Dr. Terri Orbuch (PhD) a.k.a “The Love Doctor,” is a relationship expert, professor at Oakland University, director of a long-term NIH-funded study of marriage, and author of: 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. Her book covers important topics like myths about marriage, building on the foundation you already have, and how to add excitement back into your love life.

Motherly: Is there any one thing you’ve learned throughout your extensive research following the same 373 couples (for three decades) that sticks out most about love and commitment?

Dr. Terri Orbuch: Happy couples sweat the small stuff. That’s opposite from what we’ve learned in the media. A lot of couples sweep little annoyances and pet peeves under the rug. Over time though, these small everyday irritations can add up and become really big (and harder to unpack).

It’s actually the small, everyday irritations that can accumulate and tear couples apart, if not dealt with. The happy couples in my study bring up the annoyances in a constructive way.

Motherly: Your favorite thing you have learned?

Dr. Terri Orbuch: Contrary to popular wisdom, a fulfilling relationship doesn’t require years of hard work. It’s actually small consistent changes in behaviors and attitudes that create happiness over time in relationships.

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Motherly: I think we all go into a marriage planning on staying together forever. In your expert opinion, what is the secret ingredient to keep a marriage together for so long?

Dr. Terri Orbuch: I agree; I think we all go into a marriage planning on staying together forever. Over time what happens is that we put our relationship on “the back burner” as we attend to all the other things in our life (children, work, home tasks, family, volunteering, etc.). We forget to recognize and make sure that our relationship and partner are cared for and noticed!

The secret to keeping a marriage together is to: do small things often to make your partner feel special and noticed. 

In my study, couples who gave each other affective affirmation often (e.g., words or actions that show you care, notice and love partner) were the happiest over time.

Solution: Every day, say or do one thing to show you care/notice him/her (compliments, thank you, I love you, you’re the best father, kiss/hug, write a flirty note/text).

Motherly: Your book covers the five steps to take your marriage from good to great. What is the most crucial of the five steps?

Dr. Terri Orbuch: All five steps are important. They are all about the small changes you can make in your relationship, to take it from so-so or good to great.

But Step #1 is crucial. The main reason relationships break up isn’t conflict, lack of communication, or sexual incompatibility. Rather, it’s frustration! That is, the day-to-day disappointment or the gap between what you expect to happen in your relationship and what really happens in your relationship. We all walk around with these “should statements” (e.g., my partner should always be there for me, perfect relationships don’t have conflict, we should share all money), and when our relationship realities don’t match those should statements, we feel frustration and disappointment. And frustration eats away at the happiness in a relationship.

Solution: Get real with your expectations.

Identify your own expectations for a happy relationship and know your partner’s expectations. By practicing the “10-minute rule” (discussed in my book!) you’ll become more familiar with each other’s inner worlds and strengthen the bond of happiness between the two of you.

Motherly: Do you believe marriage should be 50/50 all the time?

Dr. Terri Orbuch: Relationships can’t be 50/50 all the time, because relationships go through ebbs and flows. Ups and downs. Relationships also are all about equity, rather than equality. Equity is all about fairness – what do we both think is fair in our relationship. And fairness (or equity) differs for couples. What is fair for one couple (50/50), is not fair for another couple (you do 75%, I do 25%).

Motherly: What is something simple we could do today to put some excitement back into our marriages?

Dr. Terri Orbuch: When a relationship begins, two people share many new activities as they get to know each other and experience is exciting. But over the years, couples begin to worry about paying bills, providing security and raising children. They forget that relationships also have to be about fun and laughter.

One simple thing that you can do to add back some excitement and fun back into the marriage: Engage in new activities together.

Doing novel activities with your partner enables you both to re-experience that original excitement when you were dating. Go deep-sea fishing, learn to ski for the first time, or sign up for a salsa dance class together. Any unique novel experience that you share together will spice up your love life.