Most of us have heard the commonly parroted statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce. The good news, experts say, is that the real divorce rate is actually much lower. (Roughly one-quarter of first-time marriages end in divorce, according to a 2014 CBS News report.) What’s more is that the same report found that four out of five married couples are indeed happy.
“At one point, my marriage was pretty bad, and now it’s really good,” says Bowman. “One of the main differences when I compare the two is that now, I always know we’re going to be ok. I have this trust in our relationship that I didn’t have before.”
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In other words, most happily married people have enough faith in their relationship to understand that one fight isn’t going to sink it. Once that foundation is in place, Bowman says there are other habits out there that can help strengthen most marriages.
Looking to live happily ever after? Here are a handful of relationship tips that Bowman has learned through both her research, and her own time in the trenches.
Compliment more than criticize
If finding faults in your spouse is a knee-jerk reaction for you, it could be toxic to your marriage. According to Bowman, research has shown that happily married couples tend to compliment one another five times more often as they criticize each other.
“It’s one of those things that needs to be a habit,” she says. “One of the reasons it can really help is that we’re experts at finding problems, but we’re out of practice with finding the beauty in our lives.”
For example, you may want to harp on your husband for leaving a dirty dish in the sink. Instead, try thanking him every time he loads the dishwasher. This can translate to any area of your marriage – from housework to child-rearing. The bottom line is that when you’re looking for ways to compliment your spouse, you’ll find them.
“Start by looking for kindness,” Bowman says. “How was my spouse kind to me today? You might come up blank at first, but then it becomes really easy.”
Your partner’s needs are just as important as yours
Understanding that your partner’s stuff – their wants, needs, dreams and values – are just as valuable as your own is a huge step in the right direction.
“What I have found from interacting with unhappily married people, and from being a former unhappily married person, is that when your relationship goes bad, you start to have this false belief that your stuff is more important than your partner’s stuff,” says Bowman.
This results in one spouse feeling like the other doesn’t prioritize their needs. On the other side of the spectrum, Bowman says that happily married people both have mutual respect for what the other one needs. For example, before committing to a vacation or business trip, run the dates by your spouse first to make sure it works for them. This may sound super simple, but the truth is that it’s a small way of showing your spouse that you value their time as much as your own.
“If I was unhappily married, I might already make my arrangements, and then if he had a problem with it, I would get in a fight with him about why he has a problem with it,” says Bowman.
Making the effort to consider your spouse’s point of view is a great way of indirectly saying, “I value your wishes.”
Make time for touching
Regular touching is a surefire way to up the intimacy in your relationship. This doesn’t necessarily mean sexual touching, although that’s equally important. It’s more about finding subtle ways to physically connect with your partner. For example, Bowman says that when couples are more connected, they’re more likely to hug and hold hands.
This can be as simple as running your hand across your partner’s back as you walk to the kitchen. Even a playful tap on the bottom while cleaning up after dinner can go a long way in dialing up the flirty intimacy that usually wanes over time.
“If you’re less connected and want to feel more connected, touch is something that can bring you closer initially," says Bowman.
Touching is also a great tool for diffusing a hostile argument. When having a difficult discussion, she says that touching can help keep anger in check. Bowman recalls one couple she came across that would link pinkies whenever having heavy talks. As silly as it may sound, she says it helped.
“When I talk with my husband, I usually try to hold his hand, or maybe rest my hand on his leg,” she says. “It really helps me remember that we’re just having a conversation, and it doesn’t have to be a line in the sand.”