Five Secrets of a Happy Marriage: Essential Marriage Tips from Real Therapists

In Seven Secrets of a Happy Marriage, the author of Ladies' Home Journal's "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" uses the stories of real-life couples to illustrate the essentials of every great relationship. Learn how to strengthen your marriage with tips, tricks and advice on housework, communication and sex from real marriage therapists.
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A 30-Minute Marriage-Saver

To feel loved and nurtured, we must believe deep down that our partner is really there for us. That sounds simple, but it's far more complicated than most couples realize. Although Sally and Gary insisted that they were being attentive, they had difficulty being empathetic. That's significant: Marital researchers have found that couples who help each other weather stressful situations outside the marriage have stronger, happier relationships than those who can't.

The key is empathy. Empathy isn't the same as sympathy or pity. It means being able to put yourself in another's position, to feel what they feel and see what they see, without losing yourself in the process. And it means you do all that even though you may disagree with a partner's perception, opinions, or feelings. Take 30 minutes a day, at a time that works best for both of you, to empathize with the stresses and strains you are each experiencing in other areas of your life. It can make a difference between a marriage that succeeds and one that fails. Consider:

Empathy Don'ts

  • Don't stonewall (ignore what a partner is saying).
  • Don't minimize a spouse's concerns: "What's the big deal?" "You're always so sensitive!"
  • Don't rush to fix the problem: "Well, if I were you I'd..." or "You should have..." Many people mistakenly believe that downplaying worries or offering advice is helpful. In fact, pat reassurances often magnify negative feelings, since they force a person to try even harder to feel acknowledged. Women especially resent a partner's interruption with solutions, preferring instead to simply vent and know that someone is really listening.

Empathy Dos

  • Do pay attention. Set aside the newspaper or catalog and turn off the TV when your partner is talking. An occasional uh-huh or nod of the head indicates you haven't zoned out.
  • Do validate feelings. "He gave that special assignment to the new recruit? I can see why you're annoyed."
  • Do ask questions with genuine interest. Make sure your partner knows you heard what he or she has said. "So how did you respond to him?"
  • Do respond with affection, understanding, and support: "I'm really sorry you have to put up with that." "Oh, sweetheart, that could happen to anyone. Don't be so hard on yourself."
  • Do show support. Take your spouse's side. "I think your boss went a little overboard, too," is appropriate. "Well, you shouldn't have been late in the first place" isn't.

Excerpted from Seven Secrets of a Happy Marriage: Wisdom from the Annals of "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"

Continued on page 2:  Rules for a Fair Fight


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