The key to a happy marriage is the quality of your habits, according to therapists Ashley Davis Bush and Daniel Arthur Bush.
Thankfully, healthy habits can be learned. In their book 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage Davis Bush, LICSW, and Bush, Ph.D, share a variety of practical, valuable tips for couples to reconnect, communicate better and enhance their intimacy.
That’s because love consists of these three components: connection, communication and intimacy.
As they note in their book, connection includes feeling close to your partner, having shared values and caring about your partner’s needs.
Communication includes understanding and being understood. It means being considerate and honest with each other.
Intimacy includes being vulnerable and authentic with each other or “naked” physically, emotionally and spiritually. It includes having a sense of trust and safety.
Here are 10 habits from 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage to help you enhance your connection, communication and intimacy.
1. Express your love every morning.
For instance, you might say, “I love being married to you” or “You matter to me.” The key is to convey to your partner that he or she is special to you, according to the authors.
They suggest saying this in person. But if you’re not home, then you might text these words or leave a note on the fridge. They also suggest changing up the words you use and how you deliver them.
2. Greet your partner with a long hug.
Be excited when your partner gets home. Stop what you’re doing, give them a full body hug for at least 20 seconds and say something like “I’m so glad you’re home.” If you’re coming home, do the same, and say “I’m so glad to be home.”
Hugging for this long might feel strange. But, as the authors note, 20 seconds is the time it takes to stimulate the bonding hormone oxytocin, which helps you feel closer to your partner right away.
3. Express your gratitude.
When you’re getting ready for bed, thank your partner for a word, action or experience. If you go to bed first, let them know right before you head in. If you go to bed later than your spouse, write it down for them to read in the morning.
This helps your partner feel appreciated, and helps you start focusing on what’s going well. “[Y]ou begin to see more and more circumstances, actions and sweet moments for which to be grateful,” according to the authors.
4. Reminisce together.
Take turns sharing happy memories from your past. Be as detailed as possible. If you have a hard time remembering, use holidays and vacations as reminders. If you’ve been together for a long time, share your memories by decade.
According to Davis Bush and Bush, “You not only fill yourselves with the spirit and emotion of wonderful times, but you may also be reminded of forgotten times or see them through your spouse’s eyes.”
5. Chat about change.
People change. This is inevitable. Talking about change helps couples build intimacy. It helps you better understand your partner’s inner world, and helps you reveal your real self to your partner.
Ask your partner: “How do you think you have changed over the past year?” Focus on being open and curious about your partner’s experiences.
6. Chat about dreams.
This is another helpful way to get to know your spouse better. Start by asking: “What do you dream will happen in the next ten years?”
This might be anything from taking a certain vacation to owning a boat to winning the lottery. Whatever he or she says, again, try to be open and nonjudgmental.
7. Walk in their shoes.
When couples disagree about an issue, they usually focus on making their point and proving they’re right. They usually focus on their personal perspective. However, this doesn’t leave much room for empathy.
Instead, say “Let’s Switch.” Then speak from your partner’s perspective, saying “I am (insert your spouse’s name), and this is how I see it.”
According to the authors: “Before you speak, spend a moment with your eyes closed, breathing deeply, and thinking about what life must look like through the lens of your mate’s history, his personality, his experience.”
After you’re done, ask them to do the same with your perspective.
8. Listen fully.
When your partner is upset and complaining, listen to them, without trying to minimize or fix their problem. As the authors write, unless your spouse specifically asks for a solution, they probably just want to be heard.
After your spouse is done talking, say: “‘What I hear you saying is…’ Then paraphrase his words. Continue by saying, ‘Did I get that right?’ and ‘Is there more?’”
9. Touch their heart.
Put your hand on your spouse’s heart, and ask them to do the same. Hum a note, and have your spouse match your tone. When your spouse changes the note, match it.
Doing this creates a frequency of connection, write Davis Bush and Bush. They note that this exercise reminds you that you’re together in life and your marriage is a priority.
10. Learn their poignant words.
Ask your spouse about the words that help them to feel loved and valued. For instance, they might be “I will be with you forever,” “I trust you,” or “I am here for you.” Once you know these powerful words, whisper them to your partner.
Every relationship requires sustenance. Healthy habits, according to the authors, can provide this nourishment.