Editor’s note: Dr. Tiffanie Davis Henry is an HLN contributor. She is a psychotherapist and sex and relationship expert. She is on Twitter.
Marriage is one of the few things in life that we dive into expecting to succeed, even if we’ve never done it before. But with 41% of first-time marriages ending in divorce
, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the newly wedded and beyond are quick to ponder: What’s the secret to getting your “happily ever after?”
While there is no exact science, no cookie-cutter approach to making a marriage work, one thing rings true: Little of what you’ve learned from your parents, in grade school and, dare I say, even in Sunday School holds up when you find yourself on shaky marital ground.
My advice is lighten things up, don’t take everything so seriously and take these tongue-and-cheek secrets to a happy marriage with one, maybe two, grains of salt.
Sharing gets you nowhere:
Sure, on the playground you shouldn’t hog the swing or hoard the last few Oreos, but in a marriage, sometime sharing can be overrated. Stop complaining that your significant other isn’t sharing the responsibility of washing your clothes or cleaning up the bathroom. Separate hampers and separate bathrooms will spare you many an argument and allow you to share a sense of peace, rather than headache.
Just because you’re right, doesn’t mean you can’t be wrong:
Who cares if you’re right? Your partner doesn’t. Sometimes, in order to maintain a sense of happiness, you’ve got to just take one for the team and say you’re sorry, even if you don’t mean it or feel it. Not always, but sometimes. Just ask yourself, “Is it more important to be right or more important to be happy?” Happiness is never overrated but being right often is.
This is a test:
Contrary to popular belief, marriage is a test. Marriage will test everything you think you know about love, trust, faith and life. Marriage will push you to your limits and just when you think things won’t get any better, curve balls will be thrown, outlooks will shift, and you’ll find yourself creating a new, more befitting sense of normalcy. Yes, it’s a test. And it’s one that with patience (and a few glasses of wine) you can pass.
Fighting can be good (but only if its fair):
You didn’t marry yourself so you shouldn’t expect the person you fell in love with will think the same, look at life the same, or be the same as you. Accept that you’re going to disagree about things and yes, you will fight. Fighting will test the boundaries of your relationship and shift the way you think and feel about every nuance of your lives together. That’s ok. Disagreements are what helps us to gain greater understanding and ultimately builds bridges. Just don’t hit below the belt and say things that will build so much resentment and hatred that the beautiful bridge you just built could be blown to smithereens.
Show & tell:
Gone are the days where you show your best buds your most prized possession and get “oohs” and “aahs” for just showing and telling. And let’s be honest: No one ever told you what they really thought about your ratty, old teddy bear or your dumb doll with the missing eyeball. Likewise, when asked if your betrothed looks fat in her skinny jeans, there is only one right answer. And while you ponder what that answer might be, be aware that most couples gain and lose weight together, whether they’re trying to or not. If she does look fat in those jeans, more than likely you do, too.
Time out is a good thing:
Don’t worry. No one’s putting you in the corner with a dunce cap on your head. But when you’ve had it up to your ears with bickering or being misunderstood, take a time out. Remove yourself from the argument, take a step back from whatever is going on and give yourselves a moment to cool off and collect your thoughts. Marital discord is usually not one-sided, meaning that both parties share some responsibility in what might be going wrong. Take time to figure out where you might be able to right the ship, not just what your partner has done to screw things up. The time out if for you as much as it is for him or her.
Being sick doesn’t mean you get to stay home:
Who didn’t fake a sick day when they were young? Being able to stay at home, watch cartoons and slurp mommy’s chicken noodle soup sure made everything all better, didn’t it? But once you’re married with a family of your own, you’re no longer the baby. You pummel through your sickness and you work, even when you don’t want to. Don’t feel too bad though. Today’s cartoons aren’t as cool as they used to be.
Fake it in the kitchen but not in the bedroom:
There’s nothing wrong with telling your honey that the meal he just slaved over tastes pretty good even when it doesn’t. But one place you should never fake it is in the bedroom. Just as important as your spiritual, emotional and physical needs are, your intimate needs also deserve attention. If your sex life is a little bland or if your partner’s techniques aren’t bringing you to your happy place, you absolutely have to stop faking it and tell him or her what you really want. Don’t be shy. This is not the time to be embarrassed. You both deserved a sexually happy ever happy and you’ll never get it by faking it.
Never stop dating:
If you wined and dined to woo your lover into submission, you can’t stop that behavior once you put a ring on it. It’s true what they say: “Whatever you did to get ‘em is what you gotta do to keep ‘em.” If you find yourself falling out of love, think back to what you once did that helped you fall in love. Re-create as many of those moments as possible and have fun making new date night memories (and perhaps a baby or two).