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33 Ways to Make Our Marriages Happier (Part 1 of 3)


I’ve been thinking about and writing about marriage for the past few weeks as part of my Here Year project. Truth is, I’ve been thinking and talking about marriage for far longer than this. Since the moment I met the man I would marry (see above), it’s been a topic of great personal interest for me and I’ve been intrigued with certain questions: Why do we choose whom we choose? What does a good marriage look like and feel like? Why do some unions triumph and some crumble? After my own wedding, I quit my job as a lawyer to write. I started writing a novel that would ultimately take years to complete and publish. That book, Life After Yes, is, in many ways, about marriage and commitment. The book I’m writing now is also, shocker, about love and questions of commitment. Indeed a theme of my life, my work.

And though I’m haste to give advice, particularly on something as unwieldy and ineffable as marriage, I do love seeking it, collecting it. That’s been one of the best rewards of these weeks of critical focus; I’ve arrived at, and unearthed, some really thoughtful pieces of wisdom about marriage, bits of brilliance that really speak to me - including my Here Year partner Lindsey Mead's The Habits of the Happily Married. Some are things I already do or try to do. Things I will start doing right away. It should be noted that none of this is scientific or empirical at all. This list is entirely anecdotal and aspirational in nature. And the truth? Though I consider myself to be happily married, I have no real idea what I'm talking about. I'm no expert. No relationship guru. I'm just a person who thinks this stuff is kind of important and interesting and worth wondering about.

 And so, without further ado, my totally random 33 Ways to Make Our Marriages Happier. Thirty-three was Larry Bird’s number and has long been my favorite, so that’s what I came up with. It’s also a lot, so I will deliver these bits in three installment of eleven. Anyway, enjoy. Oh, and one more quick caveat: I say ‘him’ throughout but ‘her’ can easily be substituted. This is not exclusively advice for us wives, but for all of us married/committed types.

the first eleven…

1. Make small gestures.

Little things count and big-time. Make him a cup of coffee or leave a little note. Send a happy or flirty text out of nowhere. Let him sleep an extra ten minutes.

2. Make big gestures.

Life is life and full of demands and responsibilities and there isn’t often time or space for grand gestures, but every now and then make a splash. Plan an elaborate date or trip or write a long letter (or blog post).

3. Ask a certain question every single day.

When he gets home from work, ask how his day was. Not as a formality, but as a genuine inquiry. Do not seek monosyllabic replies or give them. Elicit details; ask follow-up questions; be interested.

4. Establish Rituals & Traditions.

These rituals and traditions can be simple. Sitting together for a cup of coffee before a busy day. Laughing while brushing teeth at night. Doing a jigsaw puzzle every Friday night. Going for ice cream on Tuesdays. Etc.

5. Laugh.

When it comes to marriage, laughter is gold. A couple that can laugh at themselves individually and together is in a better and more resilient spot than one who cannot. Identify the humor in the world and situations.

6. Recycle Laughter.

Even if there’s nothing funny at all about a particular moment, look to hilarious times in the past, experiences that made you laugh hard. Just thinking about these times will lighten things in the present moment.

7. Continue to date.

This need not be about planning regular date nights or spending money. Rather, this is about attitude. Try to keep the feel of dating, of getting to know another person, of presenting your best self and making time for fun experiences.

8. Anticipate experiences together.

This is huge as far as I’m concerned. Anticipation is often as rewarding as the experience itself. Daydream about an upcoming milestone or moment together.

9. Preserve a modicum of mystery.

This is not about keeping secrets. It is about keeping your partner guessing. Withholding small bits of ourselves, what we are feeling, wanting and needing adds an element of mystery and intrigue to a relationship.

10. Do not try to fix things that can’t be fixed.

Oh this is enormous. When he talks about issues or problems, often the instinct is to solve the problem and fix the issues. More often than not, the best thing we can do is listen, acknowledge that some things defy repair, and accept this.

11. Divide & Conquer.

Modern marriage is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are many ways it can work, but I think it helps when expectations are clear. Who does the grocery shopping? Who RSVPs for events? Who changes the lightbulbs and takes out the trash? Who buys the kids new shoes when the old ones get too small? Figuring out a workable division of labor reduces stress down the line.


Again, it bears repeating that I'm totally making all of this up. Yes, I've given this some serious thought. Yes, I've scoured the trusty Internet for thoughts on successful marriages. Ultimately though, this is just a list that I find compelling. The good news is that there is more to come. Tomorrow, I will post the Second Eleven. Until then, I would love to hear your thoughts on today's ways... Do any of these things in particular speak to you or strike you as ridiculous? Do tell. Oh, and PS, the picture above was one of our engagement shots. I look at this and smile at how young and totally clueless we were :)

here year3

Previous Posts on the Here Year/Marriage:

The Here Year.

The Here Year Month #3: Marriage.

The Here Year, June: Marriage (A Design So Vast)

On Marriage & Age.

"We Are a Work-in-Progress." (A guest post)

"She's got my back, and I've got hers." (A guest post)

What My Therapist Said About Marriage.

4.003 Days of Laughter (& Counting) (A guest post)

The Marriage & Sex Question.

The Best Thing I've Done For My Marriage?

"All of a sudden, everything was different." (A guest post)

Why Do Married People Cheat?

11 Insights from Jane Green

Without a Net (A guest post)

The Marriage-Children Paradox


33 Ways to Make Our Marriages Happier (Part 2 of 3)

The Marriage-Children Paradox