The Secret to a Happy Marriage

If you see something, say something.

Those of you that live in a major city have likely seen this phrase before. Repeatedly. I know that it’s everywhere in New York City. It is a trademark of Homeland Security that encourages you to report suspicious activity. They want you on the look-out. They want you paying attention. Stop overlooking things in your everyday life; see them. And when you do see something suspicious, they ask that you speak up immediately.

Most of us get the importance of this. If you witnessed suspicious activity, you wouldn’t wait. You would say something immediately. You would take action to protect the future of your city. To protect your neighbors. To protect your family.

And the language on their website actually makes this pretty simple: “It’s easy to take for granted the routine moments in our everyday—going to work or school, the grocery store or the gas station.”

Isn’t that the truth? But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

Be aware. Be on the look-out. Really pay attention- to the positive moments with your spouse; see them.

And when you see something, say something. Immediately. Don’t wait. If you wait, you’re likely to forget about it amidst the sea of million to do’s in your mind. Share your admiration for your spouse. Tell them what you appreciate. Let them know that they did something great and that you noticed. That it matters.

When you do this, you are taking action to protect the future of your relationship.

Step it Up

At the start of your relationship, expressing your admiration and appreciation to your partner is often easy. You thank them for the small things and shower them with compliments. But over time, you get comfortable. You settle in. You forget to put into words what you love about your partner. You take one another for granted.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of expressing your admiration and appreciation, it can be hard to restart. This is especially true if you are going through tough times.

Step up to the challenge. Make a commitment to expressing your appreciation and admiration.

There are only three rules:

  1. You must express one appreciation or admiration each and every day.
  2. You must express it in person.
  3. You must express it verbally. (No texting, phone calls, or written notes!)

I know many of you are cringing right now. I’ll be honest: it will feel like homework at first. The idea may even sound a little silly. It may feel awkward. You may feel pressured when it is your turn to say something. I know, because that is how I felt when I first put this into practice in my own marriage.

But over time, it becomes a habit. It is actually very easy to do. And it is so enhancing to your relationship. You may be surprised by how much you look forward to the time of day when you both share those thoughts.

The key is to actively pay attention. Really see your partner and their contributions to your relationship, your family, and your happiness.

Make a Note

In the beginning, it can help to jot things down. You can use a little notepad, a computer file, or an app on your smartphone. Then, when it comes time to share, you won’t feel as pressured. You will have a list to draw from if your memory fails you.

Here are a few templates to get you started:

  • I appreciated it when you…
  • I noticed when you…
  • You really bring the family together when you…
  • You made my life easier when…
  • It always makes me smile when…
  • I really admire how you…
  • Thank you for…
  • I was so proud of the way you…
  • I was impressed when you…
  • I love how you always…
  • You make me feel loved when…

By writing it down, you will also have something to refer to on days you simply haven’t been paying enough attention. We all have the occasional day where we are too stressed or harried to really see our partners. We are too focused on simply trying to survive and meet our own needs.

On those days, you will have a list of more general appreciations to share. But this list will also serve as a reminder that you are part of a team. You don’t have to go it alone. It will remind you of all the ways – big and small – that your partner contributes to your success and happiness.

Reaping the Rewards

By taking up this daily practice, you are also encouraging your partner to do more of what you love and require. Your compliment rewards their positive behavior. And they will naturally seek out more ways to earn that reward.

This is why it can be especially valuable to explain why you appreciate or admire something. It made your day easier. It boosted your mood. It allowed you to focus on the kids. When your partner understands the reasons behind your feelings, it can help him or her uncover more ways to support you.

For example, you share your appreciation that your partner helped out with the dishes. You explain that it really made a difference for you at the end of a hard day with the kids. Your spouse may not have realized how exhausted you feel. And it may encourage him or her to continue doing the dishes in the evening – or even take on additional household tasks – to alleviate the burden.

Consider this, too, when listening to your spouse’s admirations and appreciations. Really listen. Use them to become an even better partner.

Once the practice of sharing appreciations and admirations becomes second nature, you will find it easier to embrace “see something, say something.” You will more easily notice those positive things in your relationship. And you will feel empowered to put them into words.

Going Solo

What if your partner doesn’t want to join in? Then I urge you to do it alone. Even if one partner takes up the practice, it can have a powerful impact on a relationship.

I know this can make you feel incredibly vulnerable. It can feel like you are giving up your power. Why should I share what’s so great about him when he isn’t doing the same for me? Why should I tell him what I appreciate when we still have so many problems to work on?

But this is your ego. Don’t let your pride get in the way of moving your relationship forward. Be brave. Put yourself out there. Fight for a great marriage. You deserve it.

Once you have let your walls down, you may be surprised by your partner’s willingness to participate, too. I often say it doesn’t take two to tango. If one gets started, often the other eventually joins the dance.

But take up the practice without any expectations. Without an ulterior motive. Your only goal should be to make your partner feel valued and loved. You don’t want your partner to feel guilty or pressured into joining in. You simply want them to feel invited to do so when and if they are ready.

Just know that you are investing in your joint success by taking up the practice of sharing daily admirations and appreciations. You are making a space for your spouse to join you. You are creating an opportunity.

And by changing your behavior, you will change your partner’s behavior. You are giving them something different to react to. You may be surprised by how much more effective it is to call out the things your partner does right than the things they do wrong. And the more your partner feels valued and loved, the safer they will feel to be vulnerable with you.

You Have the Power to Change Your Relationship

I want to repeat the simple phrase here, so it stays in your mind long after reading this article:

If you see something, say something.

I’ve seen couples in great distress turn their relationship around entirely by embracing this idea. When we put the focus on catching our partner doing right, we shift the way we view our entire relationship. We find what we seek. And we encourage what we acknowledge.

The more you both focus and express the positive, the less power the negative has over you. You can weather bigger storms. You can survive greater catastrophes. That’s because you each will know that the other appreciates and admires you. You both will feel loved and respected – even at the darkest of times.

And isn’t that the most powerful thing we can offer one another?

The Magic Ratio

Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, discovered that the magic ratio for a happy marriage. Five positive interactions to every one negative interaction. If you dip below that range, your marriage will likely experience trouble.

Not quite buying it? I hear you. Love and relationships aren’t supposed to be so… scientific. And everyone’s different, right? How can one “magic ratio” cover everyone?

Simple answer: it doesn’t. Of course, there are couples who break the mold. But consider this. By using his “magic ratio,” Gottman was able to predict divorce with 94% accuracy.

In other words, this is powerful information to have.

Now, it’s probably no surprise that unhappy couples have more negative than positive interactions. But even stable relationships have negative interactions. After all, we’re human! We have different ideas about things. We have bad days. We disagree. And those things can lead to arguments and, yes, fights. Negative interactions.

But what you may not have realized is how the power of your positive interactions can help you survive the troubled times. It is your regular positive interactions that keep you bonded to one another. Positivity nourishes your relationship. Think about it like a bank. Each positive interaction you have is deposited into an account. If you make enough positive deposits, you have somewhere to draw from when things get tough.

These positive interactions can come in many forms. They can be small and simple, like touching, smiling, laughing, listening, and expressing concern, or they can be bigger and more involved, like giving gifts and doing favors for each other.

However, a particularly powerful type of positive interaction is paying compliments.

One couple I work with implemented the practice of expressing an appreciation or admiration to each other daily. The wife shared with me a story of how she was doing the dishes one day and her husband spent the time with her two daughters. He went out of his way to bring them together for quality bonding time.

Afterward, she thanked him. She shared with him how much she appreciated that he nurtured the connection that brings their family together. She told him how sweet he had been with the girls.

But what she said next really struck a chord with me.

She thought about how sad it was that before she took up the practice of expressing appreciations and admirations regularly, those thoughts would have gone unsaid. That moment would have paid unrecognized. Her spouse would never have known how meaningful his actions were to her.

In our hectic lives, it is so easy to let these small, powerful moments pass without comment. But despite what we all believe from time to time, your partner doesn’t know what you’re thinking. When those admiring thoughts go unsaid, your partner can feel unloved, unappreciated, and undervalued – even when the exact opposite is true.


Written By: Sara Freed

Sara Freed is a professional Jewish relationship and marriage coach based in Brooklyn, New York. By drawing on the wisdom of Judaism and implementing her training in the Gottman Method, Sara believes that every couple can learn the necessary skills to turn a struggling relationship into a thriving relationship.

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