9 Genuinely Helpful Relationship Rules The Happiest Couples Follow

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happy couple smiling among flowers

Happy marriages aren’t happy by accident. Both members of the marriage play active roles in making sure that their relationship is in a good place. They carve out time for it. They think before they react during an argument. They come up with ways to protect it from their kids. In short, they do the work.

It’s as simple as that.

Whether you want to know how to save your marriage, or just how to be a better husband or wife to the person you love, part of that work entails keeping in mind good relationship advice, such as the tips below.

All of these tips have been provided by various counselors, therapists, and people who know how a happy marriage works, and all offer some good marriage tips to keep in mind every day and when the going gets tough.

Here are 9 game-changing relationship rules the happiest couples follow.

1. Always remember to stay curious.

Growth (as a couple or an individual) requires risk. And risk requires curiosity. Being curious together can result in tremendous learning experiences that will strengthen your relationship.

“In difficult or challenging situations, you can both learn from what makes those situations hard for you,” says Janet Zinn, a New York-based LCSW and couples therapist. “And you’ll grow in the process. In this way, you will both have pride for yourselves and each other in the ways you got to the other side.”

She adds, “Keep in mind, too, that your partner will likely change over time, so a shared sense of curiosity — being open to the ways in which he or she changes — can allow you to identify the ways you’ve changed as well.”

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2. Use 'I'-statements instead of 'You'-statements.

When outlining a relationship problem with your partner, frame it in a way that illustrates how it’s making you feel as opposed to what it is they’ve done wrong. If you’re too focused on assigning blame, you can come across as accusatory, leading your partner to close themselves off from hearing what you want them to hear.

“The reason why that’s important is because beginning things with ‘you’ tends to be experienced as criticism and elicit defensiveness in your partner,” says Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, a licensed clinical psychologist in Nevada, “leading to a complete breakdown in communication.”

Happy couples make the effort to express how they are feeling without making accusatory remarks, and know that doing so ends up cutting off communication in a healthy way.

3. Draw a hard line between your marriage and your kids.

Kids are incredible. They’re also, and let’s be honest, little monsters that will tear your relationship to shreds if you’re not careful. It's essential, then, to establish boundaries and set routines that help you prioritize your marriage.

“Intentionally setting boundaries around the relationship is what will give you a happy marriage through the child-rearing years,” couples counselor Lesli Doares explains. “This means keeping kids out of the bedroom most of the time, having regular dates (even if you don’t leave the house), going on adults-only vacations, and deciding to limit extra-curricular activities.”



Too many parents, Doares says, buy into the idea that children have to be involved in every activity open to them or they show interest in, which can be costly in terms of time and money.

“It’s okay to say ‘no’ to some things,” she says. “It’s okay for your children to be disappointed sometimes. It actually prepares them for the real world.”

By choosing to put your relationship first, you're letting your partner know that you see them as a priority. And your children are also learning that not everything will go their way all the time.

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4. Be mindful of the invisible work that goes into a marriage.

Emotional labor is known as the invisible work necessary to manage households. In a comic about emotional work among new parents that went viral, it’s described accurately as the mental load of “always having to remember.”

This constant management of their entire families’ needs often falls on the wife or mother’s shoulders who often grow exhausted and resentful if their partners ignore the invisible burden. If a husband finds himself asking his beleaguered wife, “What can I do to help?” chances are the question came too late. This also enforces outdated gender stereotypes.

One of the best ways to avoid the resentment that can build in such situations is to simply come up with — and stick to — a plan that represents both partners. This can just be a plan of what both people want to get out of their relationship and what matters to each of them.

If both partners’ goals are clearly outlined, it can be much harder for things to fall by the wayside. “As far as lessening emotional labor on a wife,” says Phillip Young, who founded Better Together Breakthroughs with his wife Brittney, “a husband can always refer back to this — hopefully in a weekly family meeting — to check-in with his wife on how they are living this shared creation.”

5. Embrace the journal.

Everyone gets angry. And there are many ways to deal with emotion. Not all of them, however, are created equal. While some, like playing a quick game on your phone, serve to let your anger dissipate, others, like screaming into a pillow, sometimes only compound the emotion. Productive anger management takes work — perhaps even years of it.

One of the best methods is also the simplest: journaling.

Photo: Dmytro Hai / Shutterstock

The practice of writing down your thoughts whenever you feel the steam coming from your ears not only helps ease your anger, but allows you to organize your own thoughts before you engage in an argument.

"When we are angry, poor responses often happen impulsively,” says Jim Seibold, a marriage and family therapist based in Arlington, Texas. “Journaling can help slow down our reactivity and help avoid impulsive behaviors that would be hurtful or offensive. If we are taking the time to write down our thoughts, we are likely to interrupt the fast, impulsive behaviors.”

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6. Don't brush off your partner’s feelings.

A happy marriage thrives on mutual respect, trust, and security. If one partner doesn’t feel as though his or her feelings are being treated with respect, then the relationship will eventually corrode.

One way in which many people accidentally disrespect their husband or wife is by emotional invalidation. This is simply the act of discounting someone’s feelings, implying that, for them to be saying or doing something, they must be either crazy, stupid, or some combination of the two.

It can occur quickly and casually (“C’mon, that’s ridiculous” or “You’re so sensitive”), passive-aggressively (“Don’t freak out, but…”), or, in the worst-case scenario, humiliating and degrading (“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about”).



“When a person expresses a feeling about something to their partner, that partner gets to make a choice about how to interact back,” family therapist Hanalei Vierra explains. “That choice is to either connect with their partner or to push their partner away.”

The key is to be aware of these moments and, as often as you can, make the right choice. Be empathetic and compassionate to how your partner feels, and they will surely do the same for you.

7. Embrace the power of the time out.

During married life, there are arguments and there are capital “A” Arguments. To prevent the former from ratcheting up and becoming the latter, it’s important to understand when you need a few minutes to cool down, collect your thoughts, and avoid saying something dumb/hurtful/mean.

Walking away from an argument doesn’t mean you’re walking away from the issue, it just means you’re taking a necessary breather to avoid saying or doing something that could make a bad situation worse.

Photo: RDNE Stock project / Pexels

“When we are triggered into emotionally reactive states, we are not able to take in new information or have empathy for the other person,” says Mallika Bush, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Thus, trying to work through an argument with someone who is flooded with emotion will only lead to further hurts and upsets.”

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8. Don’t try to solve every marriage problem.

When a spouse is venting about their day, the immediate reaction might be to provide solutions to their problems. This is a mistake. Often, most people just want to be heard and empathized with.

Most people feel they are capable of solving their own problems and simply want a sounding board or a person by their side. Instead of immediately jumping into ways to fix the problem, partners should take a beat and empathize with their spouses.

Jonathan Robinson, a couple’s therapist and author, recommends that when your partner has a problem, you should respond: “I can see that you’re upset, because…” It shows your spouse you are listening, you empathize with their feelings, and that you trust them to handle their stuff on their own.

That’s what makes a happy marriage. And it's as simple as just lending an ear to listen or shoulder to cry on, rather than trying to solve the problem.

9. Make time for sex.

Because life (and kids and jobs) gets in the way of your marriage, and sometimes, especially with kids in the picture, unless plans are written in pen, those plans don’t happen.



It might sound ridiculously antithetical to the spontaneous sex you had as a young married couple before kids, but the thing is, scheduling time to spend on each other is helpful in any context, not least of which is sexual.

Calling a babysitter and getting to "work" is one of the best ways to perform a relationship tune-up. “Scheduled can also be spontaneous,” says Piper S. Grant, founder of Numi Psychology. “Maybe one partner sets up candles or takes the effort to buy a good smelling massage oil. Surprise each other with something new, fun, and playful.”

Even when you make time for other intimate acts, like snuggling or just holding one another, you're making the effort to improve your relationship.

RELATED: 16 Things Couples That Actually Stay Together For Life Do Differently

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