How to Be Happy and Married: 24 Tips from a 24-Year-Old Marriage

By Julie Rains on 7 May 2009 (Updated 19 May 2010) 47 comments
Photo: orangeacid

My husband and I celebrated our 24th anniversary last week. Here are a few things I've learned about having a happy, long-lasting marriage.

1. Talk. Take time to talk everyday, just for fun, and set aside time to discuss and reach agreement on serious matters.

2. Don’t expect your spouse to be a mind reader, even if he (or she) really should know what you want.

3. Forget the type of compromise that means thinking of yourself in favor of finding solutions that work for you as a couple. This processmay requirea complete reversal in your thinking and not justmaking a few concessions.

4. Let her have her way (or his way) sometimes, even without fully understanding the rationale for a request or decision. (Some needs can bedifficult to articulate.)

5. Go to weddings where you’ll likely be reminded of promises you made. Phrases such as staying together “richer or poorer” and “in sickness and in health” don’t describe hypothetical situations but future reality.

6. Be your spouse’s advocate. There are times when you may need to protect or defend your husband or wife.

7. Never go to bed mad. Anger shouldn’t simmer but should be dealt with as quickly as possible.

8. Make reasonable requests but don’t pressure or make unreasonable demands.

9. Don’t compete with each other. Compete with other couples if you’d like but never with each other.

10. Play outside. I like to go hiking or swing (at playgrounds). Just because you’re married now doesn’t mean you always have to act like a grown-up.

11. Give something up, if necessary, to reach a mutual goal…so your spouse can see where your priorities lie. Just beware — one person shouldn’t always be the one to sacrifice.

12. Celebrate. We celebrate our first date, engagement, and wedding anniversaries in addition to birthdays and holidays.

13. Laugh. My husband loves to make me laugh and is always trying to say the perfect funny thing. (More than 15 years later, I still remember when he started singing "macho man" when we saw a shirtless guy running up the road to Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we had gone to celebrate our wedding anniversary.)

14. Indulge. I’m not giving license to dine out every evening or take Caribbean vacations a few times a year (unless you can clearly afford to) but realize that some fun can help bond you as a couple.

15. Take care of your kids but don’t put them first in everything you do. Obviously, there are times when your children need full attention and anything less could be disastrous but they don’t have to be the center of your life every waking moment.

16. Learn to love your extended family. You don’t have to agree or even condone everything each and every family member says, does, or must be thinking. Acceptance can go a long way and after a while, you may actually find one or two (or more) family membersyou genuinely like.

17. Be flexible. Being able to adapt to changing circumstances is not only necessary (sometimes) at home, work, and elsewhere, but it can also reinforce convictions that what is most important is your commitment to each other and not a set of convenient circumstances.

18. Talk about problems with your spouse or a counselor, rather than your best friend or someone who may tend to see just your perspective and may not encourage you to talk things over with your beloved.

19. Don’t depend on your spouse for everything.

20. Encourage your spouse to develop her or his talents, and do the things he or she enjoys.

21.Go on dates. (For ideas for frugal dates, visit the forum or see Myscha's post on cheap dates.)

22. Keep learning about each other and the world. (Even after 24 years, my husband and I still find that we don’t know everything about each other, and can tell stories about our pasts that the other has never heard.)

23. Be loyal and faithful.

24. Believe. To me, promising that you’ll stay married to someone forever, whether you were childhood sweethearts or datedfor a few months (and neither is a guarantee of marriage longevity or brevity) is an act of faith.

My list isn't exhaustive so if you been married awhile or even if you just got married, share your secrets for happiness together.

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Guest's picture
Tyg

I think that a lot of people still assume that once they get married everything will be perfect forever, and when they hit the first, or third or eighth or fiftieth bump in the road they take it as a sign that they were not meant to be together afterall and call it quits. There have been times that my husband and I went to bed angry.....heck there was once a solid week that we didn't talk to each other (I remember the week, but I have no clue what the fight was even about anymore) but we finally sat down and talked things out, and our relationship was all the more stranger for it. In 2 weeks we will have our eleventh anniversary. Out of our group of (similarly aged) friends we are considered the freaks because no one else has made it to anniversary #5. Obviously if there is abuse (as in the case of one of our friends) you should get the heck out of there and never look back, but other than that being committed to calming down and talking things out will get you through just about anything (in my opinion).

Myscha Theriault's picture

Good one, Julie. And what a great title, too. You must have spent some serious time on this one.

Guest's picture
Guest

I've always thought "don't go to bed mad" is some of the worst advice. It's much better to go to bed mad, if necessary, so that you can cool off, understand your own emotions, organize your thoughts, and talk things through later in a way that you won't regret.

Guest's picture
falnfenix

i can't disagree more. i've only ever gone to bed mad once, and i slept horribly/couldn't concentrate the next day. it really doesn't do anyone any good to go to bed mad.

Guest's picture
Melinda

I sort of agree with you. To an extent. Saying things in anger doesn't help, but staying mad doesn't help either.

My biggest advice: communicate, communicate, communicate.

My second piece of advice: make sure you each take time for yourself. If it's reading a book, or pursuing a hobby, keep yourself interesting to your spouse, by enjoying something you love.

Hugs,
Melinda

Guest's picture
Guest

I thought it was good advice until my husband and I started to attempt to "talk it out" before falling asleep. With all good intentions, you aren't thinkng rationally when it's getting late, you have to wake up early the baby is cying, and both of you are crying. Sometimes the best thing to do is just fall asleep instead of talking it out. I find that all our arguments get resolved much better on a clear head, a good nights sleep, and a full stomach.

Guest's picture
falnfenix

this is my mere observations of my parents' marriage, which is approaching 40 years.

hold hands. listen. don't lay blame - just talk things out. talk about your day with your spouse. make time for each other every day. kiss each other goodnight, good bye (before leaving the house), hello, etc. tell your spouse you love them. SHOW them you love them. leave notes in lunches/briefcases/wallets/purses.

most importantly, respect your partner.

there are plenty of others, but these few tips have been helpful in my own relationship.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

It always helps me to remember that my husband is a totally separate person from me--different thoughts, feelings, past experiences, etc. I can fight him on some of the these differences that I don't understand, or I can just let him be himself and not have to understand every time.

Guest's picture
RICKLEE

..I agree and will celebrate our tenth anniversary this year. A sense of humour is important in our marriage.

If my wife didn't laugh, she'd surely cry...:)

Guest's picture
Kym

How is this relevant at all to the subject of this blog?

Does no one think of the singles? It is much more expensive to be single [and living alone], yet all the personal finance blogs are heavily skewed towards married couples.

I'd be much more interested to hear how I can be happy and single, because I really hate coming home to an empty house and having to do all the chores and pay for everything myself. It seems to me that it'd be far easier to be happy with a companion.

Guest's picture
Erin

I understand where you are coming from. As someone who is coming up on her first anniversary this weekend, I admit - it's nice to have someone not only be a lover, best friend, but also a finacial partner. However, as a single person you only have to worry about your finacial approach to life and not have to align your money values with a partner. Marriage has brought contentment, warmth, a feeling of peace, but also hour-long conversations on whether we can afford to order take-out, generic vs. brand name, why someone can't put a price tag on quality of life, etc.

I wouldn't change my husband for anything or my marriage for the world. But please see both sides of the finacial coin on married vs. single.

Guest's picture
Peter

I would use "Avoid going to bed mad whenever possible" rather than "Never go to bed mad" because there will be times you will end up going to bed mad and you may need that distance or time to get your own feeling under control, but most of the time you need to talk it out and it's better you get past the issue before going to bed.

Some advice I found useful in our marriage included my wife not data dumping on me the minute I came home from work with all the things we "had" to do that night, that weekend, for dinner, for the kids, for the inlaws, etc.. It was like turning a corner and getting pelted with a twenty minute barrage of snowballs. Instead we talk about things later at dinner or after I've been home a bit (of course there are times when you have to do things immediately, but those should be the exception, not the rule).

Additionally, I finally learned the difference between her wanting me to give actual advice versus her method of venting. Now I know that when she complains about someone or something, and I recommend a course of action, and she doesn't even try to take it, that she's just venting. This way I'm not getting upset because she's blowing off my advice as worthless, rather I can just listen as she vents some more and provide responses in that vein, rather than trying to help her solve what I perceived as a problem she was bringing me.

Guest's picture
valletta

My husband and I just had our 19th wedding anniversary two days ago and I think the "don't go to bed angry" advice doesn't work for everyone. (What does?!)
I think the definition of "angry" is where this one breaks down. Totally subjective.

I had to laugh when you mention the advice vs, venting issue. When we were first married I remember coming home and complaining about work (very light venting) and after *maybe* 2 minutes my husband looked at me and said "Well then quit".
Now, 19 years later, whenever he complains about something I say "Well then quit" and it just cracks him up :)

Guest's picture
Bettie

I will be married 26 years on May 13th! We love each other even more than the day we got married! Now that said, Pete is right there are times an issue cannot be resolved before bedtime, and I have found yes, I don't sleep as well, but usually what was monumental the day before is not so huge the next day.

I also agree with not dumping the probs of the day on each other immediately walking in the house from work. It is hard to be hit with everything before you have even recovered from a stressful day at work. At least let them get their coat off first!

Laugh, laugh and laugh more. So many situations when you step back and look at afterwards were so petty they are laughable. After 26 years of marriage, and together for 28 years we still make each other laugh everyday. His family did not have a lot of humor in them, mine on the other hand you never knew what my mom would do for fun. He loosened up so much once he got around my family and realized humor and laughter is an important part of a marriage and family life!

We have had an awesome, wild ride for all of these years, and I cannot imagine how they could get any better, but they do!!

Julie Rains's picture

My Life Hacks sundown rule -- thanks for everyone's comments on going to bed angry and otherwise. I  didn't think that would provoke much response but wondered about the compromise one (my contrarian view) as I often hear compromise is the key to a good relationship. The mention of giving advice, Peter, is a great one -- I hear that being quick to solve problems rather than just listen to venting is a huge problem, so glad to hear of a way to deal with that.

Andrea Karim's picture

 Congrats, Julie. I'm not sure how you can be married for 24 years when you look like you're (barely) 35, but whatever. :)

Guest's picture
Sarah

Thank you thank you thank you for the advice- it's in line with everything I've been reading and praying about in my marriage preparation. Good to know it works! :)
One thing I've come across that I have really taken to heart and already put into practice is that I need to always respect him (even when he doesn't deserve it). It sorta flows with a lot of the advice here, I never realized how much respect means to men before this whole journey into marriage thing.
I think also we both agree that we shouldn't let the sun set on our anger, going to bed mad (even now before we're married and not living together or sharing a bed) only creates bitterness. It tores us apart before and took a long time to get our hearts straight afterwards...fortunately it made us realize that we didn't want to be apart and now we'll start our happily ever after (with some not so happily parts in there, because I know it won't all be sunshine and roses) :P
Thanks again for writing this- and congrats on 24 years.

Guest's picture
MB

I have a rule with my husband. If I'm mad, I tell him. I tell him that I need some time to think things through, then I'd like to talk to him about it. If he's mad, I ask him to think about it and then negotiate a time that we can talk. And then--and this is important--I tell him that I love him.

I used to try to sit on the subject til I wasn't mad anymore, but I found that I could not hide the fact that I was mad, which made him worried, defensive, angry, and ultimately escalated the situation.

This is a great list. I've only been married 4 years, but I've been with my husband for half of my life. Many of these tips are things we find important--particularly learning to like the extended family.

Guest's picture
Guest

I think that one of the biggest obstacles that I have seen with couples around me is that they don't fight fair. I have even heard some stories that resulted in physical situations. It is a difficult part of any relationship, but fighting is necessary and can lead to changes for the better.

Before I was married, I was given a refrigerator copy of rules for disagreements. It included things like don't call each other names, don't bring up previous arguments and to use "I" statements, not "you" statements. While my husband and I do not argue much, when we do disagree we can find resolutions without hurt feelings and hurtful words that cannot be taken back.

Guest's picture
Guest

18 years together this spring...

Sarah:

I would say you need to respect each other. Respect is important to men and women and research shows that a lack of respect (or specifically the presence of contempt) is a clear early indicator of future divorce (see Blink for reference). I respect my husband even when he drives me nuts and I really angry with him. He respects me even when I'm irrational and driving him nuts.

Plus we avoid serious discussion before morning coffee. That's been critical.

Guest's picture
krnewman

I agree. I would say respect is the absolute most important thing for a couple to have for each other.

Guest's picture
Tbag

Yes, cheap dates are mentioned but that is not enough of a tie to financial content. I enjoy Wisebread but I don't come here for marriage advice.

Julie Rains's picture

I think of relationships as having a significant effect on money issues, and vice versa though I realize that not everyone may think that way. One thing that made an impression on my husband (and me) was a talk that one of his co-workers had with him early in our marriage -- he mentioned that his divorce was the single most devastating financial incident that had happened to him. I've heard others say the same thing since then, though, of course, there are many factors at play in losing net worth. (Sometimes divorce happens and is the best outcome, as Tyg mentions in abuse cases, for example, regardless of financial ramifications).

Fighting fair is a good one -- I got great advice on that one when we went through premarital counseling. Not saying "you always do..." and keeping the focus on the issue at hand leads to quicker resolution -- this can be applied in other settings as well.

 

Guest's picture
J.

Here's one:

Present yourselves to the world as a team. Cover for each-other in public, instead of calling each-other on your blunders. Don't ever humiliate or bad-mouth your spouse in public.

--------

Congratulations, Julie!

Guest's picture
Leia

Great list. I agree with most of them, but there's one piece of "marriage advice" that people always throw out that I personally can't stand.

"Don't go to bed angry." (I hate it when people take this uber literally.)

That just doesn't always work. Sometimes IT IS OKAY to go to bed angry. Humans are human and it happens. Period. Just have enough common decency to say "I love you, but we'll talk about this in the morning." Frankly, if it's the wee hours of the morning and we've gotten into an argument, it's probably best to hash it out later because one of us is likely to say something regrettable due to the stress of being so tired!

My husband and I received an Irish wedding bell as a gift. The way it works: When you're having an argument and you just want it to END, no questions asked, one person out of the couple gets to ring it. The catch is that that same person can't ring it again until the other person has had a turn. Sometimes it comes in handy!

Guest's picture
Mr B

Cool that you encourage swinging ;)

Guest's picture
Olivia

24 years. It's gone by rather quickly. The tangible evidence of a 21 year old college student in the house kind of throws it in our faces. We've already done some of the "in sickness an health" and "richer or poorer" stuff and found teamwork in solving problems, not whacking at each other, works the best. We both have totally different perspectives, don't always come to concensus, but realize that's good. I am the tightwad, my husband the spendthrift. I taught him how to save for big things. He showed me how to have fun now. He handles the tax returns, I do the books. Every November we talk out our financial goals for the coming year and put them into the budget. This year we eliminated our personal "allowance" and stuck it into a family fun fund. If something doesn't work (some gripes have come from the kids on this one), we'll evaluate and retool. That's one place where finances and marriage mix. What do other people do?

Guest's picture
Eric

What about SEX? No mention of it? A very important part of a relationship and no mention of it. Next concern. You are married for 24 years and you don't know your spouse? You still tell each other stories that you haven't heard before? Twenty Four years? Even Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band knew each other after 20 yrs.

Guest's picture
J.

Dear Kym and Tbag,

Having a harmonious relationship has a *ton* to do with money.
And not only at the extreme: avoiding costly divorce. Working together as a team greatly enhances a couple's ability to save money and work together for long-term goals.

One trivial example: being able to work out an amicable schedule for cooking and cleaning reduces the extent to which a couple will rely on take-out and cleaning help. Another example: can you work creatively to share paid employment and childcare, or will you solve the problem by throwing money at it, hiring a full-time nanny for instance when you might have found less costly solutions by cooperating?

In general, cooperation is thrifty and conflict is expensive.

Guest's picture
Mary

Hi Julie: I loved the post! My husband and I have been married 32 years and I agree with all the ideas. The topic of staying married has EVERYTHING to do with your financial well being! Divorce splits your assets, gives a percentage of your money to lawyers, realtors and moving companies and breaks up a family, causing untold damage to your children.

Marriage is a marathon. No one runs a marathon without expecting it will be hard sometimes! Let's face it--if divorce was the answer--everyone that's divorced would be supremely happy! That's not the case with most of the people I know!

I also think self care is very important. No one can meet all your needs. You are primarily responsible for deciding to be happy and meeting your needs--not your spouse! The tough times usually don't last! Remember the expression "This too Shall Pass" during a difficult time--with the right attitude, it always does!

Guest's picture

Magnificent post. Of course, anyone can nit-pick with one or two of the items, but it's hard to argue with the track record of success you have demonstrated. This short post rivals many whole books I have seen on this topic. Be encouraged and remember that what other people think of you is none of your business. Keep up the great work!!!
God bless,
Jerry

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for the congratulations and encouragement. And, no, the list isn't exhaustive (as I said earlier) but mentions some things I might not have realized as a newlywed.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

@Kym, roommates can help with some of this. They make it so the house isn't always empty when you get home and someone else is there to do some of the chores. Of course, they contribute to the mess, too, and want to use the kitchen and washer the same time as you do. I still prefer roommates to single living (probably because I've never had a roommate from hell).

Pets can also help with the happiness, though they rarely help with the chores (maybe if something yummy lands on the floor). Or, if you're willing to live in a cheap enough place (or otherwise cut costs elsewhere), you might be able to afford to pay someone to do your least favorite chores. Or trade with a friend (they mop your floors while you're cooking them a big casserole).

I also recommend making appointments with your friends. Sick, eh? But it's nice to know that, unless something comes up, I'm walking with one friend on Tuesdays and Fridays and having dinner with another every Wednesday. There's also a certain person I always call when I go to a movie or want to do Sunday brunch. I know another person who throws a party the third Saturday of (almost) every month.

There are also a lot of social clubs available these days. I belong to a group of social ballroom dancers and I have been known to play pick-up ultimate frisbee. This sort of group can provide you with something (free or affordable) to look forward to on a regular basis as well.

**

My favorite long-term relationship strategy is to assume they have some good reason for whatever they just did, even if you can't fathom what it might be. There's often some ignorance involved that may need to be rectified. Like they don't know that they're still not in the habit of checking pockets before throwing things in the laundry. But it's almost never that they realized it might bother you, and so they did it evilly and gleefully.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

Hey Julie,

Great post, I got a lot out of it. I think marriage is so taken for granted in this day and age, and kudos to you and your husband for making it work. It's a great accomplishment, and one not to be taken for granted. Thanks also for sharing your secrets, and best wishes for the next 24 years, and the 24 after that (and so on and so forth).

Guest's picture
Kristen

I appreciate these marriage tips so much. I have been married for about a year and a half and already my husband and I have made most of the mistakes you have listed here. I feel like I can share this list with my spouse and we can start improving our relationship. I found a book that has some good advice as well. It's called Why I Love Men: The Joys of Dating. It's funny and filled with great suggestions for married and single couples alike.

Guest's picture
droxford

I can appreciate the viewpoints that you describe in your post...

...however, in my opinion....

(1) Your views have a tremendous female slant. For men, there would be a very different list (and I'm tempted to write one).

(2) Many of the items in your list sound like you haven't had to deal with any serious struggles. Example: it's easy to "laugh laugh laugh" when your husband hasn't been laid off and you don't have debt stacking up. This makes you sound like a princess.

I have more (and stronger) feelings along these lines, but I'll leave it a that.

(note: I've been married to my wife for 13 years)

Julie Rains's picture

I take it as a compliment that my personal, non-exhaustive list seems to be from a female perspective, and, as I mentioned, welcome tips from other perspectives. We went through the job loss during our engagement, following extended job searches during the 80s recession alone. Our pre-marital counselor seemed to think that a sense of humor could be valuable to our life together and others recommend it as well.

Guest's picture
Guest

My wife and I got married at 18 and are still married 22 years later. It hasn't always been easy but we've always seen each other through the hard times.

A few of the comments mentioned respect and I personally think this one word sums up all the rest. And it works in many aspects of life, not just marriage.

If I had to add a second one, I'd have to say "don't take your spouse for granted, ever". That's a road, you don't want to travel. Don't assume the she (he) will always be there because that's when you start saying and doing things that will hurt.

When we were younger, we would even plan our divorce. Why? We figured that when (not if) it would happen, we might be more civil about it that what we had seen other couples do. But, it definitely has an added advantage, it puts things into perspective. It reminds you why you're with her (him) and why it's worth continuing.

My personal feeling, is that if you can't calmly plan how it will end, one or both of you might not be invested enough in the success of the relationship. It's not about finding ways to argue but about finding solutions; and to a set of problems that can be very emotional.

Think of it as a partnership but with a stronger emotional bond.

Cheers and thanks for a great post!

Guest's picture
Allison

What a great article. Want some more tips on how to keep your marriage intact through the recession (and beyond)? Check out

http://blog.greensherpa.com/index.php/personal-finance/can-money-un-do-y...

Guest's picture
LizS

I have to disagree with the "don't compete." I've been with my partner for 8 years and we are extremely competative. The result? We drive ourselves to be constantly better and don't allow each other to stagnate. Keeps things more interesting that way and we are driven to do things we never thought we could do.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for your perspective; glad that's working for you.

Guest's picture
Guest

what about you found out that your spouse cheated on you 2 weeks before your marriage and you know it 1 week after marriage. and still feel awful after 8 months of marriage.. how could you get rid of it?

Julie Rains's picture

So sorry to hear about what happened. That's out of my league and I would definitely recommend professional counseling.

Guest's picture
Gina

This just makes me sad. At 24 years of marriage, my husband walked out on me, leaving me completely blindsided. He then remarried 3 weeks after the divorce was final. Now I realize that only one of us was following the things outlined here. Two years have passed since he walked out, and the pain is still palpable. My advice: Don't assume your partner shares your view of the relationship. Don't assume a long-term marriage is solid, take steps to make sure it is.

Julie Rains's picture

I am so sorry to hear about your experience. Thanks for your perspective and advice.

Guest's picture
married to my best friend

Going on 30 years of married life and all of the things that are saidin the article are true you may not be able to always "not go to mad" but you can remember that the bedroom is not EVER the place to argue or fight or work out differences. Your Bedroom is the place you always use as the safe place the place where even if you aren't perfectly happy right at that moment you go to bed and kiss good night and hold each other. Go outside and sit on the porch if you are needing to argue. But ya know the biggest thing is to take your time before you get married. Sex is great but if you can be in love and be friends without it for 6 months in the beginning you will learn so much more about each other. Talk talk talk, you can never talk enough in the beginning. Try to be best friends first then lovers. Your marriage will be alot happier. AND NEVER LIE to your partner. There isn't a reason. Tell them the fears or anger you feel in your heart. If in your past you think you have done something you can trust no one with. Make sure your partner is the one you trust with it. When you trust your partner before you are married with something so scary to you before sex you willbe starting on a good solid foundation.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for your comment. And I agree that trust is a pillar of having a happy marriage. It's one of those things that goes unrecognized but is essential b/c if you don't trust someone to be truthful and have your best interests at heart, then it's difficult if not impossible to have those talks and get anything else right over the long term.