On My Anniversary: My Best Advice for a Happy Marriage

It’s my anniversary, and I’m feeling philosophical.

I love being married.  I think it’s because I chose the right guy.  So in honor of my 11th anniversary, I’m offering up my 11 best marriage tips.

1.  Marry Your Best Friend.

From the beginning, I have loved spending time with my husband.  I knew he was “the one” when I would rather go renew my car tags with him than go for a picnic with anyone else.

Turns out, this is a recipe for success. The most important factor for a good marriage is a strong friendship.

2.  He’s the One. Really.

When things are tough–especially in the first year–the tendency is to abandon all sense of proportion (say, after he’s put the empty milk jug in the fridge, again) and wonder if you’ve made some epic mistake and married the wrong person. You didn’t. He’s the one. Don’t waste your energy on this.

3.  Marriage is Hard.  But Not in the Way You Expect.

I married a really great guy. Which, oddly enough, made for a frequently painful first year of marriage for me.  It was a good year, but suddenly I was partnered with another human being–with his own needs, desires, plans and schedules. Living with my husband that first year made me realize for the first time how selfish I really was. Discovering your own glaring faults is not fun.

But, as my husband said repeatedly during Year 1, if this is what “hard” looks like–bring it on!

4.  It’s What You Do Every Day That Counts.

Before I actually got married, I thought that a relationship was defined by its Big Moments. The Romantic Proposal, the Night on the Town, the Major Crisis, the Big Fight.  I was wrong.

It turns out, a marriage is made of a million little moments, and comparatively few Big Moments. The everyday things matter more.  The kiss good morning, the smile hello, the what-can-I-get-you-dear, the casual touch on the arm.  Or the lack thereof.  It’s the mundane, day-to-day moments that set the tone for the relationship.

5.  Sometimes You Will Want to Wage War.  Learn To Get Over It.

I have become blindingly infuriated with my husband over things so petty I wouldn’t dream of enumerating them here.  It happens.  Learn to deal with it.

Last time my husband and I were gridlocked over an issue that was minor but loaded with significance all the same, I happened to sit down to sort through some old papers.  My pile held a poem I’d saved that my sweet friend had written me for a bridal shower way back when, complete with goofy rhymes and (mild) potty talk. And a sweet sentiment along the lines of “he’ll do really stupid things sometimes, but remember–he’s crazy about you.”  The combination of humor and perspective brought me back to my senses.

6.  The Strangest Things Will Be Wonderful for Your Marriage

An example:  our marriage has benefited enormously by my going back to work part-time. A few hours a week, my husband watches the kids while I go to the office.

I never foresaw the positive effect this would have on our relationship.  Now I know what it’s like to come home from work to a waiting family.  And he knows what it’s like to stay home with the kids.  This deepened empathy for each others’ roles has been great for our relationship.  And navigating the logistics of two working parents keep us attuned to the day-to-day flow of each others’ lives.

7.  People Change–So Will Your Marriage.

You both are living, breathing, evolving people. Your marriage will also evolve. Things may have to be constantly re-thought and re-engineered.  The important thing is that you do it together. I love Lisa McMinn’s pithy quote:  “A strong marriage is one in which the husband and wife say to each other, ‘I am highly committed to your growth as a person.'”

8.  Go to Bed at the Same Time.

This is our favorite time to talk, and it’s good accountability to go to bed on time. 

9.  Timing is everything.

This one took me the better part of a decade to even begin to learn. When we were dating, I thought my man immediately wanted to hear every fascinating thought that popped in my head. Reality check:  there’s not much you can’t talk about with your spouse–if you choose your timing with care.

10. Create Good Boundaries.

Your marriage is the most important relationship in your life. Protect it. Work, friends, parents, in-laws–these things are all good, but don’t let them crowd out your husband.

Your spouse needs to be the most important person in your life. And he needs to know it by your actions.

11. Plan–But Know You’re Not in Control.

My husband and I have had so much fun planning and dreaming about our future over the years. But it’s laughable to look back and compare our reality with those grand schemes!  Make the plans, dream the dreams–but you don’t know what’s coming next. You may get a great job offer; you may lose your job. You may carefully lay out your plans for starting a family–but you can’t force a pregnancy (and you can’t always prevent one, either).

You don’t know what surprises are in store for you, so you can save yourself a lot of frustration by tacking this caveat onto your grand schemes.  You are not in control.

What are your best marriage tips?

To all you married ladies out there–especially if you have more happily married years under your belt than I do–what’s your best tip for a happy marriage?

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  1. Anon says:

    One thing I have learned the hard way is that the old saying “marriage is 50/50” is wrong. That saying meant a lot of naive expectations. Sometimes marriage 100/0. Sometimes one of the pair must give up something completely. For example: you may have a great job you love and your spouse is offered a super career opportunity across the country. Someone is going to give…possibly everthing. When that happens (and it will) you cannot “keep score”. Marriage is hard work and often sacrifice to self. That being said, I would marry my spouse again in less than a heartbeat. Love is grand.

  2. Allane says:

    Thanks for sharing this. My husband and I have been married for almost one year,and couldn’t agree more with many of your points.

    I especially appreciate the advice you gave about remembering he’s the one, and about making space in your life for another person and their ever evolving self. I think there are too many spokeswomen for the opposite positions, and it’s refreshing to hear your frankness on these issues.


  3. Anne, Happy Anniversary! Your points are fantastic. Thanks for all the tips.

    After more than ten years of marriage, I have to say my best tip is . . . R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It’s shocking, I know, but he craves it. He wants it. He needs it. Every word I say, especially when I’m mad, tell him how I feel about him. When I use a cutting tone or word, it tears at him. In turn, it tears at our our marriage. I am working to watch my tone of voice, body language and words and striving to show respect to him. What I say each and every day and how I say it tells him what I think of him. It is amazing how this one little thing has improved our marriage.

  4. Katie says:

    Congrats on 11 years together!

    Thanks so much for the great advice. My husband and I have been married for almost 2 years, one thing that helps us out a lot is when we get to upset to work out a problem we take a “time out” to get thoughts and emotions under control before discussing the issue again. That has helped so much in NOT saying things that we will regret later.

  5. Anne says:

    Happy anniversary! We are coming up on 5 years this summer, and so much of this post resonated with me! I blogged about it!

  6. Very good advice!

    Oddly enough, our first year of marriage wasn’t too bad. We both kept waiting for it to get hard, but it never did. However, our second year was really rough. We struggled to really put into action what we believed and mostly struggled with me trusting that my husband was a good leader {which is funny, because he’s never given me reason to doubt and has always been awesome}.

    One thing I’ve learned, and pass along to others, is, don’t worry how the bed gets made, at least he made it. I tend to be slightly OCD about things and would get so upset when my husband didn’t make the bed the exact way I wanted. I would downright refuse his help, because he didn’t do it just perfectly. One day, he looked at me and said “at least it got done”. We had been married about 3.5 years and a light bulb went off. Now, he still does things that bug me {the way he loads the dishes, makes the bed, etc} because they aren’t how I would do them. BUT, they got done. And in the end, after a long day, that’s really what matters.

  7. Jamie says:

    Congrats on your anniversary! My best suggestion is to always, always give your husband the benefit of the doubt and don’t let your mind invent stories. Men and women communicate and handle stress very differently; respect, trust and patience in times of uncertainty prevent a lot of pain and problems!

  8. Jessica says:

    First of all, congratulations on you anniversary! I love this post and agree with every single point. I love the reminder that it’s the little things that you do every day that matter. And we had the same experience in our marriage when I started to work. Yes, go to bed at the same time. We always do that and it surprises me that others don’t. I could just go on and on agreeing with every point, but I think I’ll just go share your wisdom on facebook

  9. oh amanda says:

    Happy Anniversary!

    “Living with my husband that first year made me realize for the first time how selfish I really was.” <—I have said this a million times! Marriage is hard b/c there are TWO people involved!

    Excellent post!

  10. Kasey says:

    Yes so true! Number 2 is probably the most important one. I think the mentality that we all have a soul mate out there is a huge reason for all the divorces. We get into marraige and realize our husband isn’t perfect then we start worrying we made a big mistake! If I had anything to add to your list it would be enter into marriage with much prayer and then keep praying!

  11. Lisa says:

    Advice from someone married 21 years. Marry someone you can respect and look up to. After God, put your H first. Some of you, like me, may be suprised by the depth of love that you have for your children and would be happy to play “mother” for the rest of your lives. Unfortunately, it’s only for a season and then the children leave. At that time you have to stay with your H and if you have nothing in common or don’t like each other … it can turn into hell on earth. So try to marry someone you actually like and love and then even if it goes against your feelings, put your H first through your whole marriage. I didn’t and I’m paying the price now.

  12. I’m liking you more and more…

    My husband and I celebrated our 11th anniversary on June 17th of this year. What a good day! And I agree with your list as well – especially #8, which we do, but so many couples don’t.

    Yep, your blog has just moved into my favorites list. 🙂

  13. Kim says:

    I know I’m late to post, but I had to add some GREAT practical advice that we received. If you know (or even if you’re unsure) that one of you would like to stay home with kids eventually, live on one income. The other income can be used build up a substantial savings account to be used for big extra expenses (student loans, car, furniture, down payment on a house) or for emergencies. When I decided to stay home with our baby, I had a lot of people tell me they wished they could do the same, but they couldn’t make it work financially. Now, living on one income meant we had to make frugal decisions and couldn’t have the newest toys or go out to eat regularly, but it’s been so worth it to have a nest egg and to be able to stay home with our little one.
    The other advice is to make sure you really understand what the other person is saying. It took us 3 years to realize that my husband and I meant different things by the word “leave.” When he said he wanted to leave by a certain time, it meant he wanted to be in the car ready to drive away. To me, “leave” meant grabbing my things and getting ready to go out the door. It took us almost 3 years of frustration (him being irritated and me being defensive) before we realized that we didn’t understand each other!

    • Anne says:

      I couldn’t agree more about the one income thing. Even if you don’t want to have kids or aren’t sure you do, living well within your means brings so much flexibility and freedom–to escape a bad job or accept a dream job, to switch cities or neighborhoods, to weather seasons of illness or stress or other kinds of crazy.

      I love your story about the word “leave.” It’s a little thing, but I can imagine how that made a HUGE difference in your family dynamics.

  14. 'Becca says:

    Great advice! I’ve been happily unmarried for 18 years now, and it’s not the most conventional relationship, but this is good advice for any relationship, and so is this poem that my grandmother had on her bulletin board:

    To keep your marriage brimming
    With love from the loving cup,
    Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
    Whenever you’re right, SHUT UP!

    It’s hard to stick to that, but when I do, it really works wonders.

  15. Sarah A. Nichols says:

    Hello Anne,

    Perhaps you can help me. I’ve bee married to my high school sweetheart for nearly 6 years (living together about 3 before that) and overall, it has been a good marriage. However, there has been one charachteristic that has truly gotten on my nerves; his arrogance. Now while this does not present any danger to me or my kids, it feels dismissive to what I think is important.

    For example, when comes to politics, he is conservative and often domainates the conversation. So to prevent further outbursts, I just let him go on and try to look more into the political issue before I present my argument. I also tell myself that America has gone through other changes that weren’t easy for some (e.g. Civil rights and of Jim Crow laws) so the LGBT has been a sore spot as well. Not that it’s my personal choice but it is happening. Other times I feel as though this task wasn’t done soon enough, or more questions answered, etc.

    This does not happen with every issue and I have raised it with him before. I’ve also become very quiet so he knows I am frustrated an for a while he does make an effort to truly listen but then we are sliding back to where it was before. There is another reason behind it; he was raised by a single mother with two older brothers so the loudest voice won (being Sicilian by descent is likely to be a part of it) and I was raised in a family where you let the person finish talking. To be consider him, I try to be concise.

    I try to not take this out on anyone and so far have been successful. However, it is really causing a strain on me to the point where I am thinking of escaping for a short while but don’t know where. I feel as though I am screaming inside, “LISTEN!” He does sense when I am upset and has tried to break the ice but I have the feeling he is fighting against himself as well.

    What to do as I could really use some help. I almost feel paralyzed.
    Thanks for listening. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Sarah, it sounds like this is a big deal to you, and I would strongly recommend you find a local counselor you can see either on your own or together. I’m a big fan of counseling personally, and even one session can help you process what’s going on and give you insight and possibly strategies to apply in your daily life. A counselor will also have insight into what’s a “big deal” issue and what’s a personality clash that can feel like a huge deal but requires understanding more than intervention.

      I’m wishing you well.

  16. Jane says:

    Going to bed at the same time is nice, but not necessarily because you will talk. Some people feel that bedtime is sleep time, and have a strong rule against talking in bed, and there’s nothing a partner can do about it, so let it go. Here’s one that I figured out, though–do get up at different times. Some people are just not morning people, and you can waste a lot of energy worrying why your partner is angry at you just because they scowl and won’t talk in the morning. Of course, trying to force them to engage in conversation will actually make them angry–a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can slip out of bed earlier, or stay in bed later, it avoids this tension. And if you can’t–keep to yourself! Don’t talk! Let them wake up in their own sweet time.

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