Keep little spats from becoming big deal-breakers.
There’s no magic spell that can guarantee your marriage will last forever: After all, you never know what curveballs life will throw at you, or how those problems will affect you as a couple. But by making sure you have a solid foundation in place and by resolving little disagreements before they grow into wild, raging, slam-the-door fights, you can boost your chance of making it to the finish line still holding hands.
“Research has shown us that couples who do intentional work to help their relationship from the start can increase their marital happiness,” says marriage counselor Les Parrott, PhD, co-author of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. Whether you’re newly engaged or new empty nesters, here are some proven strategies to stay strong together.
Have Frequent Check-ins About Money.
From how to pay for the wedding to how to save for retirement—and every overdue credit-card bill, car payment, and look-who-needs-braces! moment in between—money can be a constant source of friction in any marriage. In fact, arguments over money are one of the top reasons couples split up. But you don’t have win the Power Ball to keep money from messing up your marriage. All you have to do is talk, says Parrott. He recommends you and your spouse schedule a weekly sit-down to discuss any upcoming financial decisions. You should come up with a budget for how much you need to spend on household expenses, how much you can put into savings, and how much is left over to spend on entertainment, clothes, and vacations. As your needs change (hello preschool tuition!), so can your budget.
Get Handsy—Like High-Schoolers at the Spring Dance.
Of course sex is important to staying connected as a couple. But so is holding hands, touching your partner’s back as he walks past, or—if you’re not a PDA kind of couple—simply sitting next to each other on the sofa and feeling the warmth of his body next to yours. The power of your partner’s touch is so important that studies have shown that it can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. “In the first few minutes after you get home from work, instead of saying, 'Did you get the mail?’ or putting away the groceries, spend just a few seconds sharing a kiss or holding hands,” suggests Parrott.
Explore a Common Interest—But Also Keep Something as Just Your Own.
A successful marriage makes room for both couple space and private space. You should passionately pursue your own interests, whether that means biking, scrapbooking, or writing Jane Austen fan fiction, but also make time to connect with your partner in an activity you both enjoy. “Research shows that women feel they have the best conversations with their husbands when they’re doing a shared activity,” says Parrott. “If you say to him, let’s go to Starbucks and sit and talk, he won’t say anything, but if you’re playing tennis or cooking together, he’ll be more likely to open up.”
Talk About Something Other Than Kids.
It’s one of the biggest joys of life, but also one of the biggest challenges your marriage will ever face: having kids. The little things you did before to connect as a couple often get forgotten in the rush of changing diapers and worrying about daycare. Date nights are great—if you have the childcare and resources to make them happen—but even just spending an hour together after the kids go to sleep having a glass of wine and talking about that vacation you hope to go on next summer can go a long way to keeping you together, say Parrott. “The important thing is to get out of your regular routine,” he says.
Divvy Up the Chores in the Least Painful Way.
Could scrubbing the toilet break up your marriage? It could if you think you’re getting the raw end of the deal when it comes dividing up household chores, according to one study. But there is an art to deciding who should take on which tasks, says Parrott. “You don’t have to figure out a fifty-fifty balance and keep score,” he says. “It’s better to find out which chores you’re each naturally inclined to do.” Perhaps you get into a Zen state folding laundry, and your partner loves to vacuum. Once you’ve split up all the stuff you don’t mind doing, then make a list of things you both hate (um, toilet-scrubbing) and either agree to take turns, or find it in your budget to hire a cleaning service, which is, after all, cheaper than couples therapy.
Don’t Forget These Magic Words.
After your partner comes out of the bathroom, scrubber in hand, having triumphantly cleaned that toilet bowl until it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building, say Thank you. It sounds so simple, yet those two words don’t get expressed as often as they should in many long-term marriages. Studies have show that when you feel appreciated by your partner, you feel less upset about any perceived imbalances in housework, and happier in your marriage overall.