What Are the Secrets to a Happy Marriage?

Real Simple readers share the little things that keep their marriages strong.

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Photo by Andrew McCaul

Come as You Are

Marry someone you love exactly as they are, and be sure they feel the same. That way, you'll never expect more of each other than you are each happy to give. I didn't realize this until my second marriage. Another secret? Don't get married until you're sure of who you are.
Lisa Noll
Martinsburg, West Virginia
 
 

The Fun House

Tickle fights! Several times a week, my husband and I engage in a spontaneous tickle-battle royale. I almost always lose, but writhing in giggles is a great way to end the evening.
Karla Perrin
London, Ohio
 
My husband and I have a strict rule: Never argue with your clothes on. If we are out and about to fight, we know that we have to wait until we're home and undressed. By then we've usually forgotten what the trouble was about.
Amy Hadsall
Cameron, North Carolina
 
Playfulness. We snap wet dish towels at each other and joke around. I thank my husband for teaching me to have fun. We are the parents of an autistic son, and much of the last nine years has been rough―however, my husband has always taken the time to play with me.
Susan Garcia
La Verne, California
 
My husband shows he's thinking of me by buying me unusual gifts. My favorite is the pair of giant clown shoes he had handmade for me. I wore them with a dress to the formal Christmas dinner at his family's home.
Kristen Frame
Newark, Ohio
 
Friday-night dates. We might eat at a nice restaurant, go bowling, or just sit at home with a freshly purchased gallon of ice cream and (to my husband's dismay) the latest chick flick.
Anjanette Paul
Las Vegas, Nevada
 
 

Rules of the Game

We choose to stay in love. We have traversed parenting, careers, finances, the loss of a pregnancy and loved ones, and fussing over whose turn it is to cook breakfast. He watches Pride and Prejudice for me, and I watch Ultimate Fighting Championship for him. We've changed, but we still choose each other.
Leah Moon
Toledo, Ohio
 
My husband and I always make sure that the bedroom is our private place. Not just for physical intimacy, but for having a space to talk and be together.
Carol Czerniawski
Palatine, Illinois
 
Knowing the grass isn't greener on the other side. My husband and I married a bit later than the average couple, and by then we had both had plenty of time to "sow our oats." We truly love one another and never wonder "what if," mainly because we've been there and done that. We know we want to be together, without question.
Amy Dodson
Richmond, Virginia
 
My father asked me this same question when I was in college. Full of know-it-all, psychology-major cockiness, I answered, "Love and trust." "Wrong," he said. Stumped, I followed up with "Communication." Wrong again. His answer: sex and money. If a couple can't get those two things right, then they're not going to be happy. After eight years of marriage, my husband still chases me around the house, and courting expenses are built into the budget.
Joneis Thomas
Colonial Beach, Virginia 
 


 

Something to Talk About

National Public Radio! My husband and I spend a lot of time during the week driving in separate cars. We both listen to NPR. At the end of the day, when we are done talking about work, one of us will say, "Did you hear the piece about…?" It's nice to have so much to discuss.
Amy J. Fischer
East Patchogue, New York
 
The key to a happy marriage is speaking the same language. My husband and I both speak sarcasm fluently.
Stacey Lerner
Beverly Hills, Michigan
 
My husband and I live an hour and a half away from our parents. Those long drives give us time to vent about our families, talk about our pasts, and reaffirm our bond. The kids sleep, and we connect―he talks to me more in the car in that small amount of time than in a whole month at home.
Mickie Stiers
Columbus, Ohio
 
My husband of 35 years and I agree that every couple should go out of town yearly, without the children, and follow this not-so-simple rule: "You cannot discuss the kids or your jobs." It is amazing how much you can find to talk about.
Franki Chabalewski
Richmond, Virginia
 
 

In Brief

Kissing every day, even when you don't feel like it.
Su-Ren Leong
Kalamazoo, Michigan
 
I once asked an elderly neighbor this very same question. He and his wife had been married more than 50 years. He replied, "Oh, my dear, it's really very simple. My wife and I agreed long ago that I'd make all the big decisions and she'd make all the little decisions. And in all these years together, there just haven't been any big decisions."
Cecilia Saad
Washington, D.C.
 
Separate bathrooms.
Nikki Marks
Bedminster, New Jersey
 
My husband's wireless headphones during football season.
Sabrina Comstock
Arlington, Virginia
 
Wine.
Lisa Viselli
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan