As you're planning your nuptials with your beloved, you've likely learned more about how they communicate, deal with stress, and other components essential to understanding someone in a relationship. While everyone in a relationship knows that it takes work and respect, it's also important to note that many couples deal with more struggles as they enter into a lifelong commitment.
Since many couples hope the honeymoon phase lasts a lifetime, we asked Laura Doyle, author of the newly published book The Empowered Wife, to share her advice for brides who want their marriage to be a happy one along every step of the way. Read her tips below!
When it comes to keeping the magic alive for a lifetime, here’s what I know now: forget about premarital counseling or talking exhaustively about how to parent, where to live, and how much to save for retirement.
Turns out that song about how the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return was right – sustained romance is a matter of learning a few simple skills.
I didn’t learn Intimacy SkillsTM before my wedding, and just a few years later I believed I had married the wrong man. I dragged my husband to counseling but ended up feeling more hopeless than ever when he didn’t want to spend time with me or even be intimate.
I thought my only options were to spend the rest of my life in a loveless relationship or to divorce. But when happily married women explained to me a few of their personal practices, something magical happened. The man who wooed me, he returned.
One of the big secrets these happily married women taught me was that women are the keepers of the relationship and that we have the power to make it happy and intimate – or stressful and tense. Just as Spider-Man learned: with great power comes great responsibility. I believe we women have a responsibility to learn the skills that contribute to lasting love and to pass them on to each other.
Here are five things I wish every bride knew, but most don’t.
1. Respect is Like Oxygen for Husbands
Men need respect the way wives need love. That doesn’t mean you always agree with him because there will be lots of times you won’t! But it does mean you honor his thinking instead of second-guessing or trying to improve on it.
I wish I had known this before I spent so many years giving my husband suggestions about how to write a resume, create a budget, or load the dishwasher. As it turns out, “helpful” in wife language equals “critical” in husband language.
These days, I trust my husband to think for himself and I expect the best outcome. Not only is he happier, we get to spend most of our time together laughing and holding hands.
Recently, I was brushing crumbs off of the counter and he said, “Don’t move.” He pulled out his phone to take my picture. It feels wonderful to be so loved after 28 years of marriage, and I feel confident know it means that my husband feels respected.
2. Express Your Desires
One of the unfortunate habits I had when I was an untrained newlywed was complaining about the mess around the house. I would say, “John, this kitchen is a disaster!”
I expected him to jump off the couch and start cleaning the kitchen, but that never happened. I’ve since learned that men can’t even hear us when we’re complaining, so all he heard was “John, blah blahblahblah.”
Finally, I learned that if my husband knew how to make me happy, he was much more motivated, so I started saying, “I would love a clean kitchen.” That was over 15 years ago and he’s been doing the dishes ever since.
Your husband wants to make you happy, and expressing your desires instead of complaining will give him instructions on how to do that successfully. That could be “I would love a puppy,” “I would love a bigger house,” or “I would love a day off from the kids.” Anything goes when it comes to your desires, as long as you’re not demanding or expecting – just hoping.
3. Listen Without Agreeing or Disagreeing
Sometimes your spouse will want to blow off steam. He may say he’s going to quit his job immediately because he’s so mad at his boss. You’ll likely be alarmed and be tempted to say, “Maybe you should sleep on it.” Or, you could jump on board and say, “Yeah, he’s never appreciated you!”
But is that what he really wants?
We all have a deep need to be heard and understood. Listening to your husband without weighing in with your opinion is a wonderful way to create emotional safety, which is critical for intimacy.
One powerful way to do that is to use this magical, three-word phrase: “I hear you.” That’s it. Not “I hear you and I think…” or “I hear you but what about…” Just “I hear you” is a wonderful way to show that you’re bearing witness to his experience and that his words matter to you.
4. Keep Doing What Makes You Happy
One new bride tried to take up golf because her husband loved it. She took lessons, bought a set of clubs, and practiced, thinking it was a great way to spend time together.
Instead, she realized that she missed going to her dance classes. Despite her efforts, she just didn’t love golf.
No couple ever got happier because she gave up doing something she loved to spend more time together. Doing what fills you up and makes you happy makes you a magnet to your man. You’re never hotter than when you’re smiling, laughing, singing, or dancing.
5. Talk to Your Girlfriends
When I tried to make my husband my sole source of emotional support, he felt smothered and overwhelmed, and I felt unsupported and miserable. That’s because one mere mortal man is not enough.
Some days it takes two sisters, three best friends, and my husband to put me right again. My friends help make my marriage magical because they help make me happy. Sure, my husband is my best friend – and all my other friends help keep it that way.
6. Apologize When Necessary
When I suggested that Sharon consider apologizing for being disrespectful, she was clearly skeptical that this was necessary or appropriate. I knew how she felt, I still get uncomfortable about apologizing for being disrespectful too, especially if I’m also feeling hurt.
Sharon hated the whole idea of it. Apologize? Blech!
But she decided to do it anyway.
She thought of something specific and said, “I apologize for being disrespectful when I argued with you about taking the freeway at rush hour.”
She didn’t say, “If I was disrespectful” or add any explanation or justification. She just said that one sentence. Then she was quiet and waited for him to say, “Oh, you weren’t disrespectful. Don’t worry about it.”
But to her shock, he didn’t. He looked completely sincere when he thanked her for the apology.
And then something magical happened: The atmosphere between them changed. The tension left the building. He looked calm and relieved.
She told me how nervous and amazed she felt, knowing just how quickly she could restore the connection once she knew what to do.
7. Let Him Make You Happy
Of course you want your husband to be happy too, but here’s the twist I never realized until after I had already driven my relationship into a ditch: the way to make your husband happy is to let him make you happy.
Better yet, make yourself happy and appreciate him. Let him know how happy he makes you. Asking him what he wants so you can do it for him will never, ever be as magical as letting him be your hero.
Laura Doyle is The New York Times best-selling author of The Surrendered Wife, The Surrendered Single, and her latest book, First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors.