Six Habits of Happily Married Couples
by Rabbi Dov Heller, M.A.
Success in marriage hinges on consistent performance of six key habits.
HABIT #1 – GIVE EACH OTHER PLEASURE
Happily married couples are committed to the goal of giving each other pleasure. You must stay focused on the ultimate goal — which is to give each other pleasure and not cause pain. It sounds simple enough, but can be very hard in practice.
For just one day, try to maintain a consciousness with everything you do, by asking yourself, “Is what I’m about to do or say going to cause my spouse pain or pleasure?”
To monitor how you’re doing, each of you should make two lists: One for all the things your spouse does to cause you pain, and another which identifies what you would like your spouse to do to give you pleasure. Swap lists, and now you know exactly what to do and what not to do. No more mind reading!
HABIT #2 – CREATE MUTUALLY SATISFYING LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP RITUALS
Rituals are habits that build and strengthen a relationship. One couple had the following “greeting ritual” at night when the husband came home:
He would first greet the dog and hug the kids. Then he would go into his bedroom, change his clothes, and watch the news, followed by a visit to the bathroom. Finally he would wander into the kitchen and mutter something to his wife, for example, “Let’s eat fast so we can get to the PTA meeting!”
One might say that such a ritual was not exactly increasing their love for each other.
How are your greeting and goodbye rituals?
So after watching how their dog greeted them every time they came home, this couple decided to come up with a new ritual. Elated dogs jump all over their masters and lick them. So they decided to greet each other like dogs. They started jumping up and down and hugging each other. They really got into it. They had fun and the kids got a kick out it, too.
Our actions affect the way we feel. How are your greeting and good-bye rituals?
Here are some rituals you and your spouse should consider working on:
* Daily e-mailing each other with a compliment.
* Daily phone call. (especially important for husbands to do)
* Anniversaries deserve special attention. Plan to do something both of you really enjoy, rather than feeling stuck two days before your anniversary arrives and then running out to get some flowers.
* Before you turn in for the night, try saying two compliments to each other. This means coming up with something new each night!
* It is essential to have a “date night” at least every other week.
HABIT #3 – CREATE A SAFE PLACE TO DISCUSS ISSUES OPENLY AND HONESTLY
Abusive relationships are ones in which you are afraid to express feelings and opinions. Happily married couples create a sense of safety that allows each person to feel comfortable expressing his/her feelings, problems, and dissatisfactions. This sense of safety is the foundation upon which a couple negotiates things that are bothering them.
It’s common for each person to come into a relationship with certain expectations about how things will be. But without the ability to communicate and negotiate, these issues become sources for power struggles that almost always damage the relationship.
HABIT #4 – USE GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS TO RESOLVE HOT ISSUES
The technique that every couple must learn is called the “listener-speaker technique.” The problem with the way most couples argue is that they try to find solutions before fully giving each other the chance to say what they need to say. The speaker-listener technique ensures that before you can engage in solution talk, each person feels they have been fully heard.
Only after each person has been fully heard, do you proceed to problem solving.
Here’s how it works: One person holds an object in their hand which symbolizes that he or she has the floor. While one person has the floor, the other person can only listen by repeating back or paraphrasing what the other person said. The listener can stop the speaker if s/he is saying too much for the listener to repeat back.
When couples use this technique, it automatically ensures that each person will be able to say everything s/he needs to say without interruption, rebuttals, criticism or attack. Only after each person has been fully “heard,” do you then proceed to problem solving.
HABIT #5 – CONSTANTLY TURN TOWARD EACH OTHER, RATHER THAN AWAY
When you pass your spouse sitting at her desk doing some work, do you stop and rub her shoulders, give her a kiss on the cheek, and whisper something nice in her ear — or do you just walk on by? This is the meaning of “turning toward” as opposed to “turning away.”
Happily married couples have ways to constantly be emotionally close to each other.
Marriage research shows that happily married couples do a lot of turning toward each other whenever they get the chance. They look for ways to be physically and emotionally close to each other. Turning toward each other means making each other your number one priority.
Another important aspect of turning toward each other is doing things together that you both enjoy. Taking walks together, drinking coffee together after dinner, learning Torah together, and listening to music together, are all examples of how couples turn toward each other.
A powerful way to turn toward each other is to show the ultimate respect — by standing when your spouse enters the room. Sounds old-fashioned? It is. But it’s a powerful way to turn toward your spouse, make him/her feel very special.
Couples who “turn away” from each other don’t develop closeness. It’s a basic principle stated in the Talmud, “A good deed begets another good deed. A bad deed begets another bad deed.”
HABIT #6 – INFUSE YOUR LIVES WITH SHARED MEANING
I often ask singles the following question: “After you’re married, what do you plan to do for the next 40 years?” And I usually follow-up by saying, “And besides having fun, what else will you do with each other?”
The ultimate in meaning is to share a common philosophy of life purpose.
Human beings need meaning like we need water. Happily married couples enrich their relationship by sharing meaningful experiences with each other. The ultimate in meaning is to share a common philosophy of life and life purpose. This is why couples who observe Shabbat together, and learn Torah together, have great sources of meaning built into their lives.
Some other specific ways of infusing your relationship with meaning are visiting the sick together, making a shiva call together, or preparing a meal together for a mother who just gave birth.
When couples share truly meaningful experiences, they bond on a deeper level.
These six habits may seem small, but when practiced intentionally and consistently, they will form the backbone of a deeply fulfilling marriage.