In my people-observations, the happiest married couples tend not to treat each other like spouses.

Couples enjoying the sun setting - Fishguard, Wales

Couple enjoying the sun setting – Fishguard, Wales

The happiest folks don’t act as if the other person is an appendage of themselves that they can abuse at will, overworking it to the point of pain, or in turn, pamper with attention or massages to the extent of self-absorption.

Those truly content in a relationship tend to behave the way you do when you first meet a person who attracts you into friendship—whether or not they are the opposite sex or same sex.

When someone intrigues you, your best foot keeps getting put forward as you want them to recognize the best parts of yourself.

You keep putting those best feet out there, obscuring the real, not so enjoyable parts of yourself from bubbling to the surface.

By the time that new person figures out the hidden you, they’re hooked on your inside goodness and your non-admirable parts are pushed away into I’ll-accept-your-flaws-if-you-accept-mine. 

A good idea

Happily married people, rather, treat each other like a fresh discovery, like they’re unwrapping a birthday present and seeing what’s inside for the first time. My sister Jackie and John have been married for nearly forty years. They drive each other nuts. There is abundant humor. They push each other’s buttons. There is unquestioning support. They have their crazy moments where one or the other goes for a long, soothing walk to get away, to breath fresh air the other isn’t contaminating. But whether in the world or alone, they treat each other with respect, kindness, and generosity.

Jackie, in response to the question of how does she think they stay married, once stated, “We wake up every day, look at each other and say, Yes, I want to do this again.” What a remarkable choice to make. 

Being happy in any relationship is about making the conscious choice to be present in it, to actively participate with your spouse, friend, sibling—whatever role that person plays. You cannot phone-in the behavior needed to be happy with someone. You have to be fully engaged and fully giving.

To stay happily married, wake up & say: Yes, I'll do this again. Click To Tweet

A happy marriage is also, decidedly, not about grand gestures. 

The Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus book talks about how men always think a gift must involve an over the top gesture. It doesn’t. Listen to me as I repeat this, Fellows, Most women don’t have to have the biggest, the most expensive, the most flamboyant whatever it is currently in vogue.

Am I saying that you never get your woman a special gift? Of course not. Thinking through something your lady would like—whether it’s the backpack you surprised her with (in green, of course) or the latest Michael Connelly novel (published before Christmas)—is important. If jewels are her thing, by all means indulge. Rather, I’m talking about the opportunities men often miss to give a simple item:

  • colorful cut flowers from your yard slipped into a vase and placed on the dining room table,
  • the potted Primrose my husband brings home from the grocery store each spring,
  • a sweet note left on the table before you walk out the door for work,
  • taking over a chore you both hate but that she does more often than you do—
  • any time you stop to think what might please her and thoughtfully execute that thing …

… you’re on solid ground for great giving.

Little things can be relationship deal breakers. 

They let your woman know she is thought about and sometimes that is the most critical thing for us—the being thought of. Small gestures, added up over time, create a loving atmosphere. When my husband attends a trade show and picks up swag in the form of a pair of green-rimmed sunglasses, I know he was thinking of me. If he returns from a business trip to find his favorite homemade cookies in the cupboard, he knows I was thinking of him. Neither of those given items are pricey, but the thought behind them is love-driven.

My Knight in Shining Armor gift book (new edition coming soon) is for women to show appreciation for the things their man does for them. The slips of paper are for us ladies to acknowledge, to be thankful for the little or big things. Every woman has told me she is happy to use it to say thank you when so often she has forgotten to to so.

Being happy in any relationship has two other components: liking the other person as their own entity and liking how being with that person makes you feel. They go hand in hand. If the other person is giving and kind, then you feel like a person who wants to give from her heart with kindness. 

Caring about what is important to one another is also necessary. 

Do you have to be joined at the hips and do everything together? In my opinion, no. Writer-me would go insane if Alex was firmly attached to my side (let alone what that would do to loner-him). Even if you are a woman who likes your man around a lot, you have to support the husband who enjoys a day of gaming with his friends or walking up mountain sides with only the dog for company. This time away from you means time for you. You get to indulge in your favorite pastimes, those separate things that keep you being you in a relationship involving two people.

Everyone of us wants to feel we are going through life contributing value to the world and especially to those people closest to us. How do you let your significant other—or family and friends!—know their importance?

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Read: My husband & his adventures in water. Sigh.