1. Have more sex
Over the course of a marriage, desire can lessen. Despite this, sex is healthy and has all kinds of biological and emotional benefits that should not be ignored. Over time, regular sex can improve your mood, make you more patient, damp down anger and lead to a better, more contented relationship.
2. Five to one
How many good moments do you need to make up for the bad ones? Research has a ratio for you – 5:1. University of Washington researchers have highlighted a striking pattern. In stable marriages, there are at least five times more positive interactions than negative ones. When the ratio starts to drop, the marriage is at high risk for divorce. For every snide comment or negative outburst in a marriage, a person needs to ramp up the positives so the good-to-bad ratio doesn’t fall to a risky level.
3. Keep your standards high
More and more people are told their expectations for marriage are too high. Research says the reverse: people who expect more, get more. Don’t settle for a second-rate marriage. Researchers have found that people who have idealistic standards, who really want to be treated well and who want romance and passion from their marriage, end up getting that kind of marriage. Men and women with low standards end up in relationships that don’t offer those things. Husbands and wives who hold their partners to a reasonably high standard have better marriages. If you expect a better, more satisfying relationship, you improve your chances of having one.
4. Stay close to family and friends
Today, marriage has become a two-person cocoon that we expect to get all our support and intimacy from. That’s not healthy or realistic. Keep friends and family in the loop. Your marriage should be your primary relationship – not your only one. Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz thinks all this togetherness is not necessarily good for couples. The way to strengthen a marriage, she argues, is to put fewer emotional demands on spouses. This doesn’t mean losing emotional intimacy with your husband or wife. It just means that married couples have a lot to gain by fostering their relationships with family members and friends. The happiest couples, she says, are those who have interests and support “beyond the twosome”.
5. Don’t expect your spouse to make you happy
Happiness lies within the individual, and expecting a spouse to change that for ever is unrealistic and unfair. What is surprising is that research shows happiness is relatively stable. A major life event (such as marriage or the birth of a child) may offer a short-term happiness boost, but studies suggest most people return to their personal happiness “set point”. If you ranked your level of happiness as 7.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, research shows that most of the time, the events of your life won’t change that. You’ll pretty much be a 7.5 happy person all your life.
6. Celebrate good news
Divorce isn’t as much about increased negative things as it is about decreased positive things. “We’ve found that the positives are more and more important,” says Howard Markman, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. “It turns out that the amount of fun couples have and the strength of their friendships are a strong predictor of their future.”
Couples don’t need more “pleasant” activities – they need more exciting activities to hold on to the rush they felt when they first fell in love. Protect your marriage by regularly trying new things and sharing new experiences with your spouse. Make a list of the favourite things you do together, and then make a list of the fun things you’d like to try. Make plans to do something fresh and different once a week.