A happy marriage is most people’s ultimate goal in life; but is falling in love enough, and how can we make it last? Here are six trusted secrets to a happy marriage to help you keep your love alive through life’s roller coaster ride.
People marry for different reasons and sometimes falling head-over-heels in love is just not enough. It’s no accident that much of the most insightful writing on marriage and relationships has been penned by those who have been through the bad times and confronted serious issues head-on. If you are just starting out on your journey together, remember a happy marriage is loving, nurturing and fun – here’s how to keep it that way.
1. A Happy Marriage Thrives on Independence and Companionship
Even if you’ve had the perfect fairy tale wedding, real life is not a fairy tale, it’s filled with challenges, twists and turns, and in marriage we have to deal with life’s ups and downs together. We do also need to be able to stand on our own two feet though and to look after ourselves as well as looking after others.
A happy marriage should create a unity and a loving environment for children and/or extended family while strengthening each partner to form a stronger foundation together than they might otherwise have as individuals.
The late, great Nelson Mandela said of marriage: “The whole purpose of a husband and wife is that when hard times knock at the door you should be able to embrace each other.” He’s right, sometimes we just need some comfort and our partner is the one we turn to. It is about companionship.
Charles Darwin, just before his marriage to Emma Wedgwood, in 1838, wrote several fascinating notes listing the pros and cons of marriage, from which he concluded very memorably that he would like to acquire a “constant companion and friend in old age” as he felt that a wife would be ‘better than a dog.’ What a charmer… And yet isn’t that what we all crave – a companion to look after, who will look after us in return? And, of course, dogs can’t cook… It all starts from a firm foundation of friendship and falling in love.
2. A Happy Marriage is More than Being in Love
It’s so easy to fall in love and get caught up in the whirlwind of excitement that planning a wedding presents. If you truly love your partner, then you care for them and want only what is best for them. Love is patient and kind, and when we love we show compassion.
In Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières describes the difference between ‘falling in love’ and simply loving: “Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day… That is just being ‘in love’, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away.”
Falling in love is indeed wild and exciting, loving and being truly loved goes far deeper. Keeping that feeling of being connected, whether on a romantic, emotional, intellectual or spiritual level, is an essential ingredient, and love is at its core. Love is a verb, let us not forget, it is about caring for others and wanting what is truly best for them.
Marriage is a partnership that needs give and take. If one partner gives all the time while the other takes, then sooner or later resentment can set in. And yet while partnerships thrive on togetherness, you don’t have to live in each other’s pockets.
Trust in a relationship means there can be some freedom to pursue separate interests as well as having joint ones. Sharing similar beliefs, religious or otherwise is also very bonding.
4. A Happy Marriage has Some Level of Intimacy
Regular intimacy, both physically in terms of embracing each day and making love on a fairly regular basis, as well as emotional intimacy – opening up and sharing your innermost feelings, thoughts and fears, will bring you closer as a couple. The fire and passion of initial lusty feelings can burn away gently for years to come as long as the fire is stoked every once in a while.
Adam Gopnik, in his feature Is There a Secret to a Happy Marriage? said: “Marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty – but the three have to be kept in constant passage, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise. Loyalty alone can sustain a marriage, but not happily, and not for long.”
I think there’s some wisdom in this and yet it’s hard to keep the balance between the three. There are couples who continue dating even after decades of marriage, making time for each other. Being together having fun and sharing meaningful experiences helps to keep that all important connection strong.
5. A Happy Marriage is Marrying Your Best Friend
Perhaps the most important aspect of a marriage is friendship. If you like each other’s company, and value each other as friends, then whatever else may happen, you’ll always have that. Friendship is about close companionship and sharing hobbies or interests as well as goals for the future. So that when sex drives wane or illness strikes, you remain together – ‘for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.’ Communication and honesty are essential. If you talk and share all your worries and concerns, joys and successes, failures and fears, you will know each other better and your bond will grow ever stronger.
We have to show respect and not judge too harshly, to trust our partners and treat others as we would like to be treated. Communication and compromise will get you through every obstacle, and a shared sense of humour helps in all things.
6. A Happy Marriage is Loving, Nurturing and Fun
We vow to ‘love, comfort, honour and protect our husband/wife and, forsaking all others, be faithful to them as long as we both shall live.’ These are poignant words indeed and it’s a tall order to make that promise when we hardly know our partner, which is why it’s better to spend time making sure you marry the right person and not the beautiful princess or the handsome prince of your dreams.
Getting married is just the start. And if you marry the right person, you will be able to get through anything if you pull together. It won’t always be fun and it certainly will not always be easy but if you both give enough love, time and energy to nurture your relationship, your marriage will stand a chance of lasting and you will both feel loved, supported and fulfilled.
If I had to sum it up in one line it would simply be this: Always be kind to each other and put your partner’s needs before your own. If we all do this and really listen to each other then our relationships will stand the test of all life’s challenges and our love will last.
Don’t keep these secrets to a happy marriage to yourself. Please share the love, and feel free to have your say in the comments below.
Kate Thompson is Confetti's features editor and wedding expert, and has worked in the wedding industry for 15 years. A widely published lifestyle writer, she has made BBC television and radio appearances discussing wedding trends in the UK.