- 15 Powerful Lessons for a Happy Marriage — Purpose Fairy
- 15 Powerful Lessons for a Happy Marriage
- 1. Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love.
- 2. Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.
- 3. The secret to a happy marriage is if you can be at peace with someone within four walls.
- 5. A loving marriage is one in which the loved one is free to be himself.
- 6. How happy you are in your marriage depends on you.
- 7. Best marriages are rooted in friendship.
- 8. A growing marriage can only be nurtured by genuineness.
- 9. The more love you put in your marriage, the more love you will get out.
- 10. Love in your marriage can only truly be measured by actions.
- 11. The most precious gift you can offer your partner is your time.
- 12. Marry someone who makes you laugh and your heart will be forever happy.
- 13. Let there be space in your marriage.
- 14. A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
- 15. Often, letting go becomes a lesson in pure love much deeper than any would have learned had the couple stayed together.
- 10 Lessons in Love I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Marriage
- Lesson 1: Don’t forget the magic.
- Lesson 2: Shift Your Perspective
- Lesson 3: Compromise can be overrated
- Lesson 4: Find a little grace
- Lesson 5: Forget the golden rule.
- Lesson 6: When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose to be kind.
- Lesson 7: Take turns being the adult
- Lesson 8: Create a world all of your own.
- Lesson 9: Pursue excitement
- Lesson 10: You don’t have to live your life the way others expect you to
- I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 lessons in love. Do you have any to add?
- Lessons from Love and Marriage
- I learned so much from him and our marriage:
- Lessons in Love: Marriage for the Right Reasons
- Lessons on Love From 100 American Couples
15 Powerful Lessons for a Happy Marriage — Purpose Fairy
“In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare. Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced.” ~ Robert Sexton
The quality of the relationship you have with your partner is determined by the quality of the relationship you have with our own self. If you have love, for yourself, you will have plenty of love for your partner. It’s that simple yet that complicated.
15 Powerful Lessons for a Happy Marriage
Here are 15 powerful lessons for a happy marriage:
1. Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love.
“Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love, and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.” ~ Tom Mullen
“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” — Dave Meurer
2. Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.
“Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.” ~ Barnett R. Brickner
3. The secret to a happy marriage is if you can be at peace with someone within four walls.
“The secret to a happy marriage is if you can be at peace with someone within four walls, if you are content because the one you love is near to you, either upstairs or downstairs, or in the same room, and you feel that warmth that you don’t find very often, then that is what love is all about.” ~ Bruce Forsyth
“When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all the time.” ~ Julia Child
“Most people get married believing a myth that marriage is beautiful box full of all the things they have longed for; Companionship, intimacy, friendship etc … The truth is, that marriage at the start is an empty box, you must put something in before you can take anything out.
There is no love in marriage, love is in people, and people put love in marriage. There is no romance in marriage, you have to infuse it into your marriage. A couple must learn the art, and form the habit of giving, loving, serving, praising, of keeping the box full.
If you take out more than you put in, the box will be empty.” ~ Unknown
5. A loving marriage is one in which the loved one is free to be himself.
“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.” ~ Wayne Dyer
“A loving relationship is one in which the loved one is free to be himself — to laugh with me, but never at me; to cry with me, but never because of me; to love life, to love himself, to love being loved. Such a relationship is based upon freedom and can never grow in a jealous heart.” ~ Leo F. Buscaglia
6. How happy you are in your marriage depends on you.
“When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising.
This can go on and on–series polygamy–until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment.
Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.” ~ Tom Robbins
“Tell everyone you know: “My happiness depends on me, so you’re off the hook.” And then demonstrate it. Be happy, no matter what they’re doing. Practice feeling good, no matter what.
And before you know it, you will not give anyone else responsibility for the way you feel — and then, you’ll love them all.
Because the only reason you don’t love them, is because you’re using them as your excuse to not feel good.” ~ Abraham
7. Best marriages are rooted in friendship.
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“Well, it seems to me that the best relationships – the ones that last – are frequently the ones that are rooted in friendship. You know, one day you look at the person and you see something more than you did the night before. a switch has been flicked somewhere. And the person who was just a friend is… suddenly the only person you can ever imagine yourself with.” Gillian Anderson
“Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife.” ~ Franz Schubert
“Many marriages would be better if the husband and the wife clearly understood that they are on the same side.” ~ Zig Ziglar
8. A growing marriage can only be nurtured by genuineness.
“Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. Don’t over-analyze your relationships. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness. “ ~ Leo F. Buscaglia
9. The more love you put in your marriage, the more love you will get out.
“Marriages are much more ly to succeed when the couple experiences a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions whereas when the ratio approaches 1 to 1, marriages are more ly to end in divorce.” ~ John M. Gottman
“I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are ly to have a happy future as well. When happy memories are distorted, it’s a sign that the marriage needs help.” ~ John M. Gottman
“What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity.” ~ Leo Buscaglia
“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” ~ Anthony Robbins
10. Love in your marriage can only truly be measured by actions.
“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t doing it.” ~ Marian Keyes
“The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
11. The most precious gift you can offer your partner is your time.
“If you love someone but rarely make yourself available to him or her, that is not true love.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom flowers.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
12. Marry someone who makes you laugh and your heart will be forever happy.
“Make sure you marry someone who laughs at the same things you do.” ~ J.D. Salinger
“Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.” ~ Joanne Woodward
13. Let there be space in your marriage.
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” ~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
14. A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” ~ Robert Quillen
15. Often, letting go becomes a lesson in pure love much deeper than any would have learned had the couple stayed together.
“Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would to be near you. I’d to have your arms around me. I’d to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” ~ Dr. Maya Angelou
“Relationships are eternal. The ‘separation’ is another chapter in the relationship. Often, letting go of the old form of the relationship becomes a lesson in pure love much deeper than any would have learned had the couple stayed together.” ~ Marianne Williamson
10 Lessons in Love I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Marriage
Do you ever come across elderly couples, walking hand in hand, radiating out their love for each other? That. That’s what I want. Now and forever. I’m a hopeless romantic – in fact, I’m basically Charlotte. I love happily-ever-afters, grand romantic gestures, and sappy love songs.
While my pragmatic side recognizes real life just doesn’t work this, I still want a love story that transcends decades. And while I fully admit I have zero qualifications (I’m not a marriage counselor, therapist, or psychologist), I do know that we are more in love today then we were 10 years ago. And that required work, understanding, and learning from our mistakes.
As I reflect on what worked and didn’t work, I wanted to share 10 lessons in love I’ve learned in a decade of marriage.
Lesson 1: Don’t forget the magic.
There’s a line that I love from This Side of Paradise – “They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” I have it written on a piece of paper and stuck to my wall. It makes me smile and remember the early days of our relationship.
It’s so easy to forget the magic when most of your conversations revolve around who’s taking which kid to which activity, or who needs to start laundry and what needs to be picked up from the grocery store. Try to remember the magic of the early years and bring it up. “I can take her to dance class on Tuesday so you can work late.
Hey – remember when we were at our friend’s wedding and you taught me how to waltz to Billy Joel’s ‘Just the way you are’? That was so much fun.”
Lesson 2: Shift Your Perspective
You can easily come up with 3 things your spouse does that drives you crazy. Does he leave the toilet seat up? She crams dishes into the dishwasher so half of them are still dirty after the wash? He leaves wet towels on the bed? Here’s the thing, I bet you could just as easily come up with things that you love.
Does he clean the litter box for you because you think it’s gross? She makes you the perfect cup of coffee every morning? Does he make silly voices when he’s reading bedtime stories to the kids? Why do we consistently focus on the things that drive us crazy? Who says we can’t focus on the things we love instead? It can be challenging to shift the perspective, and in fact, when I started consciously trying to do this, I would write lists of all the things I adored about my husband so whenever I started focusing on something annoying, I could quickly remind myself of all the reasons I was lucky to be with him.
Lesson 3: Compromise can be overrated
If you’re always looking for the middle ground, you’re always left with two people who aren’t happy. Instead, take turns getting what you want.
Obviously, life-altering decisions taking a job across the country or having another child need to be talked through and compromised, but for the everyday stuff – take turns. Loving your spouse means sometimes eating hamburgers when you’d rather eat sushi.
If an issue is REALLY important to my spouse, I let him have his way. If something is REALLY important to me, he does the same.
Lesson 4: Find a little grace
I’ve long struggled with this. Somehow, I seem to find a little grace for just about anyone but my spouse. I can always muster up a bit of politeness for perfect strangers.
Why is it so hard to do the same for my spouse? I think because we feel so safe around our loved ones, we often unleash on them the most. It’s taken me years but I’ve started to flip the script. I no longer take out my frustrations with the world on my spouse.
He’s my favorite person and deserves my all my grace, not the stranger who annoyed me.
Lesson 5: Forget the golden rule.
It’s not about loving your spouse the way YOU want to be loved. It’s about loving your spouse the way THEY want to be loved. If you haven’t already read The 5 Love Languages I suggest you do ASAP. This book breaks down different ways that people express and experience love. Everyone I’ve talked to who has read it says it’s greatly helped their marriage. Read it. Seriously.
Lesson 6: When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose to be kind.
Often, my need to be right feels the most important thing in the world. But you know what’s more important? Being kind. When you find yourself in an argument, and all you want to do is prove how right you are – take a deep breath. Remind yourself you can always let it go and just choose to be kind.
Lesson 7: Take turns being the adult
No matter how hard you try, sometimes one of you is going to throw a tantrum. Or get a little snarky. Just accept that this is going to happen, and take turns being the adult. Whoever starts the tantrum gets dibs.
The other spouse needs to be the adult. That could be as simple as just walking away for a minute to let the other one cool off. When your child throws a tantrum, you don’t throw one right back, you deal with it an adult and talk it through when they’re calm.
Show your spouse that same grace.
Lesson 8: Create a world all of your own.
Have a tradition, ritual, or activity that’s all your own. Maybe that means on Sunday nights you have family dinner, and nothing else ever gets scheduled. Or maybe you set aside time each day to work out together. Whatever the activity, make it exclusive to the both of you.
This is sacred time. For us, we tend to watch one show at a time. Right now we’re totally nerding out on Game of Thrones. We make it a really big deal it and most of our family and friends think we’re totally weird. But it’s not about them, it’s about us and it’s totally awesome.
Lesson 9: Pursue excitement
When I was a child, I always thought the opposite of happiness was sadness. It’s not. The opposite of happiness is boredom. Don’t let your relationship get boring. Learn what keeps you both awake with excitement and then pursue that.
Together. For us, it’s world travel. Or starting a new business venture. Maybe for you, it’s getting into the best shape of your life. Or designing and building that dream house. Take time to figure it out, and then chase after it. Together.
Lesson 10: You don’t have to live your life the way others expect you to
One of my favorite lessons in love is this – YOU are in control. YOU decide what works for you and your marriage. And YOU get to make the rules. Just because something is popular in our culture doesn’t mean that you have to blindly follow it.
This could apply to anything – the division of household chores, who pays the bills, or even how you spend your money. Popular culture may dictate that you should sit around with your friends and share stories of all the annoying and stupid things your spouse does so you can all laugh and commiserate.
Guess what? In my marriage, that’s something we just won’t do.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 lessons in love. Do you have any to add?
Lessons from Love and Marriage
Please don’t tell anyone, but I am a sentimental fool. I cry during chick flicks, I love a good love story. I love falling in love and sometimes I get teary thinking about how lucky I am to be married to the man of my dreams.
I met my husband before I knew what kind of man I was dreaming about. I was 29, raising my little girl by myself. I had a bunch of debt, some emotional trauma from a bad first marriage and awful divorce. I had what no one wants…baggage.
I was friends with his sister. She loved me. She loved him. And she thought we might love each other. Maybe it wasn’t love right away, but it was really fun. He taught me to be more adventurous on the ski slopes and in the kitchen. I taught him that we could still have fun, even though we had to be home early on school nights.
We had so many differences, but loved many of the same things. We loved to hike, ski, and travel together.
We were also both extremely concerned about my daughter’s happiness, and what our relationship would be for her. That focus made us slow down and really figure out what we wanted.
If this wasn’t going to be a forever thing, it wasn’t going to be a thing at all. So, we got to know each other, and dated for 6 years.
We had our ups and downs, and ons and offs but we knew a few simple things; I loved him. He loved me. And we both loved her.
In the Fall of 2004, Mark proposed to me after a romantic dinner in the mountains. The next day, he proposed to my daughter. He didn’t tell me he was going to do this, but he had his grandmother’s wedding ring engraved to say, “Jag älskar dig”, I love you, in Swedish. He gave it to her in a tiny box, with a tiny note that had a big question, “Will you be my daughter?”
I said yes. She said yes. And on May 21, 2005 we were married. We celebrated with close friends and family. We told ourselves that marriage wouldn’t change anything for us. We were wrong.
We bought a house and started our lives as man and wife and child. We were happy. I was in love with him, in love with love, and ready to see where this journey would take us.
One year later, the dragon appeared in our fairy tale. I didn’t feel well. I was tired and dizzy, and the side of my face was tingly. After a month of extensive tests I got the phone call. “You have MS.
” All I could think of was, “how I am I going to tell my family that I have Multiple Sclerosis?” I had to tell him first. I had to tell him that I didn’t know what was going to happen.
I had to tell him that I didn’t know if I would be able to hike with him, ski with him or even walk with him someday.
About a week after my diagnosis, I did the unthinkable. I asked him to leave me. I didn’t ask him to do that so he would feel sorry for me. I didn’t ask him to leave me because I wanted to do this alone. I asked him to do it, because I wanted him to have a full life, and I wasn’t sure if I could offer that to him anymore. I thought he deserved more than taking care of a wife with MS.
I learned so much from him and our marriage:
- Love is not enough. Take it from an expert, it is easy to be in love, but it is not enough to sustain a long term relationship. You need all the other stuff too. You need patience, gentleness, romance, passion, compromise, real friendship and selflessness.
- Being right is not important. Seriously, in most cases who cares who was right? By the time you are really mad at each other, you ly can’t remember the reason you got angry in the first place. It’s ok to just kiss and make up. Not everything needs to be resolved.
- Actions speak louder than words, but say the words anyway. When my husband says, “you look beautiful” or sends me a text that says, “can’t wait to see you tonight.” It makes me feel special and more loving. Say I love you every day. Even when you’re not feeling it.
- Marriage at it’s best, is simple. Wow, I can’t believe I said that. I thought marriage was supposed to be really complicated, and near impossible to hold onto. I was wrong. Marriage is complicated and near impossible to hold onto when you stop thinking about each other, when you stop thinking about marriage. Keep it simple and if you notice things are crazy complicated, pare down. you would clean out a closet, clean out the things that are getting in the way of being married.
- Less stuff means more genuine connection. By getting rid of our stuff, paying off our debt, and spending less, we can finally zero in on what each other needs the most. Even though we have known each other for 11 years, we are getting to know each other better, because we have the time and space to pay attention.
I am forever grateful that he did not take me up on my offer to leave. He has seen me at my worst, and inspired me to be my best.
By staying focused on the most important things in our lives, we fight MS together, and we are working towards an amazing future and enjoying ourselves along the way.
I think we told ourselves that marriage wouldn’t change a thing because things were so good. Things were so good, and we didn’t want to disturb what we had. Instead, we made what we had better. Each day I think, “I can’t believe I love him more than I did before.” Every day, I think about how lucky I am to be living my very own love story.
As one of the main characters of a simple love story, I know that my intentions and my actions support my marriage. My husband is amazing, but he can’t do it alone. We may encounter bumps in the road and a few surprises, but together, we will celebrate and protect our marriage, and our family.
Lessons in Love: Marriage for the Right Reasons
It was 7 am. She had been awake most of the night, feeling anxious but strangely numb. Ashamed, she tried to hide the tears that slowly escaped from her lifeless eyes. She should be happy. Maybe it was because of the unthinkable situation she had found herself in, or maybe it was because there was still so much to do for the wedding.
She didn’t quite understand but she wasn’t ready to understand either. She turned and looked at the man lying next to her in a place she called home and felt an ache deep within her soul. She ached for something more.
She ached to feel real love, to feel what it was to have her own heart held in the highest esteem. Something just wasn’t right but she swallowed her pain, choked back her tears and made pretend it was all going to be okay.
The rest of the day was a complete blur. Sweet, blissful memories were not made that day and it tore her apart inside. She knew that your wedding day should be one of the happiest days you experience, yet she felt no happiness. All she could feel when she looked back upon the day was that same dull ache in her chest.
She thought of the man standing there under that apple tree. The same man who claimed he loved her yet days before the wedding, had her crying uncontrollably on the floor of their bathroom while he berated her, attacked her character and told her what a mistake she was.
All she could think of was begging him to just leave her alone and how he just wouldn’t stop. That couldn’t possibly be love but maybe it was. Maybe she was the problem. After all, every person who had ever gotten close to her had told her what a horrible person she was and how impossible it was to love her.
Her mind was a thick fog of confusion. Not knowing where to turn or what to believe, she lived this hell for another tumultuous month that felt nothing short of torture. The day finally came where something awoke within her. That dull ache in her chest turned into a fiery blaze. She realized her worth and would accept nothing less.
That day was the day her entire life would change and she would become the woman she was always meant to be. That woman was me.
I had it all – the cars, the house, the material things. Anything I wanted, I could have. But I wasn’t happy and it made me realize that I would rather be alone or have nothing and be with my ride or die than have it all and be with someone who makes me miserable.
All too often, I see so many people getting into relationships and getting married for the wrong reasons. It seems we have been conditioned as a society to chase after the people who have material things to offer us.
So many of us think we can only get married when we have our proverbial shit together and can immediately buy a house, the nicest cars and shiny things to fill up our new house with.
I see so many women getting caught up in the size of their ring, the materialistic details of their wedding and how much money their new husband is going to make for them. But we are missing out on the most beautiful aspect of partnership – the intangible connection you should feel on a soul level.
Is this person the person you want to look at every day? Is this the person you want to tell all of your deepest secrets to and share special moments with? Is the person that you can envision holding and caring for your child? Is this the person you can talk to for hours and lose complete track of time with? Does this person ignite your soul and leave you with a smile just from being in their presence? Don’t get me wrong, relationships and marriages are never easy. They don’t come without the inevitable disagreements, fights and ups and downs. The key is finding a person that you can navigate those ups and downs with without losing your sense of self. It’s about finding the person you can have passionate fights with because you both give a damn and then grow from it together and laugh about it later.
When you marry someone, you shouldn’t have to change them or change who you are.
You both should be able to coexist as you are in the moment you come together and grow together, always supporting one another and encouraging each other to be the best version of themselves.
When I got married, I ignored all of the glaring red flags and thought that maybe he would change. I thought that maybe my love would change him for the better. I thought that maybe he would be a better person when his circumstances changed.
The truth of the matter was that he was not the right person for me and it was never meant to be. I chose to turn a blind eye to every unthinkable act he committed towards me, the disrespect he showed me and our relationship and his extreme behavioral problems.
When I finally realized this, I was so deeply embedded into this life with him, that I had no idea how to get out. I felt stuck and as if I had no choice. What would I do if I left? I would have to give up my house and all of my financial comfort.
It took me a while to figure out the error in that thinking and realize that my happiness was worth so much more than any kind of financial security or material comfort.
Marriage or any romantic partnership to me isn’t about the status quo, the lifestyle or the size of the wedding or the ring. I’d get married at Taco Bell and wear a piece of string around my finger if it meant spending the rest of my life with the person I adore.
We must realize that while we can be drawn to certain people and while fate does play a role in who we end up with, love is a choice. It is not only our own attitude and mind state that attracts to us what we need, even if those are hard learned lessons, but also our own choice as to who we will love.
We can be drawn to someone and feel connected to them but ultimately, it is our choice to love them unconditionally and without expectations. It is our choice to build off of what we initially feel and grow in love with them every day.
It is a choice that we make knowing that it will have its difficult moments and frustrations, but we are willing to take that on and enjoy the ride.
My favorite kind of love story is the one where two people come together who have nothing figured out. They are each on their own separate path, still finding themselves, chasing after their goals.
They don’t have the “American Dream” yet but they have each other and that’s all that matters. In a healthy partnership, these two people will have each other’s backs and will support each other relentlessly. They will be a rock to each other, not a hindrance.
There is something so beautiful about starting off with nothing, having no idea where you are going but doing it together and building your own beautiful world together. The couples who build their empire together from nothing are the ones who I admire.
They recognize that they are each independent creatures, each gong after their own dreams, but that together, they are that much more powerful.
Romantic partnerships and marriage are about finding that person that lights your soul on fire, — someone that makes you want to forget all of the others before them, someone who you can see yourself with and want to grow in love with every day — and then choosing to make it work.
It’s not about where you are right now, what you’re doing, where you’re going, what you have or don’t have or what material things you can offer. The right person will build you up and never hold you back. The right person will keep you on your toes and ensure you’re always following your dreams and attaining your goals and be the rock you need to stay on task.
The right person will choose to love you without conditions, expectations or demands. And if you find it, hold onto that shit and don’t let go.
Lessons on Love From 100 American Couples
I’m a single, 20-something woman, so I should note off the bat that I don’t know much about marriage. But most young singles go into what is meant to be a lifelong commitment relatively clueless.
Our perceptions of marriage often stem from some mix of romantic comedies, mainstream media, and the example set by our parents, which can leave us with an unrealistic, decidedly negative, and, at best, incomplete picture of what it really means to build a committed, fulfilling relationship.
Coming from a single-parent household (which is increasingly common—the number of single-parent households has doubled since 1950), my feelings toward marriage are cautious, but hopeful.
Many of my peers, after watching their parents get divorced or experiencing a divorce of their own, are more cynical about the institution of marriage. They say 50 percent of marriages end in divorce (though that is an inflated statistic).
The Huffington Post has an entire section dedicated to divorce, with the despondent tagline, “Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.”
But even if the 50 percent divorce statistic were actually true, my question is: What about the other 50 percent? How are they making it work? In an effort to find out, last year, I traveled across the country to capture 100 of America’s great love stories with my friend Nate Bagley, for a project we call The Loveumentary.
Shawn Achor, notes in his book The Happiness Advantage, “If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average.” Nate and I take a similar approach: if we keep focusing on average or below-average relationships, those are the kind of relationships we will build for ourselves.
Instead, we’re interested in learning from the best relationships we can find.
The goal of our project was not to paint an overly idealistic picture of love and marriage, just to capture stories of couples that have created loving, lasting relationships—and see if we could find any patterns among them.
We found most of the couples we interviewed through recommendations from friends and acquaintances, and some we met serendipitously along the way. We did our very best to interview a sample size big enough to paint an accurate picture of what true love and fulfilling relationships look across the country.
This included couples from as many socioeconomic classes, races, sexual orientations, religious backgrounds, and geographic locations as possible. This was meant to be an in-depth, qualitative study on love and marriage in America. I do not claim to be an expert on love or marriage.
I am only a passionate student—and my thesis is that by studying and sharing what the most extraordinary marriages have in common, we all have a better shot at building our own.
Here are five of the biggest lessons I learned from these couples:
1. Marriage isn’t meant to make you happy.
Measuring the success of a marriage by how happy you are makes it easy to assume that experiencing unhappiness in a marriage means you're in a bad one.
But every couple we interviewed agrees it is not realistic to assume you’ll be happy all the time.
If a fluctuating emotion, happiness, is the measuring stick you use to gauge the success of your relationship, you will continuously come up short.
The primary purpose of marriage isn’t to keep you happy—it’s to keep you growing. Steve Hambrick, Lead Pastor of Vintage 242 Church in Dallas, Georgia has been married to his wife Randel for more than 12 years.
He says, “It boils down to the selfless understanding that I'm not married for what's best for me. Love is a selfless choice about what's best for the other, because she is the most important thing in my life.
The greatest way to find joy in the context of marriage is to bring joy to someone else.”
When you approach marriage looking to grow with and from one another, it fundamentally shifts the way you look at the health of your relationship. The catalysts for this growth range from pursuing common goals and interests together, to lovingly challenging one another’s views, to traversing devastating hardship alongside one another.
Of course, happiness tends to be a natural byproduct of healthy growth in a relationship. However, it shouldn’t be the reason you choose to stay in or leave one. Couples that stay together know there will be less exciting or happy seasons. But, these seasons pave the way for personal and relational growth–not an exit strategy.
2. Love yourself first.
This piece of advice is thrown around frequently, but no one ever talks about what it really means. Put simply, loving yourself first is not about being selfish. It’s about coming into a relationship already whole.
Most of us seek love from the people we’re in relationships with because we imagine ourselves to be without it—that in order to experience love we think we need to receive it from someone else. This is perhaps the biggest mistake we make, because no one can give us love.
We can only feel as much love as we decide to produce within ourselves.
Almost every single couple we talked to spoke about the importance of self-love.
MeiMei Fox and Kiran Ramchandran, who live in Los Angeles and have been together since 2008, both went through a divorce before they met one another. In her first marriage, MeiMei noted that she didn't feel she was good enough, and thought she had to prove herself or be something more.
After her divorce, and before meeting Kiran, she began to work on loving herself fully. She noted, “I put all of my focus and intention into having incredible adventures, a great job, rich family life, great friends, and an incredible community. I was so happy with me, and who I was, and my life. I still wanted to manifest an amazing partner, but I was happy.
I felt good. I wasn't reaching to fill a hole in my soul.”
What I learned from MeiMei and many of the couples we interviewed is when you fully believe in your worthiness and lovability, you don’t need to grasp for attention or love from your significant other.
This makes it easy to build a healthy relationship, because you’re not expecting the other person to fulfill a checklist of needs. When you love yourself, you naturally take care of yourself well—you become emotionally healthy.
When you are emotionally healthy, you're capable of bringing your best to a relationship.
Ty Schenzel, Executive Director of Hope Center for Kids in Omaha, Nebraska, has been married to his wife, Terri, for 27 years.
When asked how one can become emotionally healthy, Ty said, “By being proactive and intentional about resolving rejection, abandonment, and abuse experiences. Life is so hard on the heart. We should get counseling when we need counseling.
We've really worked hard at becoming emotionally healthy as individuals because healthy people have healthy relationships and marriages.”
As we interviewed couples along the way, others described the concept of self-love as knowing and setting your boundaries in relationships.
Couples also noted that self-love goes hand-in-hand with being aware of and taking ownership of the gap between the person you are and who you want to be.
And finally, self-love means being unapologetically yourself and doing things you’re passionate about—because you know the right person for you will find you when you’re doing those things.
3. Hardship is sometimes the best thing that could happen to a couple.
One of the most heart-wrenching love stories we captured was that of a 32-year-old widow who had just lost her husband of more than a decade to cancer, and is now raising their two sons alone.
She said of the intense moments of pain: “It's waves at a beach—they come one after the other. When you’re riding those waves, some will knock you down, and, with others, you land on your feet.
All you can do is get up whenever you fall, and put one foot in front of the other.”
All of the couples who talked about hardship spoke about it in a similar way. Surmounting difficulties isn't always easy, but it became clear that happily married couples approached everything from small disagreements and differing interests, to trying circumstances and life-altering experiences, as challenges to be overcome together—and sometimes, by necessity, alone.
We got a lot of advice from couples on how to deal with spousal conflict. Many noted that during arguments, it's important to let the storm settle and not make a lot of decisions while one or both people are still upset. Another common piece of advice was learning to master the art of really listening to the other person.
Laura Doyle, New York Times bestselling author of The Surrendered Wife, has been married to her husband for 24 years.
She talked about the art of listening during our interview with her, noting, “I don't always have to agree with my husband, but I prefer to honor him and his decisions by listening to him. I've learned the phrase, 'I hear you.
' It doesn't mean I agree or disagree. It just means I'm listening. And the first duty of love is to listen.”
Couples who stay together have a distinctive approach when dealing with hardship. Difficult circumstances are viewed not as deal-breakers, but an inevitable, strengthening part of life. Interestingly, when the couples we interviewed talked about difficulties they've faced, the sentiment is often that the hardship they experienced drew them closer together—not further apart.
4. Learn how to apologize and forgive the right way.
Along with comments about hardship came countless conversations with couples about apologies and forgiveness. What does it look to apologize and forgive well?
Gary Chapman, author of New York Times bestseller The Five Love Languages, talked to us during an interview about both apologizing and forgiving in a relationship. His perspective comes from the successes and failures he and his wife Karolyn have experienced during more than 45 years of marriage.
On the topic of apologies, Chapman says, “Typically, if people apologize at all, they say, 'I'm sorry.' For some people, that doesn't really communicate sincerity.
Learning what the other person considers an apology is important, so that if you are going to apologize, you can do it in a way that's meaningful to them and communicates sincerity to your partner.”
Chapman goes on with forgiveness, saying, “It's a choice. You either choose to forgive, or hold it against them. If you choose to hold it against them, the relationship doesn't go forward. If you choose to forgive, it opens the door to possibility that the marriage can continue to grow. The decision to forgive can be made in an instant, even if the emotions might take a while.”
What struck me most about the topic of learning to apologize and forgive well in marriage was both the self-awareness and selflessness required. Saying more than “I'm sorry” conveys genuine care for and understanding of the other person's perspective.
It takes a great deal of personal reflection and humility to admit when one is wrong, but almost always, it creates space for vulnerability and healing to take place.
It does, however, require a heartfelt willingness to understand and resolve the conflict by both people in the relationship—not just one.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a solo act.
Terri Schenzel, along with her husband of 27 years Ty Schenzel, co-created Hope Filled Marriage workshops.
When it comes to forgiveness, Terri notes, “If we had hurts in our past, chances are there may be people we've never fully forgiven—including ourselves. Forgiveness is a lifestyle, not a feeling.” Forgiveness isn't always fair, either.
“If someone really hurt you, you don't want to let them off your hook if you have a high sense of justice. But, forgiveness is ultimately for you.”
5. If you want a great committed relationship, start with the commitments you make to yourself.
One personal lesson I learned while listening to and observing the couples we interviewed was this: marital commitment is a promise you make not only to your spouse, but to yourself. Choosing to commit strengthens your personal integrity, and how you think and behave reflects the promises you’ve made, and the values and beliefs you say you have.
Keeping your personal commitments, big and small, better prepares you for the biggest commitment of all: the one you make to your spouse.
Whether you're married or single, practice with keeping small commitments— going for a morning run when it's on your calendar, to attending an event you said you would go to even if you're tired.
Then, move on to bigger ones, starting a dream project or running a marathon.
As you strengthen your commitment muscle, the benefit grows beyond your relationships—it deepens your personal integrity and resolve. This, in turn, signifies to the people you build relationships with that you are trustworthy, and the promises you make have value and meaning.
Whether you're preparing for marriage in the future, or looking to strengthen the one you are currently in, put these five lessons to the test. By studying what has worked for other happily married couples, we have the opportunity to learn from and create our own.
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Melissa Joy Kong is a writer based in San Francisco.
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