TIME Marriage

7 Habits of Happily Married Couples

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Communication is vital

I was on the phone with my wife Ashley and we were sharing details about each other’s mornings like we do almost every morning. When I said, “I love you,” and hung up the phone, a co-worker said, “You and Ashley seem to talk on the phone a lot.”

I said, “Yeah, we like to stay connected throughout the day.”

My co-worker looked almost confused and said, “Most married couples I know don’t do that. They might send some text messages, but not many couples talk on the phone very often.”

I had never thought of our regular phone conversations throughout the day as being “weird,” but if “weird” means “something most people don’t do,” then, I suppose it is weird.

That got me thinking about other habits that seem commonplace and normal to me that most couples don’t do. I started doing some research into the habits of the happiest and healthiest couples, and I’m convinced that the healthiest couples are healthy because they have developed some daily habits that most other couples haven’t done. In short, the “weird” habits set the happiest couples apart.

Don’t settle for a “normal” marriage, because “normal” means bored, unhappy, frustrated and eventually divorced. Happy marriages stand out. They are “weird” because they do things other couples aren’t doing. If you want your marriage to be all it could be, then I challenge you to adopt these habits into your relationship.

Here are the 7 “weird” habits of the happiest and healthiest couples (in no particular order):

1. Communicate with each other throughout the day (every day).

The thousands of short phone conversations my wife Ashley and I have shared through the course of our marriage have been a lifeline keeping us connected. We feel connected to each other because we’ve invited each other into every aspect of each other’s lives. We don’t wait until the end of the day (when we’re exhausted) to start talking about the day. We connect throughout the day. We don’t compartmentalize our life into “work” and “marriage,” but we see our marriage as something that transcends the compartments and connects into everything we do in our work, our hobbies, our free time and our home time. Communication is a vital ingredient to a happy, healthy marriage.

2. Get on the same page with your financial plan.

A recent survey reported that “financial stress” is now the #1 cause of divorce. Whether or not this particular survey was accurate, I can say with certainty that financial stress is a huge problem in many marriages. Our own marriage was in a financial mess early on, and it took us years to get out of the debt. One of the healthiest things we did for our marriage was to develop a simple plan and become unified in it. We had the same goals. We wanted to stay out of debt, live within our means, give regularly to our church and other causes we loved and never let financial stress come between us. We also communicate about any purchase over $50 so we both know where the money is going. Agreeing on a basic financial plan can make a huge difference in your marriage and bring more peace to your life.

3. Be mentally monogamous. Don’t allow outside fantasy from porn, romance novels, “checking out” other people or anything else draw your mind or heart away from your spouse.

This one might make you scratch your head, but I promise you that if you’ll make this a priority in your marriage, you will grow closer to your spouse. I didn’t come up with this concept. Jesus said 2000 years ago that, “to look at someone lustfully it to commit adultery in your heart.” Our fantasies will shape our realities. We need to by physically monogamous but we also need to be mentally monogamous. This one might be the most difficult task on the list because it takes constant vigilance, but it’s well worth the effort. As a guy who used to struggle with porn, I know the damage porn can do. Stay away from it. Stay focused on your spouse.

4. Even in disagreements, never speak with a disrespectful or hurtful tone. The tone of your words will shape the tone of your marriage.

Even the happiest couples disagree. Marriage requires unity; not uniformity. We’re each going to have our own opinions and sometimes we won’t see eye-to-eye, but even in disagreements, healthy couples show mutual respect. They might get passionate or even heated in their discussions, but they don’t insult each other or devalue each other. Make sure the tone in your voice remains respectful in disagreements and encouraging and uplifting at all times. It will make a huge difference in your marriage.

5. Say what you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t say “I’m fine” when you’re not. Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind.

The level of your honesty will determine the level of your intimacy. When you’re frustrated, talk about it. When your spouse is frustrated, ask him/her what’s going on. Don’t settle for surface answers. Get to the truth. Don’t punish your spouse or stay frustrated with them because they haven’t figured out what’s going on. Your spouse is not a mindreader! Tell him/her what’s on your mind. Open up to each other.

6. The healthiest couples prioritize their marriage ahead of their careers, hobbies, personal pursuits, extended families and even their own kids.

This kind of loyalty and high-priority on the marriage (even ahead of kids) seems “weird,” but it’s the only way a marriage can really work. When you put your kids ahead of the marriage, it creates an unhealthy and possibly even co-dependent relationship with the kids that can sabotage their marriages someday. One of the best gifts you can give your kids is the security that comes from seeing their mom and dad in a loving and committed marriage. Have the kind of marriage that makes your kids want to get married someday. Don’t wind up with an empty nest and an empty marriage at the same time. Prioritize the marriage even while your kids are young. You’ll be better spouses, and ironically, you’ll actually be better parents too.

7. Remove the word “divorce” from your vocabularies. Get rid of your exit strategies. Don’t imagine a life without each other. Stay committed.

Lifelong commitment seems “weird” in our modern world. We don’t hold onto anything very long. If we get locked into a two-year contract with our cell phone company, we act like we’re in some sort of prison. We’ve forgotten what it means to truly commit, but marriage can only work when there’s a lifelong commitment. It’s not based on feelings or compatibility or circumstances or untying else; it’s based on a rock-solid commitment. The strength of your commitment will determine the strength of your marriage.

So, get “weird” and start doing the things other couples aren’t willing to do. Discover the hope and happiness that can happen when you’re willing to do these seven things consistently! For more tools to help you build a rock-solid relationship, check out my book iVow: Secrets to a Stronger Marriage.

Dave Willis is a pastor, blogger and bestselling author of “The Seven Laws of Love.” Dave and his wife Ashley are Co-founders of StrongerMarriages.com. They live with their four sons in Evans, Georgia.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.com

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