Menu

The 8 essential skills of every happy marriage

#1—Communicate directly. It may be obvious, but it’s surprising how people expect their partners to be mind-readers.

The 8 essential skills of every happy marriage

While every marriage and partnership is different, there are a few things every couple wants from their relationship: They want to be inspired, connected and excited about being together. Most of us know that being in love isn’t really enough. A happy, healthy relationship requires good habits and a conscious commitment to practicing them.


By the time many people decide to see a couples therapist, they are feeling disconnected and lonely. They’re wondering where the love went or whether they chose the wrong person to love. They may be locked in a seemingly never-ending cycle of arguing and blaming.

If you want to improve your relationship, there are a lot of resources available to you.

There are countless articles, books, workshops and blogs by trained experts in the field of love and marriage. Young couples are coming to premarital therapy before problems arise in the hope of starting out on solid footing. Yet, despite all this advice, the divorce rate is still hovering around 50% and marriage is still a challenging relationship to sustain.

FEATURED VIDEO

I’ve condensed tons of research + years of experience working with couples into these 8 essential tips for a healthy relationship.


1. Communicate directly about what makes you feel loved + cared for.

Although this might sound obvious, it’s surprising how many people long for their partners to be mind readers. Some even say that if their partner really loved them, they’d just know what they were looking for. In my experience, we tend to give love in the way we hope to receive it. This is not necessarily what your spouse is looking for. Talk about what love looks like to you, and be specific.

Join Motherly

2. Resolve conflict sooner rather than later.

Avoiding conflict does not make it go away. In fact, when you fail to resolve it, it festers and becomes resentment. Make it a point to rid yourselves of bad communication habits such as failing to listen, shutting down, placating, criticizing and arguing. Learning better tools is the work of a long-term relationship and worth every bit of time and effort it takes.

3. Get to know each other better.

When we’re first falling in love, we have an innate curiosity about the other. Thinking that you know everything about your partner squelches your curiosity and deadens the relationship. Foster a desire to know more and more about your partner throughout the relationship to keep it exciting.

4. Accentuate the positive.

Focusing on what’s wrong, or on what you’re not getting from your partner, leads to criticism and defensiveness. Thanks to the frequently quoted research by marriage expert John Gottman, Ph.D., we know that it takes five positive interactions to undo just one negative one in an intimate relationship. Focus on your partner’s strengths and express gratitude often.

5. Listen deeply.

Listen with your eyes, reach out and touch, lend your full presence to your partner. Nothing builds connection better than knowing that the other is truly interested. Frequently we listen just long enough to know how we want to respond or where to interrupt. Focus on trying to understand the nuances of your partner’s language and beliefs. Learn these three powerful words: “Tell me more.”

6. Create + share your wildest dreams for the relationship.

When was the last time, if ever, that the two of you sat down and talked about your highest aspirations for your relationship? Dreaming of what’s possible is a lovely way to work together on setting your relationship on its best path. Stating your highest mission allows you to focus on it, rather than on the day-to-day skirmishes that get in the way.

7. Explore sexual expectations.

Often, good sex doesn’t “just happen.” It requires open communication and a sharing of what’s expected. When couples are in the early stages of a relationship, their brains produce large doses of certain chemicals and hormones that make sex frequent and passionate. The abundance of one such hormone, vasopressin, creates great sexual arousal and attraction. As it begins to wear off, couples are faced with a need to talk about their sexual expectations and desires and to create meaningful sexual encounters.

8. Acknowledge the impact of your past.

Our brains are wired for survival. One of the ways we are protected from hurt is by remembering everything that’s ever hurt us before. When our partner triggers one of these memories, we react from the limbic part of our brain, where there is no distinction between the past and the present. To truly understand ourselves and our partners, we must be willing to acknowledge the ways in which our past is influencing our emotions and behaviors.


A version of this article was originally published on Marriage.com.

Join Motherly

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Life
Chrissy Teigen/Instagram

When Chrissy Teigen announced her third pregnancy earlier this year we were so happy for her and now our hearts are with her as she is going through a pain that is unimaginable for many, but one that so many other mothers know.

Halfway through a high-risk pregnancy complicated by placenta issues, Teigen announced late Wednesday that she has suffered a pregnancy loss.

Our deepest condolences go out to Chrissy and her husband, John Legend (who has been by her side in the hospital for several days now).

In a social media post, Teigen explained she named this baby Jack.

FEATURED VIDEO

"We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we've never felt before. We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn't enough," she wrote.

She continued: "We never decide on our babies' names until the last possible moment after they're born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever."

Keep reading Show less
News