The 3 Most Important Keys To A Happy, Successful Marriage (That Lasts)

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If I had a dollar for every time I had someone talk about how low expectations are the key to a happy marriage, I’d be a very wealthy man.

And it’s heartbreaking…

Because the idea that the key to happiness is low expectations is a complete myth.

In fact, the three most important keys to a successful marriage — where you are actually happy — involve the opposite of low expectations!

As an example of how that "low expectations" myth works in real life, here is a letter from a reader who reached out to me a few weeks ago:

My husband hasn’t talked to me in 3 days. We had an argument, and he just shut me out. Is that normal? I want to talk about it… but maybe he still needs time to process. Maybe I just need to lower my expectations.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should go out there and develop ridiculously high expectations all around for your relationship.

You aren’t always going to agree on everything. Your partner isn’t going to constantly be in a good mood. Sometimes you won’t get to go on vacation when you want, eat at the restaurant you want, or work the job you want.

Your partner won’t always be in the mood to do/watch/talk about the exact same thing you want to do/watch/talk about… That’s just silly. Those types of expectations are just resentment waiting to happen.

What I’m talking about right now is a study done by Donald Baucom

Dr. Baucom found that in marriage, people typically get what they expect. 

If you’ve got low expectations about how your partner will treat you in your relationship, you will tend to be in relationships where you are treated poorly.

If you’ve got high expectations about how you’ll be treated by your partner, you tend to be in a relationship where you are treated well.

These expectations matter!

So, here are 3 things you should always have high expectations for, as they are the most important keys to a happy relationship (that will actually last).

1. Being treated with respect even during conflict.

When conflict arises, it’s common for the worst parts of us to emerge. 

You fight-or-flight kicks in. Your adrenaline starts pumping. Your heart rate increases and your blood boils. Conflict is very stressful for your body.

It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to act like a caged animal and go on the attack. You might want to raise your voice, call names, throw things, or hit your partner where it hurts (literally or figuratively).

In order for your marriage to thrive, you must have rules of engagement for times of conflict that do NOT get broken.

It’s vital to your relationship that you have the expectation that, regardless of how well you get along, you will never be intimidated, demoralized, physically harmed, belittled is a reasonable expectation. 

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2. Being treated with day-to-day kindness.

I remember interviewing David and Gretchen for my podcast. Someone had told me they are one of the most incredible couples I know.

When I arrived at their house I noticed they were excessively kind to one another. They always used their pleases and thank-yous. They called each other by pet names.

Their kindness almost felt sickly-sweet.

At one point I decided to call them out. “Are you guys always like this? Or is it just because I’m here interviewing you about your marriage, and you’re putting on a bit of a show for me?”

They looked at me with sympathy.

“Nate, early on in our marriage, we noticed some couples treated the bank teller, or the server at the restaurant with more kindness and respect than they’d treat their own spouse. We promised each other early in our relationship that we would always show each other that the other person is the important person to each other through our words and actions," they told me.

“So we always use our pleases and thank-yous. We always speak with kindness and respect.”

When you are married to the person you love, you should always have the expectation that you’ll be treated with kindness. That your opinion matters. That your experiences are valid. That your pains and hurts are worth acknowledging.

When someone starts dismissing you, ignoring you, or belittling you, it’s up to you to let them know (respectfully) that it’s not ok and that you expect better.

3. Problem-solving as a team.

One of the top indicators that you have mutual respect for each other in your relationship is that you “make decisions for two.”

That means when problems arise, or big decisions need to be made, you take time to think about your partner’s perspective, and how your choices will affect them.

When you make decisions about how you’re spending money, how you’re spending your time, or the future of your family, and only think of how it will impact your own life, your marriage will become overrun with resentment, bitterness, and loneliness.

Make a commitment to talk to each other before making big decisions, or trying to solve big problems.

Having high expectations is not always a detrimental thing.

Just like Paul Rudd’s character says in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, “You accept the love you think you deserve.”

Keep your expectations of being treated with kindness and respect high, and you’ll maximize your chances of an extraordinary relationship.

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Nate Bagley is a writer and entrepreneur obsessed with ridding the world of mediocre love. His work has been featured in GQ, Business Insider, Thrive Global, and more. You can follow his podcast by visiting the Growth Marriage website

This article was originally published at growth marriage. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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