To the perfect couple who claims their relationship is easy, we counter with: lies! All lies! Relationships take work. For some, that effort might come a bit more naturally, making it seem easy. But for the majority of us, the game of maintaining happiness in a long-term union is no simple feat, which is why over the last 12 years of PureWow (yep, we’ve been around for over a decade!), we've been covering helpful marriage advice from all the experts and real-life experiences we can get our hands on. Here are six tips that have literally kept our marriages alive over the last dozen years.
No Joke, These 6 Marriage Tips Have Kept Us Out of Divorce Court Over the Last 12 Years
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1. Practice the 5:1 Ratio
It’s normal to fight. But it’s how you fight that will determine whether your relationship is doomed or strong enough to last. According to a study from the Gottman Institute, the most compelling predictor of whether couples would stay together is the ratio of positive to negative interactions. This is the 5:1 ratio—for every time you say your husband doesn’t read to the kids enough, you also offer five (or more) positive interactions. Those might be a kiss, a compliment, a joke, a moment of intentional listening, a signal of empathy and so on.
How to do it in practice: It sounds silly, but when you’re a rookie in the fighting fair game, try to count. You can even use your fingers to keep track. No need to hide it from your partner—they should be counting too.
2. Learn your love language
In his book The 5 Love Languages, marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman argues that everybody communicates love in one of five ways—words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. (Some even argue there’s a sixth love language: social media.) Understanding how each partner communicates love and receives love will open the doors to intimacy and closeness.
How to do it in practice: Don’t know what your love language is? Take this quiz to find out! (And then send the link to your partner.)
3. Talk about and schedule sex
In the beginning, you lived by the words of sex symbol himself, Elvis: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.” But if you’re in it for the long-haul—we’re talking years, baby—the spontaneity, attraction and desire waxes and wanes. This is where being explicit about your needs and wants are absolutely important. Open the lines of communication about sex. Talk about what you want and listen to your partner’s wants. It might even come down to penciling it in. Even when we’re in love and attracted to our partners, our day-to-day grind can be exhausting. Permission granted to put a sex date on your Google Cal. Psst: If you’re working from home, no one said a little day sex was out of the question…
How to do it in practice: Relationship expert Jenna Birch guides us on how to talk it out. For example: “If you’d love to have sex three times a week, but your partner prefers once a week, then you should aim for middle ground. And you have to actually work toward that number, so talk about what will make twice-a-week sex manageable for you.”
4. Spend quality time…apart
A long marriage or relationship inherently means you’re going to be spending lots of QT together. But the one thing people in happy relationships do every week? They split off. Time apart gives each individual in the relationship a better sense of self and a more comprehensive, three-dimensional identity that exists outside of the partnership. This gives you fulfillment, as opposed to de-selfing, which can slowly corrode a relationship. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
How to do it in practice: Stop faking a passion for your partner’s hobbies. Writes former PureWow editor Grace Hunt: “Free time is sacred—and it doesn’t make you a weaker unit not to share it….For years, we endured each other’s respectively deplorable pastimes under the guise that we would be a lesser couple if we didn’t. But now, we’ve resolved to extract ourselves from the other’s activities. And you better believe we’re boatloads happier for it.” Yes, consider this permission to stop pretending you enjoy watching football.
5. Apologize the right way
“I’m sorry if you felt that way.” “I’m sorry that happened.” “I’m sorry, but you started it.” Sound familiar? These are fauxpologies—statements of blame masked as apologies. We’re all guilty of them because it’s difficult as hell to accept ownership over our behavior that hurts a loved one. But apologizing the wrong way doesn’t heal your relationship. Instead, the wounds you leave to fester will wind up coming back to haunt you in the long run.
How to do it in practice: Follow these three steps for apologizing in a healing and positive way:
1. Acknowledge how your action affected the other person
2. Say you’re sorry
3. Describe what you’re going to do to make it right or make sure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t excuse or explain.
6. Make date nights count
If you’ve heard it once then you’ve heard it 1,000 times—scheduling in regular date nights is key to long-lasting romance. But couples who still get excited about going out (and not secretly wishing they were at home watching Netflix instead) know that it takes constant effort to keep date night fresh. In other words, don’t just book a sitter and go to your usual spot.
To keep the sparks alive, shake things up every once in a while. That could mean trying the hot new restaurant in town or even skipping dinner and doing an outdoor activity instead (ice skating anyone?). Or maybe you ask your friends to join you on a double date or try this genius tip from PureWow’s Senior Director Rachel Bowie: Meet at the restaurant, a trick that she swears by for feeling flirty and romantic AF. Bottom line: It's easy to fall into the same old routine after years of marriage, but a little bit of effort to make those Friday nights feel special can go a long way.
How to do it in practice: If you do weekly date nights (and you should!), aim to make one or two nights per month something a little out of the ordinary (even if it is just as simple as meeting at the restaurant). Whatever you do, once you're on the date, put down your phone, try not to talk about the kids the whole time, and focus on that all-important connection.