3 secrets to a happy marriage

I've found that three things are vital to a strong foundation of trust, happiness, and love between husband and wife - three secrets you already know about, and may just need to re-visit.

Why is it that the people who matter most to us often are on the receiving end of our very worst selves? I’ve always struggled with the fact that it is easy and natural to be kind and respectful to people I associate with at work, church and in the community, but extremely difficult to give that same respect and kindness (and more) to the people I live with and love the most. Maybe it’s because sharing space, showers, food, and a bed (along with the good, the bad, and the ugly) with people sometimes brings out the worst in us.

Don’t get me wrong- living with the people we love most, and call family, is the greatest blessing in life. It’s rewarding, wonderful, deeply meaningful and super-duper fulfilling.

However, when we drift into selfishness and get caught up in ourselves things often don’t look pretty in our marriages and relationships. This is often because we have forgotten these three simple secrets. Secrets and wisdom of the ages that if applied can change the dynamic of our marriage and help us treat the ones we love the most, the very best.

I’ve found that three things are vital to a strong foundation of trust, happiness, and love between husband and wife – three secrets you already know about, and may just need to re-visit. These three secrets are respect, kindness and appreciation.

1. Respect

Respect is a key foundation for a strong team. Each voice in the marriage needs to be heard. Expectations need not be too high or demanding. Derogatory, critical or rude comments have no place in a respectful marriage. Respect is most often shown in the words we speak or don’t speak, the tone of voice we use, the expectations we have for each other and the listening ear we offer. With respect, there is no room for name-calling, angry outbursts, rude remarks, etc.

Respect each other in your roles in and out of the home. Respect each other’s preferences and tastes. Respect each other’s hobbies and friends. Respect each other’s upbringing and family (in-laws). Respect each other in the bedroom, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen. Respect each other’s space. Respect each other’s level of cleanliness. Respect each other’s point of view and way of doing things. Respect each other’s dreams.

Barbara B. Smith once said, “The longing of the human heart is often for someone who will treat tenderly the devotion one has to give. We hear it in the words of a poem by William Butler Yeats: the man has just laid the wishes of his heart at the feet of his beloved, and then he pleads, ‘Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.’

Respect each other’s choices. Respect doesn’t mean you have to agree with your spouse, it just means that regardless of what your spouse likes or does, you treat them appropriately and with love, as you would any other human being.

2. Kindness

Some of the best marriage advice I’ve ever heard is this, “Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” (Gary Steggell) It seems simple, right? However, it is awfully profound.

Kindness works in marriage. Being mean doesn’t.

Kindness invites a feeling of immediate love and an unasked invitation to reciprocate the said kindness. Kindness is shown in a thousand ways, such as texting encouraging words, being a builder, having a shoulder to cry on, always finding the good, smiling, finding ways to serve your spouse, hugging your spouse, and thinking of them before you think of yourself.

Kindness is leaving the last of the chocolate milk for your spouse instead of drinking it yourself. Kindness is taking out the garbage, even when it is your husband’s job. Kindness is biting your tongue when you want to tell your husband, “I told you so.” Kindness is getting up with the kids so your wife can sleep a bit longer. Kindness is a quick shoulder rub, along with a kiss on the neck. Kindness is offering to sit next to your spouse, just because, as they work to meet that late-night deadline. Kindness is found in a thousand different ways, and takes just a second of thoughtfulness to become a reality.

Kindness is refusing to focus on the negative, and to instead focus on all the positive things about your spouse.

Kindness is gentle, forgiving, patient, and optimistic.

Kindness is desperately needed in marriage, because two imperfect people are meshing their lives together, and that isn’t easy, folks.

Religious leader Spencer Kimball once commented,”One comes to realize very soon after marriage that the spouse has weaknesses not previously revealed or discovered. The virtues which were constantly magnified during courtship now grow relatively smaller, and the weaknesses which seemed so small and insignificant during courtship now grow to sizable proportions. The hour has come for understanding hearts, for self-appraisal, and for good common sense, reasoning, and planning.”

The hour has come for kindness.

Yes, kindness is one of those keys to marriage that will always make a positive difference. Kindness works. Guaranteed.

3. Appreciation

Believe it or not, your spouse craves appreciation from you more than from anyone else. Yes, this is even true for men. They want to feel like you need them, you care about them, and you are grateful for them. And not just grateful for what they do FOR you, but that you are grateful for who they are and how they lift and bless you and everyone around them. They need to know that you are grateful for how they make you want to be better and grateful that you get to spend each day and night with them.

So say thank you. And mean it.

And add specific things you are grateful for. And leave little notes to say thank you. And express appreciation for your spouse often. Thank your spouse for the obvious – for clean socks, for empty garbages, for food in the fridge, for working hard, for gas in the car, for putting up with you during PMS, and for not getting mad when you bought that man toy you had been wanting for a while, etc. Just be more grateful peeps, because gratitude works.

This quote summarizes the need for expressions of gratitude in the nurturing of marriage.

“Love is like a flower, and, like the body, it needs constant feeding. The mortal body would soon be emaciated and die if there were not frequent feedings. The tender flower would wither and die without food and water. And so love, also, cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness.” (Spencer W. Kimball)

So, if you are looking for secrets to a happy marriage, look no further than what you already know. I challenge you to actually commit to being respectful, kind and grateful this week, because those three things work in relationships.

Do it. Do it. Do it.

Then see how these secrets really aren’t secrets, and how you already knew what you needed to do to nurture your marriage today and always.

This article was originally published here. It has been republished with permission.

Aaron & April Jacob

Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.