20 Healthy Marriage Habits I've Learned In My 30 Years As A Psychotherapist

Photo: Olena Yakobchuk / 
couple on a city street, the light behind them

From my experience as a psychotherapist for 30 years and a married man for over 20 years, I think of these rules as everything a couple must learn for an ongoing, happy relationship.

If you are unhappy in your marriage or current relationship, print these out, post them to the fridge, and start to act on them.

Though some of them may seem quite simplistic and/or impossible, I promise that if you follow them to the best of your ability, your misery level will go down precipitously and you will remember what it is like to be in love with your mate. 

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20 healthy habits for a marriage that lasts — as learned by a psychotherapist

1. Practice these daily:

Compassion, understanding, respect, and empathy. If you are not using one of these you are off track. 

2. Fight fair.

No yelling, name-calling, sarcasm, bringing up past grievances (stick to the topic at hand), or hitting below the belt. Never throw things at or near the other person.

With anger, don't repress it, but don't let it out immediately, either. Find out what is causing the anger, cool down, and then talk about what you are feeling. 

3. Know the difference between criticism and complaint.

Criticism is a negative assessment of your behavior that is telling you that you have done something wrong, which causes the person to become defensive.

A complaint is telling the other person what you want and need moving forward. Complaints are positive and about the future; criticism is negative and about the past.

We can't change the past but we can succeed in the future. There is no such thing as constructive criticism between couples.

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4. Avoid contempt, blaming, or shaming.

Express anger without the above, and you'll both be better for it. 

5. Be on the lookout for defensiveness.

In yourself, primarily. 

6. Turn off the negativity & accentuate the positive.

Take a breath and refocus when you feel negativity coming on. 

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7. Don't shut down.

Refuse to engage in stonewalling or turning away from your partner for longer than twenty minutes. Then come back to the table.

8. Don't play the victim role or the perpetrator.

You're equals, you should act like it. 

9. Take time to discuss what you want and need from each other.

Create a values-based relationship. If you agree on your basic values, you can navigate the conflicts better.

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10. Be tender in all your interactions.

Start with sweetness. 

11. Keep your promises.

Remember what matters, write those things down if it helps.

12. Develop and nurture a good sense of humor. 

That includes laughing at yourself when you screw up!

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13. Acknowledge what your partner is saying before you say your piece.

Reflect back what you've heard so you know you've understood correctly. 

14. Show appreciation when your partner does something nice for you.

It's simple, say thank you

15. Be responsible for yourself, your health, and your messes.

You're both adults, you should both act like it. 

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16. Be considerate.

Put your partner's needs first at least half of the time.

17. Own your part in a problem;

Even if you think it is 98% and 2%. You can still own your 2%.

18. Make a commitment to do relationship work. Be a part of the solution.

Yes, it'll be hard sometimes. But you have no idea how much your healthy, solid foundation will matter when things get tough. 

19. Remember that Connection (with a capital "C") is your top priority.

Secrets, silence and resentment erode that. 

20. Practice loving-kindness.

Remember that you can't always be right ... but you can always be kind.

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The following was given to GalTime with permission by Dr. Bill Cloke, an expert in couples and marriage therapy and author of Happy Together, a book about marriage.