My husband and I have been together for well over a decade, and we recently celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary, but it should come as no surprise that we occasionally feel like we've fallen into the monotony of marriage and new parenthood. Admittedly, our lives can sometimes seem like a never-ending cycle of cooking dinner, putting our son down for bed, and squeezing in an episode of House of Cards every night, but there are also moments when we still feel like newlyweds. Take, for instance, the other week, when my husband randomly had a bouquet of flowers delivered to me—and it wasn't even my birthday. However, I'm hardly in a position to be dispensing advice on how to have a happy marriage (we've got decades to go and much to learn), and that's where relationship expert Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., comes in.
"All relationships have ruts," whether it's from boredom or doing the same routines week after week, says Orbuch, an Oakland University professor and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. "Couples who stay in those ruts see happiness erode over time." Want to know how to keep sparks flying, no matter how long you've been hitched?
Yes, having a successful marriage takes much more than true love—read on for Orbuch's top four tips to making marital bliss last.
Commit Acts of Appreciation Every Day
"My research finds that when you make your spouse feel valued, loved, and appreciated often, a couple is two times more likely to stay together over time," Orbuch explains. This can be accomplished with simple acts—romantic or not—like turning on the coffee pot in the morning before your partner wakes up, sending a greeting card or a sexy text, or even expressing your love in words with a random "I love you," she suggests.
Practice the 10-Minute Rule
Communication is key in any relationship, and maintaining a strong marriage goes beyond talking about who's paying the bills or delegating household chores, says Orbuch. "Real communication is when you share personal dreams, goals, stressors, and aspirations, [and that] leads to happy, healthy marriages."
Her strategy? "Practice the 10-minute rule: Every day, talk with your spouse for at least 10 minutes about something other than these four things: Work, family and children, chores, [and even] your relationship."
Take a cue from the dating world, and try these conversation starters to keep the fire going.
Sweat the Small Stuff
The idea of perfection is subjective, and that also holds true when it comes to marriage. Perhaps your S.O. has a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to doing the dishes, or maybe you've got a penchant for leaving dirty laundry outside of the hamper.
"Address the little things that irritate you or annoy you with your spouse," recommends Orbuch. "If you don't deal with small issues when they occur, minor annoyances can snowball and become big issues that are much more difficult to unpack. Don't let it fester inside you, and don't let them accumulate over time," she says.
Break Your Routine
"For marriages to be happy over time, you need to implement change or knock your partner off-kilter just a little bit to get out of that boredom [and] upset the routine," Orbuch says.
For example, consider signing up for a new dance class together, wake up before your alarm goes off, and take a stroll outside, or even swap the typical dinner-and-a-movie night for a brunch or lunch date instead, she says.
Think you've unlocked the secrets to a happy marriage? Let us know your top tips in the comments.