The Magic Five Hours for a Successful Marriage

the magic 5 hours for a successful marriage

One of my five big-picture goals for 2014 is to cultivate a thriving marriage. As I reflect on how to do that this year, I keep coming back to Gottman’s magic five hours–which makes this post from September 2011 feel incredibly timely. Thanks for reading! 

What separates successful marriages from failing ones?  Surprisingly, the answer is five hours a week.

Marriage researcher John Gottman found that couples in positive relationships invest an extra five hours each week in their marriages, in very specific ways.  Says Gottman, “The approach works so phenomenally well that I’ve come to call it the Magic Five Hours.”

Here’s how to work the magic 5 hours into your own relationship:

1.  Partings: Give warm farewells.  Gottman estimates this takes a mere 2 minutes, for 5 workdays per week:  a total of 10 minutes per week.

2.  Greetings: Have a debriefing conversation together at the end of each workday.  Gottman allows for a 20 minute chat, for 5 workdays:  a total of 1 hour 40 minutes per week.

3.  Admiration and appreciation: Find a way to compliment your spouse every day and to show them you appreciate them–a 5 minute task, 7 days a week:  a total of 35 minutes.

4.  Affection: Show physical affection for your spouse.  Hug, pat, kiss, touch.  Gottman specifically advises goodnight kisses!  5 minutes a day, 7 days a week:  a total of 35 minutes.

5.  Weekly date: This is the big one, time-wise.  Gottman allows for 2 hours, once per week, to connect, chat, dream, plan, and enjoy each other’s company.

Take a look at the time you spend on your own relationship.  Do you make time for these little–but significant–things in your own life?

This content is adapted from John Gottman’s excellent book The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

What‘s a little–but significant–thing you would recommend to others for investing in their own relationships?

*****     *****     *****

Do you ever feel like everyone you know recommends you read the same book, all at once? For me right now, that book is The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. It’s already on my nightstand, but you can pick up the ebook for $2.99 right now over at Amazon.

Also on my nightstand: Code Name Verity, Wonder, Renovation of the Heart, and Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

This post contains my affiliate links. Thanks for supporting MMD!


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  1. Linda says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with these findings. It’s not the cruises or gifts of jewelry, it’s the small, daily gifts of self that make all the difference. We’ve been practicing for 23 years:-)

  2. Amber @ says:

    Good list! I also try to send a text or an e-mail during the day, just to let him know I am thinking about him, or some other positive message.

  3. Audrey says:

    I love Gottman’s work. This isn’t a little thing, but I think his differentiation between a complaint versus a criticism is super important. It’s one thing to complain about something (“You left dirty dishes out”), but it’s harmful to criticize (“You are such a slob!”) because it conveys that you don’t respect your spouse.

  4. Lori says:

    Whenever I mentor women, I give them 2 assignments:

    Smile at their husband a lot…
    Stop arguing…Bite your tongue a lot…

    It is amazing how these 2 things can help a marriage a whole lot!

    • Jenn says:

      I disagree with the Stop arguing… bite your tongue. Holding things in builds resentment in a relationship and can make one partner feel their opinions or feeling do not matter as much as their partners.

  5. These suggestions are great.
    It really comes down to simply extending grace towards your spouse, doesn’t it? You have to start with the assumption, the deep down belief that he does love you, and he is not trying to annoy or neglect you. Then you don’t take little things personally, or feel affronted and overly sensitive all the time. If he does something annoying (like the leaving the proverbial toilet seat up), you need to assume he was simply forgetful and not take it as a sign that he doesn’t care about you.
    Obviously, I’m not talking about turning a blind eye to real issues- they need to be talked about and addressed. But when it comes to every-day living, we gotta just relax more. At least, this is what I’m learning. My husband deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    • Ashley, this is SO wise. I’m learning that in marriage, it’s so important to not sweat the little annoyances, and on the reverse side, really pay attention to the little things he does to help–like doing the dishes, changing the sheets, putting up the toilet seat, etc. 🙂

    • Andrea says:

      Indeed! This reminds me of advice from Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home: “Make the positive argument” — in other words, when you think of something negative that your husband has just done (and your brain starts quickly hopping down that rabbit trail to find even more evidence to support your conclusion), force yourself to make the opposite (positive) argument. I think this trick helps me a lot. I may be tempted to think, “My husband’s not thinking of me; he’s just putting himself first,” but then I stop and force myself to say, “My husband puts me first a lot.” And then evidence starts coming to mind of the ways in which he does put me first. It can be a helpful technique in those tense moments!

  6. I definitely think it’s important to stop whatever you are doing and greet them when they get home or when you get home. Make them a priority – it says volumes!
    And when I get frustrated, I always remind myself that he is ultimately for me, that he loves me and isn’t my enemy.
    Grace, LOTS of GRACE. 🙂
    Great post!

  7. I do most of these things. The weekly date night is a little harder to plan than the others, although it’s just as important. But we try really hard to have one or two nights a week when we’re home, just us. Being newly-married-without-kids makes that a little easier. 🙂

    A few other things I’d recommend that make a huge difference in a marriage:
    Pray. For and with each other. Coming to the Lord in prayer together is a more unifying act than anything else in marriage.
    Eat meals together as much as possible, and try not to eat in front of the TV very often. This is an opportunity to sit down together without any distractions and spend a few minutes talking, laughing and catching up.
    Don’t talk about money or anything else that gets you stressed in bed, especially not right before you go to sleep. The bed and bedroom should be a sanctuary, a place of relaxation, refreshment and peace.
    Keep your bedroom clean and tidy, for the same reason as the above.
    Flirt! With each other only, of course, but keep at it like you’re still dating, to keep your love life fresh and fun. 🙂

    The most important aspect of any marriage is FORGIVENESS. You’ll both mess up, a lot. But I figure, considering how much God forgives me, the least I can do is forgive my husband.

    • Anne says:

      Good tips, Jaimie! I especially like the one about not talking about anything stressful in bed. I’d not heard that before but it makes sooo much sense!

  8. Rebecca says:

    Great post…thank you for sharing!
    My only suggestion: These are a goal, not a right. There will be seasons of life when your significant other won’t or can’t even manage these basic aspects of maintaining a relationship. That says far more about them than it does about you.

  9. Hannah says:

    For us, giving the kids an 8:00 bedtime is really key. We choose to let them wake up earlier in the mornings just so we can have that last couple of hours to unwind together and just talk without interruption!

  10. Jamie says:

    All the tips in this post and the comments are great! My only addition is to ask your spouse what one or two things are most important or have the most impact on them and to put them at the top of your priority list. It can be as simple as asking if there’s anything in particular he’d like to see on the dinner menu in the next couple weeks or pouring him a glass of juice every morning while you wait for your coffee to brew. Just knowing that you respect and remember his priorities goes a long way!

    • Anne says:

      Yes, excellent point. And on a similiar note, it’s helpful in my own marriage when I tell my husband what my own priorities are for each day/week/season. He knows what I’m trying to accomplish and how I’m making decisions.

  11. Amy says:

    I love these ideas! We already have a weekly date night (which is great), but I recently started making myself actually be awake when my husband leaves in the mornings so I can see him off. He’s a commuter and I’m NOT a morning person, so it was a challenge at first, but I can tell that it makes a real difference.

  12. Christine says:

    Great post. Our best marriage boost . . . laughter. Laugh together. Laugh at yourselves. Laugh at his jokes (even if you’ve heard them before, or if they’re not so funny – but my hubbies’ are always funny!). It brings us closer and makes us stronger.

  13. We do most of these. Unless it is a late night for him and I am asleep when he gets home. And a weekly date sounds wonderful, but sometimes it has to be sidelined. He works full-time as a minister and is in school full-time and we have two children, one with special needs. We grab our time where we can.

  14. Basically you just have to be thinking about and prioritizing each other–that’s what it all boils down to. We can’t do weekly dates, either. With 3 kids (going on 4) that’s a money-sucker that just isn’t there. But we do try to turn off the TV/computer a couple nights a week and just talk from kids’ bedtime to ours. Sometimes we’re better about that than others.

  15. Pingback: Thanks & Praise Thursdays #5: Date Night | Grumbling & Gratitude
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  17. Wow, Anne, thanks for sharing! I have an amazing relationship with my husband of eight years and people always ask us the key to our marriage. I can never give a concise answer but I just realized it’s the five things you’ve just listed here. That and keeping God first in our life. I love it! The Magic Five Hours… Fantastic!

  18. nicole says:

    Notice when your spouse does something for you. Of course we don’t serve each other because we want recognition, but it feels good to know your gesture is noticed too. My husband tries to put gas in my car for me, and I always tell him thank you when I get in the car and the tank is full. It is just a small, thoughtful gesture on his part but it means a lot to me.

    • Anne says:

      Nicole, I love that example! (And since my husband and I trade cars a lot, that’s a specific gesture that means a lot to me, too.)

  19. Carrie says:

    I like Gottman too. Hubby and I don’t do weekly dates, because finding a babysitter for 6 kids is very difficult. But we go out when we can.

    Nobody mentioned … ahem… *quality alone time*. It’s free, doesn’t require a babysitter, and doesn’t require driving anywhere. And I think the endorphins and such released during these activities goes a loooong way towards marital happiness. Personally, I start to get really *grumpy* if it’s been too long. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with you on that one going a long way towards marital happiness 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Stephanie, I’m a big believer in doing what works for you and your marriage, and not just doing things because you think you’re “supposed” to.

      Quality time is important (according to Gottman, and I’d agree) but it doesn’t matter where you spend it. You could be at home talking at the kitchen table, as long as you’re spending time together! I have little ones, too, and I’d much rather have a “date” after bedtime than go through all the hoopla to get a babysitter.

  20. This sounds like wisdom for sure. 🙂 I want to be more intentional to speak words of gratitude to and about my husband this year.
    I was just realizing the other day how I can go on and on about being grateful for the homes we have (I’m writing an eBook about it, I guess that’s where I’m going on and on :)) and not fixate on what we don’t have, compare our homes to others’, etc. But the same principles apply for a happy marriage.

  21. Ana says:

    These are great, I have that goal for 2014, too, and a lot of these are part of it. I think its important to remember that a “date” doesn’t necessarily require a babysitter or spending $. You can have your date sitting at your kitchen table with a glass of wine or mug of tea after the kids are asleep. All that’s required is that you are together and focused on each others’ company (i.e. watching TV together, at least to me, does NOT count as a date). The common narrative out there seems to be that “date night” requires getting a sitter and going out, and when logistics and finances make that impossible, we feel that we are “failing”. I do love dressing up and going out as much as the next person, but doing that every week doesn’t work with our financial or parenting styles!

  22. Leanne says:

    I like the list a lot, but I kind of think the little time blocks are funny… does it really take 5 minutes to give a compliment? It’s like he played with the numbers to get that exact 5 hours, but the time itself shouldn’t be the point. To have a great marriage, it takes effort, thought, and of course love, which can translate to a lot of time or a little, depending on the day.

  23. Kim says:

    Great suggestions, Anne!
    To answer your question: Ask him what it is you do that shows him you love him. The answer may surprise you!
    I believe his answer is related to his love language, so learning that is key to doing things that really hit home for him as well.

  24. I love these suggestions. The date one will have to wait for us, though, because while I love having a large family, it’s not really conducive to date nights. We only get out alone once or twice a year when our church does free babysitting. One thing I can add to the list is to let your spouse pour their heart out to you about something they’re passionate about but you’re not interested in. My husband goes on and on about skateboarding and hunting, and, while I have no clue what he’s talking about, I love to see him get so excited about something.

  25. Kim says:

    We do everything above, except for the weekly date. We do spend every Sunday together. Church, lunch and the remainder of the day it is our time.

    I would also recommend listening when your spouse is speaking. I mean really listening. Not listening AND doing the dishes, picking up the kitchen, flipping through the mail, etc. Just listen.

    It isn’t always possible, especially if you have small children at home. But I have seen a difference in each of us when we know the other person is truly paying attention to what we are saying.

    • Tina B says:

      Kim, This is so true, not only in the relationship with your spouse or significant other, but in all of our relationships. Knowing that someone is truly listening makes such a difference!

  26. Tina B says:

    These thoughts and comments are all so good and so helpful. I’m not married, but in a relationship that may be leading that way. I want to strengthen our relationship and the things you’ve shared are all so helpful. Thank you!

  27. Kim says:

    Love this and pinning to read again with my husband later. Thanks! Also, my boss and I were just talking about good books for social media. I’m bookmarking Jab Jab for later.

  28. Katie says:

    My fiance and I have ups and downs. We are supposed to be getting married in April. We are already “practically” married. I brought 3 kids (now teens) to the table and we together have 2 lil ones. I have been reading through all of the comments on this page… they are awesome. When I look on our life, I generally attempt all of this…all of it. However, my fiance is quite the selfish type. His friends are more a priority. When I try to talk, he walks away, throwing a comment out, and quickly heads outside to “help” them. I get pushed to the back burner more than not. I am not a needy person, and I don’t give him a hard time about it. However after a few weeks, I start asking for some time together… and still get pushed off. Then I get upset, then we fight, then he fights dirty, then I shut down, then he “tries” harder (yet doesn’t apologize), and things get back to normal. I know he loves me with all he has…but how to I get him to see that I need to know that I am wanted? He seems to think just saying “I love you” once a day is all I should require. I have asked nicely, I have tried to get him to realize where I am coming from… any suggestions?

  29. Chanda Crowder says:

    Let your spouse “catch” you praising them to others. Never speak negatively about them to others. Live in an attitude and an atmosphere of grace. This reminds our spouses of how much they are loved.

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