It turns out happily ever after can also translate to healthier ever after as married couples enjoy all types of physical and mental health benefits. Studies show marriage can help protect against heart disease and stroke and that those who say “I do” have lower levels of cortisol (aka the stress hormone). Married people even have a better shot at long-term happiness, according to one study.
It’s safe to say science believes in love. And, to that end, researchers and licensed counselors have spent a lot of time figuring out what contributes to happiness in marriage. Here are 10 of those expert-backed tips for a happy marriage.
1. Go on double dates
Friendships with other couples make for happier marriages, according to research and interviews done by University of Maryland professors. The study found that healthy couple friendships have potential to make marriages more exciting and fulfilling by increasing attraction, providing a greater understanding of men and women in general, and allowing partners to observe the way other couples interact and negotiate differences. With that said, topics like sex and money tend to be taboo in these kinds of friendships with other couples, the researchers concluded.
2. Assume the best about your spouse
When you’re having a disagreement with your partner, assume he or she has good intentions, suggests Paul DePompo, a board-certified clinical psychologist and an author and researcher on relationships who is based in Southern California. Giving your partner this benefit of the doubt will allow you to seek clarification, learn from your partner, and move forward. He or she might take a different approach that could look bad to you at first glance, but is actually well-intentioned, explains DePompo, the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California.
3. Have sex at least once a week
The conventional wisdom has been that more sex means greater happiness in a marriage. After all, sex releases endorphins and feel-good hormones. So, exactly how much sex should you and your spouse be having? A study published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2015 found that couples who have sex weekly are the happiest. “Although more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week,” lead researcher Amy Muise said in a news release. “Our findings suggest that it’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, but you don’t need to have sex every day as long as you’re maintaining that connection.” The study was based on surveys with 30,000 Americans.
4. Argue with one another
Yup, you heard that right. One thing that makes a healthy relationship is your ability to fight well and resolve conflicts, says David Klow, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Chicago, owner of Skylight Counseling Center, and instructor at Northwestern University and Adler University. Plenty of people can find connection or excitement with another person, but the true test is being able to work through life’s challenges together.
“Similar to working out a muscle, if you can effectively survive tears in your marriage and then repair them, then it makes the relationship stronger,” says Klow, author of the new book “You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist.”
Keep the fights fair, reminds Julie Gurner, a doctor of psychology who also works as an executive and performance coach in the Bay Area and New York City. When you fight fair, you keep your dispute focused on the topic without devolving into personal attacks, she says.
“If the fight is kept to the topic, it fades and passes in the relationship,” she explains. “But people remember personal attacks long after the fight ends, and these types of personal insults chip away at the mutual respect, love, and trust you have for each other.”
5. Enjoy happy hour together
The next time you and your spouse go out for the night, call a Lyft. Here’s why: Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed feedback from 2,767 married couples who participated in a survey and found that those with similar drinking habits enjoyed happier lives together. The study revealed that if one partner remained sober while the other enjoyed drinks, they weren’t as satisfied in their marriage. All that to say the key to a happy marriage could be enjoying a happy hour here and there — without requiring one spouse to be the designated driver.
6. Make your spouse your priority
There will always be demands bidding for your attention and requiring your time, says Talya Knable, a Maryland-based licensed clinical professional counselor with expertise in relationships and life transitions. “In the end, though, your life partner is just that and you need to make sure that you give the relationship the attention it deserves,” she says. To do this, go on dates. Spend time talking after the kids go to bed. Schedule time to have lunch during a busy work week, Knable suggests. “A healthy marriage can be a foundation for a happy life, but that doesn’t just happen,” she says. “You need to prioritize it.”
7. Happy wife, happy life
A Rutgers University study found that the more content the wife is with a long-term union, the happier the husband is with his life. When a wife is satisfied with the marriage, she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which, in turn, has a positive effect on his life, the researchers concluded.
8. Don’t prioritize material things
The Beatles were onto something when the group crooned “Can’t Buy Me Love.” A Brigham Young University study found that higher levels of materialism are associated with less satisfaction in marriage. For the study, 1,310 married individuals were asked to rank how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “having nice things today is more important to me than saving for the future” and “having money is very important to me.” The researchers’ takeaway was that materialistic spouses may be seeking happiness in possessions, rather than people. That could mean they end up investing less time and energy into making their marriages successful.
9. Take dance lessons
Body language is essential for communication, points out dance therapist Erica Hornthal, with Chicago Dance Therapy. “The dance floor is a metaphor for how we dance in life with our partners,” Hornthal says. “You can quickly see if there is collaboration, consideration, compassion, and compromise.”
10. Text your partner sweet nothings
Go ahead and send those kissy-face emojis and “thinking of you” text messages. Expressing affection through text messages enhances relationships, according to research published in the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy. But, on the flip side, using text messages to apologize or sort out differences is associated with lower relationship quality for women, the study found. As for men, more texting doesn’t translate to a happier relationship. In fact, too much texting is associated with lower relationship quality, according to the study.
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Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.