coffee without replacing it or failing to take out the trash sends the message that you are not concerned with your partner's feelings.
If you expect your marriage to be one big happy-fest, you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Rather, recognize that marriage consists of a series of moments -- many of which can be happy. When sad or frustrating times hit, remember the happy times. Help you and your spouse to keep the good times in mind by putting that picture of the two of you snowboarding on a prominent place on the mantel, keeping a scrapbook of events you've attended together or simply remembering good times in conversation.
Emotional and Behavioral Characteristics
Couples who have high levels of empathy, commitment, love, respect and acceptance are the most likely to have happy marriages. Make sure the feelings in your heart translate into concrete actions. For example, having respect for your spouse means that you'll honor the need for "alone time" or refrain from making jokes about your mother-in-law's unfortunate hairstyle. Allow each other to speak uninterrupted -- even when you're convinced you're in the right.
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