If you could only give a couple 3 pieces of advice to help them have a happy marriage, what would you say?
This is exactly what a reporter asked me recently and honestly... it's a really tough question!
But as I thought about it, I realized that there truly are a few things that make a critical difference. So here's how I answered her...
1. You have to have 5x as many positive interactions as negative interactions.
What we know from years of research on couples is that for a relationship to be happy and healthy, a couple must spend the vast majority of their time cultivating positive moments and interactions. In fact, couples who fall below the 5:1 ratio are at increased risk for divorce. So the most important thing I tell every couple I take care of is that you MUST knock yourself out to have positive conversation, interactions, tone of voice, and experiences.
It's very helpful for a couple to spend a day tracking how many positive moments and negative moments they have. Almost all the time, troubled couples find they have an equal amount of negative and positive moments. This is deadly for a marriage!
To track your interactions, I suggest grabbing a notepad and a pen and just jotting down your impression after every conversation. Did it go well? Did you think it was positive? Put a check on the positive side. If it didn't go well, make a mark on the negative side.
This is very simple and completely subjective, but it's good enough for us to get a rough idea of your positive to negative ratio. You can ask your spouse to do the same task and compare notes at the end of the day; it's often eye-opening! And if you're a a techie, feel free to use an app or notepad on your phone/tablet. (I am just old school and like paper.)
2. Men take MUCH longer than women to recover from intense, emotional discussions.
I find that it takes most men about 3 days to physically recover from a bad fight, so if a couple is talking about a problem every day, there is no chance for the man to recover and productively participate in the conversation. Women recover so much faster; we can more easily engage in difficult conversations every day. Men really can't.
So I encourage everyone to recognize this fact: that we can have an intense, heated fight one night.... but then we need to take 3 days off to heal and recover before talking about the issue again. The more intense the topic (i.e., an affair versus someone not wanting to go to a party), the more time off between discussions.
If you absolutely, positively have to talk about the issue more frequently (because sometimes we don't have the luxury of time), please talk about it as briefly as possible and focus on calmness, soothing, and relaxation in between chats.
3. Never stop taking care of each other.
No matter how long you've been married, always pay attention to how caring, gentle, and kind you are to your spouse. Don't go into auto-pilot and assume that you've been married for 15 years, so you'll be married forever. No. Instead, be extra kind when you are talking to your spouse. Do caring things often. It doesn't need to be a big thing; if you're folding your clothes, fold your spouse's too.
There are millions of examples of taking care of each other... Notice that your spouse is almost out of Splenda, go grab some from the store on the way home. Take a household chore of of your spouse's to-do list and do the dishes for them. Plan a special date night at a place your spouse loves.... or actually let them pick the restaurant without you chiming in an objection. You could also write a little love post-it and tuck it into their wallet or purse. Just look for opportunities to do more for them, take care of them, love them a little extra. Little things done often produce huge results...
Keep taking good care of your spouse, the way you did when the relationship was new. And during a fight, care about their perspective and feelings, don't dismiss them. Do this and you'll most likely be happily married for the long run.
Now that you know my 3 best tips, it's your turn - what do YOU think is most important for a healthy marriage? What would your top 3 pieces of advice be?
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