Marriage hacks
October 3, 2014 10:42 AM   Subscribe

You used to have a good, stable marriage. Now you have a fantastic marriage -- the kind of marriage where you are happy to wake up in the morning and see your spouse. How did you get to that point?

I searched and couldn't find a similar question so hopefully this hasn't been asked before. To be clear, I am not looking for things like "one weird trick that will save your marriage!" I am already happy with my marriage and get along well with my spouse. But I want to know how to take it from good to AMAZING. Are there specific habits you've gotten into that have helped with communication and closeness? Specific advice books that made a difference? (We've already read Gottman's books). Specific shared experiences/travels that brought you closer? Specific cohabiting hacks that make it easier to live with someone who has a different sleep schedule and cleanliness level than you? Other things??

We don't have kids and aren't going to, so kid-related advice is not necessary. Thanks!
posted by Librarypt to Human Relations (32 answers total) 297 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This probably varies depending on whether you're the type of people who like routine or not. But for me, it's been really wonderful to establish routines of expressing affection, and even to be able to communicate those needs out loud. I said to my partner, "I think I'd like it if you always came and gave me a kiss in the morning when I get out of the shower" and now we do that. I look forward to it because I know it's coming! Similarly, since my partner leaves the house in the morning before I do, I always stop what I'm doing and stand up and go to give her a kiss goodbye and wish her a nice day. It's a way to keep ourselves from getting caught up in something else and taking each other for granted, especially at times when we're not really doing something fun, just getting through the must-do of the day. I think we both find the routine comforting and essential. If you're the kind of person who likes spontaneity this might not be for you, however.
posted by marginaliana at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

Best answer: So many little things come to mind for me - they may or may not apply to you!

* Regular intimacy. (Sex, of course but also hugs, kisses, hand-holding, walking with his arm around me, spooning in bed)
*Telling each other we love each other every day no matter what
*Good, direct communication. We tell each other what we want/need from each other - no game playing, no guessing, just direct words. It took him a while to realize that I was saying exactly what I needed or exactly how I was feeling... it's been the number one thing I would advise for anyone in a relationship.
*Spending time apart with our own friends and having our own interests and hobbies
*Discovering new TV shows/Films/Documentaries together
*I remind myself every day how lucky we are to have found each other
posted by JenThePro at 11:14 AM on October 3, 2014 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Something that hugely benefited my marriage, was taking the time to do things for ourselves.

What I mean is - taking up a hobby that is good for you and takes some time away where you can spend alone time or time with your friends and not your spouse 24/7. Several years ago, I had a pretty good marriage - we had some issues, but not really more than maybe your average married couple.

I took up a hobby - working out, in specific - and spent a fair amount of time at the gym, taking an interest in myself, going and getting my hair done and nails done (for example) and that really helped our relationship even more. Not as much of the vain aspect of it that I looked better (which is more obvious) but the layers that went with it -- I just FELT better - and because I had a hobby and something I was really interested in, I didn't feel the need to crowd my husbands space all the time.

Once again, this was specific to MY marriage, and I know everyone's is totally different. Kind of hard to give insight when relationships are so incredibly complex.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 11:14 AM on October 3, 2014 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Walks. At least weekly. We talk about how we're feeling individually, about work, our family and friends, and about our relationship. Walking is nice for it's own sake, too, where we can point out chipmunks or birds or an interesting building, but the regular processing and check-in of walking does wonders for our relationship because it gives a built-in outlet for annoyances or problems before they become a big deal.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:17 AM on October 3, 2014 [29 favorites]

Best answer: David Schnarch on YouTube. Also his book, Passionate Marriage.
posted by Fairchild at 11:34 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Voluntary foot rubs.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:36 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Sara_not_Sarah above, I was going to say that you need to allow for space to do things apart. Mrs. Intermod and I have a routine where we spend one evening apart per week, me doing my thing and she doing hers. You shouldn't have to spend every free minute together ... but when we're back together, we can talk about what we did!
posted by intermod at 11:36 AM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My husband and I end each day doing what we call "What did you like today". What happens is that at the end of the day when we go to bed we snuggle together, and we each take turns listing off everything we liked that day, with extra emphasis on the things we did together or the things the other person did for them. Once we've both said our lists we sometimes talk for a bit, or snuggle, but we end it with a kiss and saying "I love you" to each other. It makes sure we end the day positively, it gives a great opportunity to express gratitude and acknowledge all the things we do for each other that often get taken for granted. We have done "What did you like today" every single night since our wedding night, even on nights when we're angry with each other. Once or twice we have had times where one of us has been in a horrible mood and make some excuse that there wasn't ANYTHING they liked that day, but even then we always end up coming up with something that we liked.

To me, "What did you like today" is one of the best parts of my day and I feel strongly that it is part of why we are so happily married.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:37 AM on October 3, 2014 [167 favorites]

Best answer: One thing that made a huge difference for us was that I realized about 10 years into our marriage that all conflict is not bad. I used to imagine that any disagreement (which in my mind meant drama, if not arguments) was poisonous. I eventually learned that the disagreements were natural and normal, what was hurtful was the surpression and/or manner of resolving them. Once I figured that out, everything got a lot easier. I'm much better at the processing of hearing and being heard and it turns out that in 99% of the cases, simply fully understanding each other led to resolution and it is exponentially easier to determine compromises for the few remaining issues that didn't resolve once we understood how each other felt. I honestly think that building effective conflict resolution and communication skills was the magic bullet that transformed our marriage from good to great.

In terms of tangible actions, one key decision led to pronounced improvement for us, which is scheduling time together (both for just sitting and conversing and for date nights). Life sometimes can be pretty complicated and it can be easy to lose focus of each other while you deal with the thousand and one crises that arise. It really helps us stay connected if we make sure we have at least a weekly block of time set aside to really pay attention to each other.
posted by Lame_username at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Realize that you both are so, so annoying to live with sometimes.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 11:43 AM on October 3, 2014 [48 favorites]

Best answer: I'm fond of the love languages concept. What does your partner need to feel loved? Gifts, services, compliments, quality time, and physical touch are the ones I hear most frequently. If for example you need touch to feel loved, and you touch Partner a lot, you are expressing your love language. But if P is not touch, and P is compliments, P may not feel loved since you are not giving P said compliments. Thus P feels unloved, and you may not be getting the touches back that you need to feel loved.

Also, seriously, hash out any arguments you have as best you can! Brooding on shit hatches nasty eggs.
posted by Jacen at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: We've used PuppetMcSockerson's "state of the union" idea to weasel out any partnership aspects that might have fallen under the radar, whether in terms of needing improvement, or good things to be appreciated. We came up with categories (family, friends, sex, self-actualization, etc.), and each individually come up with pros and cons in each category, then discuss them, and finish up with what the action items are as a result. We do it once every six months -- it's like a relationship spring cleaning.

(With this and the "what did you like today" idea that I am immediately stealing and implementing, we should be paying royalties to Puppet at this point.)
posted by Pwoink at 12:02 PM on October 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: A few years ago, I was reading The Soul of Baseball, about ex Negro League baseball star Buck O'Neill. In the book, he is asked about the secret to his 51 year marriage. I think he nailed it.

That’s how it goes in this world. Life doesn’t turn out the way you think. You just hold on to each other. That’s the trick.

I've been married 23 years, and I think that is basically it. Two people decide they are going to make it though this world together, and they simply refuse to let any of the petty bullshit get in the way of their happiness.
posted by COD at 12:03 PM on October 3, 2014 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Don't keep score. Don't think, "Well, Spouse did something crappy, so I get to do something crappy too." Confront Spouse on the spot, and then let it go.

Every now and then, ask yourself "Would I rather be right than happy?" And then ask yourself "Would I rather be right than let Spouse be happy?"

Like Sara_not_Sarah says, it's okay for each of you to not like things the other person likes. Don't try to force them to. They are not judging you for liking them.

Define cleaning tasks. "Clean the bathroom" can mean vastly different things to different people, so spell out, "Wipe down the shower stall. Scrub the toilet even if it doesn't look dirty. Keep two rolls of paper under the sink at all times." If you are messier than Spouse, make an honest effort to remember how clean they like things. If you are cleaner than Spouse, remember that they probably honestly don't see the dirt that you do.

Sit down every weekend and talk about your schedules. Not just "I will be at work until 5, and then I'll come home, and then..." but also "I have that huge presentation on Thursday, and it's freaking me out."
posted by Etrigan at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding the differences in cleanliness: if you can, get a cleaner.
posted by corvine at 12:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I forgot about our State of the Union technique, but it also is HUGELY powerful for us. Nothing ever festers or gets bottled up for long.

The similarity between the State of the Union and "What did you like today" is that they force the acknowledgement of relationship patterns, both good and bad. Good things get acknowledged and the person who did the good thing feels appreciated and valued and therefore more likely to repeat said good thing. Bad things get discussed and addressed before they have the chance turn in to Big Things. We have created time and opportunity to communicate honestly and openly with each other.

With this and the "what did you like today" idea that I am immediately stealing and implementing, we should be paying royalties to Puppet at this point.

Honestly, it makes me super happy to know that the things we do have helped you too. No royalties required. :)

posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:19 PM on October 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: One of the things that really reinforces my love for my other half is that he never puts me down, privately or in public.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:07 PM on October 3, 2014 [22 favorites]

Best answer: One thing my wife and I do a lot is thank one another. "You cleaned the kitchen! Thanks!" "Thanks for taking out the trash." "Thanks for hugging me when I was feeling down."

It's all stuff that we'd do for one another, but we've become very good at acknowledging and thanking one another for being sweet and helpful.
posted by explosion at 1:18 PM on October 3, 2014 [38 favorites]

Best answer: Talk. Not on the couch. Get naked, get into bed, hug each other & talk. Do it every night before you go to sleep. No matter what happens during the day, talk. Talk about the good things, the bad things, your goals for tomorrow, that annoying driver on the way to work. Make sure both parties talk & reconnect. Do it last thing. It's too easy to end the day in your own little bubble of worries & routine, reconnect with this person you love, remind yourself why you love them & fall asleep to that.

Always have their back. In public no matter what they do. I suck at this but am trying to get better.

A really bad memory also helps. I've forgotten more arguments & disagreements we've had through shitty memory than I'd like to admit, but it's been great for our relationship because my husband does the same.

Acknowledge when the other person is right & you are wrong.
posted by wwax at 1:19 PM on October 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: We do the "Thank you" thing. Mainly because I was raised in a house where politeness was a way of showing love but also because it's honestly refreshing to be thanked for doing the dishes and it takes away a lot of those little petty feelings.
posted by teleri025 at 2:34 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: On the "different levels of cleanliness" Mr. barchan and I each have very different levels in different spaces, so we've discovered this:

a) Declutter. There's dirty messiness and untidy messiness - get rid of 1 of those by getting rid of stuff.
b) The person who really cares -i.e., I care about the kitchen, he cares about laundry - gets the primary responsibility for that area. Of course we want the other person to care a little, but this deflects building resentment. And make sure both of you thank each other all the time - every day - for the work they do. (I thank my husband for hanging the clothes, which he cares about, and he will thank me for getting them out of the dryer promptly, which I don't care about - it works both ways.)
c) We each have our area where we can be as messy or neat as we want and get to let it out - and we compromise on the rest. One common way we compromise is to tidy up together.
d) And say thank you all the time. Thank the other person for being tidier then they want to be; thank the other person for the work they do; thank each other for being flexible and compromising.
posted by barchan at 2:35 PM on October 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: One thing my wife and I do a lot is thank one another. "You cleaned the kitchen! Thanks!"

Seconding this. It's basically the one thing my husband has asked for, and he is so right. It's easy to take for granted the routine things the other person does, as if they do it because they like to, or as if gross jobs become less gross over time. And it's easy to feel grumbly if you are doing a job that is gross/unpleasant and the other person doesn't acknowledge it. So yeah, say "thank you" for the little things, mowing the lawn, scooping the cat box, taking out the stinky trash, or whatever.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Specific to different sleeping schedules, my partner goes to bed hours later than I do, but I think it is just the perfect set-up. He comes into the bedroom with me and tucks me in, where we do things like cuddle, chat, cuddle while talking about what our schedules are like the next day, have sex - whatever we're feeling that night. He will usually stay until I've started falling asleep - then he'll kiss me goodnight and turn off the light. Then I get the luxury of falling asleep with the whole bed to myself, and then wake up to the luxury of him wrapping himself around me when he comes to bed. Your mileage may vary depending on your sleep habits, but I find that it is the most relaxing way to go to sleep every night - I'm a pretty anxious person, but I go to sleep pretty peacefully.

We also shamelessly (while alone!), talk ourselves up as a couple - we reminisce about how we met or our favorite romantic or sexy times together, talk about just how much we rock in general as a couple. It can be cartoony and silly, but it really gives us some solid reserves of goodwill when times get tough.

I think it really just comes down to focusing on how much we really deeply enjoy each other.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 3:03 PM on October 3, 2014 [19 favorites]

Best answer: We also shamelessly (while alone!), talk ourselves up as a couple - we reminisce about how we met or our favorite romantic or sexy times together, talk about just how much we rock in general as a couple. It can be cartoony and silly, but it really gives us some solid reserves of goodwill when times get tough.

Seconding this! We do this, too. We're a partnership, a team, and we're always talking about what an awesome team we are and giving each other high-fives (and yeah, by ourselves, of course).

We call ourselves "Team Awesome," and when something goes right, especially as a "team effort," or our skills and efforts complement each other, we're quick to acknowledge it. "Team Awesome scores again!" is a common refrain around our house, whether it's a promotion for one of us, finding a great book for the other spouse, or getting a bank loan together. And part of that is also the shamelessly telling the other person how awesome they are, and what they "bring to the team." Something like, "These are great eggs, honey - just another day on Team Awesome!" It is silly, but it really re-enforces our relationship and our thinking of ourselves as a unit, and also allows us to just flood our partner with appreciation and love in a goofy but sincere way.
posted by barchan at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2014 [24 favorites]

We also celebrate our failures together as my husband just texted me that Team Awesome has a typo. Reinforces, darn it.
posted by barchan at 4:10 PM on October 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great ideas (especially the "What did you like today" conversation). Best answers for all!!
posted by Librarypt at 4:22 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone here long ago described (or quoted from a book?) a strategy of asking the other person what their "100 percent" would be -- that is, being honest about what you want from the situation, rather than just talking about what you think might be possible, or first taking into account your ideas about the other person's expectations.

We don't use that language, but just being honest about what each of us is feeling and wants has helped enormously. It's so easy to edit and curtail what we say based on our ideas of what the other person expects and desires, when in fact they might be not just ok but actively supportive of what you really and truly want.

It's so easy to say "communicate!" but it's not so easy to do; we work on it every day and when we get it right it is incredibly rewarding.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

Similar to Team Awesome, my partner and I high-five each other for jobs well done, or at least finished. Did taxes? High-five! Took five bags of stuff to Goodwill? High-five! Joint tasks especially, but this could be solo triumphs as well.

Also, I've found that using a texting app (KakaoTalk) that supports varied emojis and animated emoticons really lets us express annoyance or grumpiness with each other while also de-escalating the harshness of the emotion. I don't want to bottle up my dissatisfaction with a situation, but I also don't want to lash out and make it a bigger deal than it is. It helps me be truthful about my emotions in an unthreatening way.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:22 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this counts because we have always had what I consider to be an awesome relationship. But anyway.

Sometimes laying in bed at night, I turn to my husband and ask, "will you chitchat with me for a little while?" And although he is not a night owl like I am, he usually says yes, and then we lay awake in the dark and have meandering conversation. These conversations are simply sharing time - we don't try to solve anything that is broken in our respective lives, we don't try to analyze anything too hard. We just share what we are thinking and feeling. Any thought, no matter how random or inane, is appropriate for "chitchat time." Something about the darkness and warmth makes it easy to get to the heart of my own feelings and his supportive presence helps me process.

We do the same thing on car trips.
posted by mai at 1:52 PM on October 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Had a kid.
posted by OmieWise at 10:54 AM on October 6, 2014

I hope these hacks work on non-marriage relationships as they are actually pretty good.

My best advice is learn to tolerate the other person's feet and you're essentially there.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:45 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

If there's a household situation I don't like (sink full of dishes, garbage not taken out, litter box full of shit, carpet not vacuumed, etc.) I deal with it myself instead of complaining to my wife. If it bothers me, it's my responsibility to fix it. If she sees me doing it, I can always ask her if she'd mind lending a hand.
posted by starbreaker at 12:23 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

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