Thoughts on health, happiness and sustainability

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23 tips for a happy marriage

Considering that I am relatively young, it has surprised me that several people – old and young – have asked me in the past couple of years for tips on a happy marriage.  The amazing relationship that I have with my wife Vineeta is by far the single biggest achievement of my life and my greatest source of happiness.  I would put this down to a mix of luck and judgement, but we have both made an effort to always take note of the things that we do right and wrong and to learn from them so that we can continue to grow stronger and happier together.

So I thought that it would be helpful for my own benefit, and hopefully for others too, if write down our top tips for a happy marriage (or relationship).

1. Marry your best friend

This one had to go at number one because in my opinion, it is the core principle of marriage that you want to spend your life with the person that you love whole-heartedly.  The person that you love and accept for who they are, without reservations, and who loves you the same way.

Too many people get married because they are caught up in the idea and excitement of getting married, love someone superficially, feel that it is the “logical next step”, want to have children, are afraid of being alone and many other unsuitable reasons.

If you are wondering whether you are making the right decision in marrying a particular person, then you are probably making the wrong decision.  Sure, you might be uncertain about the institution of marriage itself, but your commitment to the person you are with should be a no brainer.  If it’s not a no brainer, then you should be asking yourself more important questions about why you have doubts before you make any big decisions.

Contrary to what many people think before getting married, marriage doesn’t and should not change anything.  It is a celebration of your love and declaration of your commitment, but ultimately it is just a big party and piece of paper.

Find someone with whom you are truly happy and would gladly spend your life with even without the party and the legalities, and then you’ll be off to a good start.

2. Treat each other as equals

This might sound like an obvious one, but you need to genuinely respect each other as equals.  This doesn’t just means paying lip service to the idea of equality, but truly meaning it.  Of course you will both have different skills and strengths and there will be times when one of you needs to take the lead, but this will be based on what is required for you to both get the most out of a situation rather than any presumptions about who is in charge or who is “always right”.  If you are wondering who wears the trousers, you should both take turns to wear the trousers depending on what is best for the situation.

3. Help each other

Marriage is a partnership and you need to work as a team to survive and achieve your dreams.  You should both always be ready to help, but just as importantly you should be prepared to let the other person help, for you cannot help someone who does not want to be helped.

4. Don’t blame each other

A healthy relationship should be a zero blame environment.  Everybody makes mistakes and things will go wrong in your lives but after something has already gone wrong, it really doesn’t matter whose fault it was.  Focussing on blame simply creates a culture of fear and resentment and distracts you from what you need to be doing, which is learning from what happened and working as a team to make the best of the situation.  You’ll be surprised how few bad situations are actually bad at all when you avoid blame and work together to make the situation positive.

5. Don’t carry baggage

Similar to not placing blame, it is essential that you don’t carry emotional baggage.  Things will go wrong in your lives and you will both make mistakes, but if you spend your life holding a grudge for every mistake that your partner has ever made, then the load of negativity on your shoulders will become heavier and heavier throughout your life until it crushes you and drives you apart.

Imagine carrying a back pack with everything that you ever bought in your life.  It wouldn’t take long before it was so heavy that you wouldn’t be able to move forward.  Emotional baggage is exactly the same.  It makes you negative and stuck in the past.  Leave the past behind you, focusing instead on creating a positive present and future together.

6. Don’t score points

This might seem like an overlap with the previous point, but it has a subtle difference and can’t be emphasised too much.  Your marriage is not a competition.  You can’t win your marriage by proving that you were the better half.  It is shocking how many couples keep a mental note of the positive and negative things that their partner does and compare it with a biased list of the positive and negative things that they have done to decide who has done better and who deserves a reward.

Of course very few people realise that they are scoring points and fewer would admit to this behaviour, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Remember that marriage is about working as a team to achieve happiness together, not competing against each other to achieve happiness for yourself.

7. Share your dreams

If you want to make your dreams come true then you need to know what they are and work towards them.  You can’t do that if you are married to someone who doesn’t even know what your dreams are.  If you don’t share your dreams, you will keep pulling each other in different directions and never be able to help each other achieve them.  Be open about what you want from life and work as a team to help each other achieve your personal and shared dreams.

8. Spend time together

You could try to do everything else right, but if you don’t spend enough time together then you just won’t be able to give each other enough.  A life together is about sharing experiences and growing together as people.  You can’t do that when you’re not together.  At best you are missing out on great times together.  At worst you could grow apart and lose the magic that made you fall in love to begin with.

Some people react as if there is something wrong with my wife and I that we spend so much time together.  “Don’t you get on each other nerves?”

“Well, no actually.  Why would I marry someone who gets on my nerves?”

Spend as much time together as you can, supporting each other, having fun together, dreaming together and growing together.

9. Give each other space

Having just said that you should spend as much time together as possible, there is sometimes a need to give each other space.  It might not be physical space, but space to think and to do the things that you individually want and perhaps don’t share a common interest in.

When you have the time to stop and think about who you are, and time to do some of the things that you want to do, you are better placed to build a happy and satisfying relationship together.

10. Listen to each other

If you are going to spend your life with someone and strive to always make them happy, then you need to know who they are, what they want, what they care about, what concerns them, what saddens them and what they need.  You can’t do that unless you listen to them.  Don’t just hear what they say, but really listen carefully to understand them.

11. Be affectionate

As humans we are hard-wired to need mental and physical affection, and who are you going to get that from if not your loved one?  Drop your reservations and give each other as much affection as you can.  You don’t need to ration it.  It shouldn’t be an ocassional thing that you do, but affection should be an integral part of everything you do with your partner.

12. Give each other attention

Whether we admit it or not, we all crave attention and we need that attention in order to feel loved and valued.  To some extent, we need attention to even feel like we exist.  So give each other as much attention as you can.  Don’t be a diva and demand attention all the time, but focus on giving attention to your partner as much as they need it.

13. Be positive

There are few things in life that can make you feel better than being surrounded by positive people, so you should be a positive person illuminating your loved ones life every day.  I wrote recently about the power of smiling, and there is no better place to harness its benefits than in your marriage.  Look at every situation positively and help to always steer your life together in a positive direction.

14. Be supportive

One of your most important roles in marriage is to support your partner through a huge range of situations in life.  You will not always agree with each other, and you won’t always share each others interests and passions, nor will your always understand each others struggles.  But you should always try your best to support each other.

15. Be open and honest

You married the person you love and are trying to live a happy life together, so you need to know what each other are thinking and feeling.  Always be open and honest with your partner and encourage them to be open and honest with you.  You need to create a safe environment in which there is nothing to fear from speaking the truth.

16. Be yourself

When you marry someone, you marry them because you love them for who they really are.  In order to love someone for who they are, they have to be honest about who they are.  Don’t hold back, don’t hide anything.  It can be hard in this world to always be true to yourself, but your marriage is your safe haven where you should never need to pretend to be anyone other than who you really are.

17. Admit your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, but we all struggle to admit our mistakes.  If you want to always make your life together better then you need learn from your mistakes and you can’t do that unless you admit them and face up to them first.  Admitting your mistakes helps you to become a better person, and in the process it helps you to become a better person for your partner to spend their life with.

18. Be forgiving

Just as you should admit your own mistakes, you also need to be forgiving of your partners mistakes.  It is only when you offer unconditional forgiveness that your partner can feel safe enough to be honest and admit their mistakes, and that you can work together to deal with whatever comes your way as a couple.

19. Get your priorities straight

Whatever you think you want in life, it is rarely as important as your marriage itself.  Too many people get obsessed with their passions and end up compromising or even losing their relationship with their best friend.  Always make sure that you remember that your happiness with your partner is your number one priority.  You will always have to make sacrifices in life, but you need to know your priorities in order to not make the mistake of sacrificing the things that you cannot afford to lose.

20. Have fun

Don’t underestimate the importance of having fun together.  Life can get serious, with stress from your jobs, financial pressures, children and the general hassle of being a grown up, so you need to make an effort to regularly stop all the serious stuff and have some uninhibited, good old-fashioned fun.   Life will always be a chore if you don’t have a sense of humour, so make each other laugh, make fun of yourselves and have a cheeky giggle.  It doesn’t matter what you do, how childish it might be, as long as you are having a great time together and filling each others hearts with joy.

21. Share everything

When you get married, you are embracing the philosophy that you are joined together as one and will share in everything.  Sharing is what a relationship is all about.  Marriage is a commitment to share your lives together.  That means everything!

It doesn’t matter who earns what or who bought what.  No his and hers.  Material things are not of any true importance in your relationship, but it is only when you are prepared to share them openly that you demonstrate that you understand this.

Share your dreams, share your passions, share your possessions, share your ideas, share experiences, share your food and share your love for each other.

22. Be grateful

If you have been lucky enough to fall in love with your best friend and make a commitment to spend your lives together, then you should be eternally grateful.  Never take your partner for granted.  Be grateful for everything they do for you, however small it might be, and always make sure that they know how much you appreciate them.  Say thank you, and make sure that you really mean it.

23. Be loyal

Loyalty is clearly one of the core principles of marriage and it is loyalty that fosters trust and security in the relationship.  Always remember where your loyalty lies and never betray one another’s trust.

Now go and make your loved one happy!

It doesn’t matter whether you are newly wed or married for 50 years, if you want a happy marriage then you need to both have the right attitude.  It doesn’t need to be hard work, so long as you don’t make it hard work for each other.  This list is not a complete list of things that can help you to enjoy a happy marriage, but I reckon that if you can practice the above ideas to the point that they become habit then you’ll be in with a very good chance of having a long and happy marriage together.

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