18 Tips for How to Have a Great Marriage

  1. Sweat the Small Stuff – Frustrations about everyday issues build up over time, and can lead to long-term unhappiness, even divorce. Her complaint that he doesn’t take out the garbage becomes, “He never helps around the house.” Her reminders to him turn into “All she does is nag.” Don’t let little things build and build. Small things matter.

  2. Know When to Bite Your Tongue – Couples report that the best way to avoid an argument is to stop from saying the first thing that comes to your mind in the heat of the moment. Wait until you cool off before talking about a difficult topic. Then say what you need to say calmly and respectfully.

  3. Choose The Right Time to Talk – Bad timing causes many arguments. Bringing up an issue at bed time, during a TV program, in front of the kids, or when one of you is leaving for work confuses the issue and thwarts conversation. Instead of the routine matter it started out as, the bad timing gets misinterpreted as disrespect, insensitivity, or unwillingness to talk. Set up a time to talk when you both have adequate time, energy   and privacy.

  4. Treat Your Spouse Like a Friend – We often treat strangers better than we do our loved ones. Somehow we assume our spouses are supposed to tolerate our worst behavior, while we save our best for other people. Treat your spouse like your best friend. Treasure your partner. Healthy marriage is the ultimate form of friendship.

  5. Spend Quality Time Together – Making time for one another is different than finding it. Many couples make the mistake of allowing the busyness of life to take over, then feel like strangers. Make your marriage a priority by reserving time together. Set up weekly time to catch up and have fun together. Separate working on issues or decisions from relaxation time. Do the things that brought you together in the first place.

  6. Communicate – Mind reading and finishing each other’s sentences is not love. Don’t take your spouse for granted. Ask what they want and how they feel, instead of assuming you know. Listen carefully to what is important to them. Don’t assume they should know what you want and feel. Tell them. Always communicate with respect.

  7. Work Out Your Conflicts – Unresolved conflict is one of the big things that destroys marriages. Talk about what bothers you. Face your conflict. Admit when you are wrong. Work for what is best for the relationship. Don’t harbor resentments. Understand that all couples have conflict. Learn the skills and attitudes that are needed to resolve conflict.

  8. Continue to Grow – Nobody enters marriage thinking we need to continue to grow and mature. But that’s what it requires. Face your limitations – we all have them. Your willingness to address your own issues and continue to grow will be the foundation of building a strong marriage. 

  9. Forgive From Your Heart – All couples do things that hurt one another. Anger and hurt feelings need your forgiveness to heal. Never retaliate or seek revenge. Air your feelings out without blame. Forgiveness means working through the hurts, healing together, and not holding grudges.

  10. Build Intimate Connections – Intimacy is more than just physical. Share your deepest self. Say it in words and deeds. Build closeness by being there for your partner when things are tough. Offer support when they need it. Share your secrets. Say the tender things you think, want and feel. Become true companions and soulmates. 

  11. Do Small Acts of Love – Look for ways to turn your positive feelings into small actions that demonstrate your love. Send an email during the day to say you are thinking about them. Buy them a chocolate. Plan a surprise date. Invite them to play a game with you. Say the positive things you think about them. The little things make a big difference.  

  12. Be Generous – Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have good motives. Give of yourself by sharing a touching moment that occurred during your day. Show affection with non-sexual hugs and goodbye kisses. Do them a favor. Give compliments. Be polite. Say thank you for the ordinary things they do.

  13. Collaborate – Successful couples move beyond competing for their individual wants and needs. Work for what is best for one another, and for the relationship. Marriage is the team you create. It is the spirit, unity, love and strength of the relationship you create together. Collaboration is building the “us” you share. 

  14. Sacrifice – Marriage means we are no longer just individuals. We are part of a team. Sacrifice means committing ourselves to being a team player. If the team needs the house cleaned, an errand run, or a sick child taken care of, we do it for the team.

  15. Use Your Sense of Humor – Humor is adult play. It is the ability to see and enjoy something from another angle. Use humor to lighten your mood and enjoy your partner. Look for the funny side of your mistakes. Laugh together. Be playful.

  16. Share Passionate Sex – Talk about what feels good and what doesn't, and say it gently. Look each other in the eye during sex. Be willing to try something new. Allow yourself to enter into your own pleasure while you give pleasure in return. Have make-up sex after resolving an argument. Keep it interesting by making it playful.

  17. Share Your Spiritual Beliefs – Talk together about your important values and beliefs.   Share how you experience the deep meaning of life. Include God in your marriage. Pray together. Strive to develop spiritual intimacy.

  18. Dream TogetherTalk about your deepest desires and how you can make them happen together. Share your bucket list. Talk about how you want to live. Make sure this includes how you will serve others. Plan your life together. Then, live the life you have always dreamed about. 

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Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.