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

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. 

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. They crack each other up. They push each other’s buttons. They support each other. 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 tag you call that person by. 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 every day and say: Yes, I'll do this again. #marriage 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 once surprised her with (in green, of course) or the latest Michael Connelly novel (always published before Christmas)—is important. If jewels are her thing, by all means indulge. But 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 for me, I know he was thinking of me as he walked the room. 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.

I created My Knight in Shining Armor gift book (new edition coming out soon) for women to be able to show appreciation for the things their man does for them with short notes. 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 good and giving and kind, then you probably feel like a good 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, even when that means time away from you. Those moments are for you to indulge in your favorite things to do, those separate things in life that keep you being you in a relationship involving two people.

We all, 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 your family and friends!—know they are important to you?

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