What Makes a Good Marriage?

The answer to what makes a good marriage could, and has, filled books. But we believe the key to what makes a good marriage is pretty simple:

  • exposing yourself to your spouse by sharing what makes you happy, and how your spouse can play a role in making you happy
  • showing your respect to your spouse through your thoughtfulness, and
  • caring enough about your spouse to occasionally step into your spouse's life.

Here are a few ideas on how you can bring these basic traits of what makes a good marriage into your relationship.

Share Yourself with Your Spouse

What makes a good marriage are the two people in the marriage. Part of that is getting to know what makes each other tick.

Here's where we as couples, particularly women, really screw things up. For some reason, we believe that when we get married our spouse should suddenly know everything about us. Particularly how to make us happy.

HOW CRAZY IS THAT? What makes us happy one day won't do it the next. It is your job to let your spouse know what it takes to make you happy today.

Don't fight me on this.

When you get married, you give your spouse the key to your heart. What makes a good marriage is when you also give your spouse the key to what makes you happy. No one can possibly know this but you. Believe me, you're not as easy to please as you think you are.

TALK, TALK, TALK, TALK, TALK. And I don't mean whine, complain, criticize, blame or correct. Talk. Sit down with each other knowing that your spouse wants to make you happy. Your actions with and for your spouse are what makes a good marriage for your spouse...and vice versa. So let your spouse know what she/he does, used to do and could do to make you happy.

  • Here are some of the things you already do that make me happy. Please keep doing them.
  • Here are some of the things you used to do that made me happy that you don't do as often any more - I'd love it if you would start doing these things again.
  • These are some things that I would like us to do together.
Exposing your desires to your spouse allows your spouse to fulfill them. It truly is unfair to mentally or verbally complain that your spouse never does XYZ if you haven't told your spouse that you would appreciate it if he/she would do XYZ. The answer to what makes a good marriage is within your grasp.


You may be surprised when I tell you that true romance is nothing more than thoughtfulness with a surprise element. Romance is an essential part of what makes a good marriage.

Your first task is to throw away all your preconceived ideas on "romance." Remember, true romance is being thoughtful - and doing thoughtful things when they aren't necessarily expected (that's the surprise element).

Before you can be thoughtful, you must learn what your spouse wants.

  • The secret here is to be honest with your spouse about what you consider romantic. Our son brings his wife flowers which makes her day. Flowers make me depressed because I hate that they're dying - so that isn't something Mike does.
  • Something that I find incredibly romantic is when Mike draws a bath for me complete with bath salts, a glass of wine and a book - and then leaves me alone for a few hours to relax and read. What a great way to unwind; afterwards we'll cuddle, talk or make love. A lengthy soak may not be your idea of romantic. So? Tell your spouse what will make you smile.
  • When I say "tell," I literally mean write down on a piece of paper things your spouse can do that you would truly appreciate. Perhaps this is a chore such as getting up with the baby for a midnight feeding or unloading the dishwasher; it might be matters of courtesy like opening doors for you or helping you with your coat; it might be making small purchases that do not stretch your budget like picking up your favorite ice cream without being asked or going to your favorite pizza place even though it's a few miles farther away than the place you usually go. What are some of the little things your spouse could do that would make your life sweeter? These are the things that spell romance to you and are what makes a good marriage for the two of you.
  • Don't worry about being original or off beat unless that suits you. If you love candles and soft music during dinner, then that's a wonderful touch of romance for the two of you.
  • If you want to infuse your marriage with your image of romantic gestures but don't know exactly what these things are, two terrific resources are Greg Godek's book 1001 ways to be Romantic and Michael Webb's The Romantic, a free e-magazine with ideas for romance - and, when you sign up for the e-zine, you also get a free copy of 101 Romantic Ideas..

Step Into Your Spouse's Life

If you really want to know someone, walk a mile in his shoes. I know I'm not the first to say this, but it happens to be true. Who better to get to know than your spouse? How can you do this?

  • If possible, go to work with your spouse for a day. This is easy if your spouse works out of your home. If not, it may not be possible to go during an actual workday, but even seeing an empty facility will give your spouse a perspective on the environment in which you spend your days. Recreate your routine for your spouse with your words. This is where I check in. This is my desk, my work station, my locker, where I park. This is where I spend my breaks, eat lunch, meet with my boss/employees/clients. Attempt to give them a sense of the moments of excitement, tedium, boredom, fulfillment that comprise your days. You spend a lot of time at work. Letting your spouse get to know that part of you will help your spouse better understand your needs when you get home.
  • Do a few things with your spouse that are a routine part of his or her life that might be off-the-wall for you. For example, if your wife gets a manicure and pedicure regularly, go with her and get a manicure and pedicure yourself. If your spouse goes fishing regularly, join him for an hour or two and learn about the sport. Even if these are normally your spouse's alone time, sharing it with him or her for one occasion will provide a level of understanding that will draw you closer. Genuine interest in things that your spouse enjoys is an important part of what makes a good marriage.
  • Create an activity jar. Each of you write a different activity that YOU would like to do with your spouse on four slips of paper. Put these eight slips of paper into a jar. Each weekend, draw one slip of paper out of the jar and do that activity sometime that weekend. Set some parameters for your activities that include an agreeable length of time and cost. If you limit your time to, say, 2 or 3 hours it shouldn't be too great a burden to be agreeable on this outing with your spouse. Remember, this is an opportunity to make your spouse happy (that's the spouse who chose the activity) and get to know your spouse better (that's for both of you).

    The person who wrote down the activity is the host for the day and is responsible for making arrangements for transportation tickets and reservations, if required. It's also the host's job to make the outing as pleasant as possible for your spouse. Advise your spouse on appropriate wardrobe and provide insect repellent or sunscreen if you suspect it will be necessary. The point isn't to expose your spouse as a wimp or sissy, but to genuinely share an activity that your spouse may not do regularly.

If you're interested in reading more about What Makes a Good Marriage? try these related topics: Spice Up Marriage, , How to Improve Your Marriage and A Cure for the Unhappy Marriage.

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