Revealed: 20 Secrets of Happily-Married Couples

Planning a wedding is stressful, challenging, and exhausting, but also joyous, exciting, and unforgettable. Who knew it would perfectly prepare you for the adventure that is marriage? The road to happily ever after is fraught with some treacherous terrain, and successfully navigating those peaks and valleys as a couple is, well, all of the above.   

couple kissing
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The key to transitioning from a blissful wedding to wedded bliss? Simply put: Communication. But according to licensed marriage and family counsellor Ruthy Kaiser, senior staff therapist at Council for Relationships in PA, there’s really nothing simple about it. “Everybody communicates a lot about communication, but that doesn’t mean they are really communicating,” she quips. “Really effective communication hinges on a happy healthy process, one in which both parties feel safe, respected, and loved instead of defensive, accused, and hostile. When couples come to me complaining that they do not feel heard, it is most often because their process of addressing is each other is not working.”

And, says Kaiser, let’s not forget those dreaded unrealistic expectations — especially any that include the word change. “You may be able to change some aspects of your spouse, but more often than not, you need to know yourself and understand that you might be asked to adapt to those traits and habits that are a permanent part of the package.” Most importantly, she advises, don’t let small issues become big problems. “If your gut says you and your spouse are a little out of sync, try to address it right away…with your healthy process. Don’t be afraid to be the one to start the conversation.”

For more insight on how to build a happy marriage, we sought out veteran married couples with a wide variety of field experience, from a decade of enthusiastically saying “I do” to over 60 years of successfully dodging marital mortar fire. Their perceptions may or may not surprise you, but one thing is certain: The real secret to a long and happy marriage is whatever works for you.

Conflict Resolution

Never Go to Bed Angry
"When we were first married, somebody gave us this advice: Never go to bed angry. It’s an oldie but goodie, and we have passed it along to others. Whatever is bothering us, we talk it out before we go to sleep so each day, we wake up with a clean slate and a fresh perspective. Saying 'yes dear' a lot doesn’t hurt either!" —Johanna and Brian, married 11 years

Don't Keep Score
“When you see that something is really important to your spouse, it’s not losing or giving in to let them have their way. It is caring enough about another’s feelings to support and honor what is important to them. You will find if you compromise some of the time and they compromise some of the time, everybody wins.” —Julie and Billy, married 10 years

Learn Each Other's Argument Style
“We tend to approach conflict resolution differently. Steve is not a talker; whatever the issue, his healing process is simply the passage of time. For me, the more time that passes without discussion, the more whatever it is escalates. After 29 years, we have learned to meet somewhere in the middle by addressing the problem with conversation but not beating a dead horse. Don’t get me wrong. I can beat it to death, but once it is down for the count, we’re done. Enough said." —Marcie and Steve, married 29 years

Forgive and Forget
"Learning how to fight has been key. Not holding a grudge makes for a happy marriage. When we argue, we duke it out verbally, then kiss and make up, usually with a shot of tequila — maybe two shots depending on the severity of the disagreement. Then we move on like nothing ever happened. It works every time! It’s important to keep moving forward and not dwell on garbage from the past. So the key to a long and happy married life: A bad memory!" —Donna and Jay, married 42 years

How to Communicate

Don't Be Afraid to Speak Your Mind
“We live in a 'free speech' zone. When you trust that someone loves you and is committed to you, it gives you the freedom to speak your mind. Nobody is walking out the door simply because you have something to say that is difficult or unpleasant to hear. That said, we try to be truthful, not hurtful. Even in the heat of an argument, think before you speak. Never say anything you can’t take back!”—Susie and Jerry, married 30 years

Don’t Take It Personally 
"Though we share core values, we have such different personalities that Andy’s mother suggested we take the Myers-Briggs personality test early in our marriage to help us understand one another. The test helped us realize we are polar opposites about many things, and when we disagreed on issues, it was not that either one of us was trying to be difficult; we are just hard wired differently. We’ve had to learn to respect each other and be tolerant of our differences." —Karen and Andy, married 31 years

Never Lose Your Sense of Humor
“Sense of humor is imperative — don’t leave the wedding venue without it. Apart from health and the welfare of our children, there is no situation that cannot be improved with a generous helping of laughter. It really is the best medicine. It’s okay to fight when you have to, but make sure you always leave ‘em laughing!” —Susie and Jerry 30 years

Sometimes, Silence is Golden
“If you want to be happy for the rest of your marriage, never give your spouse advice on the golf course/tennis court/whatever sport or activity you are doing together. Never. Unless you want a really silent ride home.” —Jerry and Susie, married 30 years 

Set Ground Rules

Play by the Rules 
"In our house, there are rules. Some are silly — for example, there must always be walkways. Translation: Don’t put your stuff in my way. Shoes must find their way into the closet, or one day you might come home to find a masking tape arrow laid out on the floor pointing the way. There are other rules that are more serious. When something bothers you, speak up. There’s no loss of power in saying 'I was wrong. I’m sorry.' It’s hard to stay mad at someone who apologizes. Relationship before ego.” —Cindy and Terry, married 38 years 

Stay True to Your Core Values
"What we've told the kids is that if you have shared core values, you’ll be approaching things from the same perspective. Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint and every marriage has its ups and downs. But when you have a meeting of the minds on the big issues, you know you will united in your approach to solutions. And he travels a lot, which helps!" —Karen and Andy 31 years 

Equal Division of Labor 
"We have an inside manager and an outside manager. The other serves as an apprentice in our respective domains. Whoever cooks doesn’t clean up. One grocery shops; the other does the laundry. We have learned over the years to never complain about the job the other does. Shrink my best sweater? No problem, I can buy a new one. Botch a recipe? No problem, we can order in. We tend to laugh at our mistakes. Attitude is everything." —Cindy and Terry, married 38 years

Don't Forget About Yourself

“Me” Time for Everybody 
"We take our “me” time seriously, and though it may not work for everybody, it works for us. Absence makes our hearts grow fonder. Take a lot of vacations…separately. Develop a lot of hobbies and enjoy them….separately." —Mary and Eric, married 42 years

Embrace Your Individuality
Don’t look to your spouse to save you or complete you. Be your own person, and be true to yourself. Never use the words “We think!” Don’t change who you are to accommodate another person. In the long run, it will only make you miserable." —Cheryl and Mark, married 38 years

Nurture Your Relationship

Friendship First, Last, and Always 
“You can’t have a successful marriage without friendship. Over 30 years ago, we became really good friends. We hung out with each other’s group of friends and we became really close. After about a year and a half, we started to add romance into the mix and became serious. 30 married years later, we are still best friends who are always honest with each other and loyal to each other.”—Max and Kathy, married 30 years

Unplug to Reconnect
“Listening to each other and really being present when you spend time together is essential. Be tuned in, not tuned out. If you are trying have a conversation, both parties need to put down the phone or Ipad, turn off the TV, and really pay attention to each other.” —Julie and Billy, married 10 years 

Keep the Sizzle Sizzling (or the Sizzle from Fizzling) 
While we were submerged in raising a family with all the pulls and tugs on the relationship that entails, it was easy to feel disconnected at times. So, we would create special moments to regroup and reboot the romance. We would take a fabulous vacation or a plan a mini getaway and if neither were possible, we would make sure to get a sitter and plan a date night just for the two of us. “ —Marsha and Alan, married 44 years

Just the Two of Us
"The secret for us was to start our life together away from all parents. We faced the marriage challenge on our own, carving our own space and growing into being our own family. We had no choice at the time, but the result was that it gave us a healthy foundation for the long term. If you live in a city with one or both sets of parents, make sure to set boundaries early on and don’t let either family interfere with your alone time or your decision making process as a couple." —Beryl and Jack, married 45 years 

For Every Love, There is a Season 
"It is so important to recognize and accept the changes in the cycle of love. 'Passionate love' for the just-marrieds. 'Reality love' when the marriage becomes routine. 'Sharing and nurturing others love' while raising children. 'Reconnecting with mature love' when the nest becomes empty. No relationship can remain static; change is inevitable. The secret to maintaining a fulfilling, happy marriage is for both parties to learn to adapt to those changes so that you can continue to grow together instead of apart. Otherwise, your marriage will become a dinosaur — doomed to extinction." —Rita and Steve, married 48 years

Be Your Partner's Biggest Cheerleader
"The biggest secret to any marriage is to care for your spouse more than you care for yourself. That’s how you take care of each other. You watch each other’s backs. You take his side and he takes yours. When you are a strong team and present a united front, you can handle anything. You are each other’s person." —Shirleen and Sandy, married 62 years

Make Every Day Count 
"We respect each other, love each other, care for each other every day of our lives, and cherish every day we have together." —Max and Irene, married 65 years