Thirty Tips to Build a Strong Marriage
By David Sunshine
To produce a good marriage, you have to work
at it. As the saying goes, the only place you
find success before work is in the dictionary.
Here are some things you can do to help build
a strong marriage:
1. Watch Your Relationships
To preserve your determination to make your marriage
succeed, don’t get too close or flirt with
members of the opposite sex. If you do, in the
back of your mind, you might begin to view them
as alternatives in the event that your marriage
doesn’t work out. This will weaken your
resolve. After all, why work so hard when you
have an escape route? Also, these types of close
relationships are likely to make your spouse
2. Pay Full Attention.
Listen to your spouse when he or she talks to
you. It’s a sign of respect. Try to give
him or her your undivided attention. Also, nod
in agreement occasionally—it tells your
partner you’re listening. If your spouse
talks to you when you’re in the middle
of something important, say so, and suggest a
time when you’ll be able to pay full attention.
3. Share Enjoyable Activities.
Do fun things with your spouse. Exercise together,
take leisurely walks, or share a pursuit that’s
mutually enjoyable. Such activities strengthen
your relationship and make it easier for the
two of you to endure the hard times that come
in every marriage.
4. Learn from Your Experiences.
Learn from the past. For example, if you find
that you’re often tense when you’re
very hungry, minimize your conversation with
your spouse during those times. Similarly, if
you see that your spouse gets worked up whenever
you mention the name of a certain relative, don’t
mention that person’s name unless absolutely
necessary. Try to learn from the past.
5. Be Polite.
Be courteous to your spouse. When speaking with
him or her, use phrases such as “please,” “thank
you,” “would you mind if I....” and
so forth. It will make your spouse feel appreciated
6. Never Say, "I Told You So."
Remove the phrase "I told you so" from
your lexicon. Saying these words only causes
ill will between you and your spouse.
People say this phrase for two reasons: to show
off that they were right or
to get their mates to listen to them in the future.
What they don’t realize is that the message
that comes across is, “Aren’t I smarter
than you?” which is insulting. When you’re
proven right after an argument, your spouse will
realize this on his or her own.
There is no need to point it out.
The poet Ogden Nash wrote the following poem
to encourage people to act this way:
To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the wedding cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
7. Don’t Keep Score.
Don’t walk around with a watchful eye making
sure your partner carries his or her share of
the workload. Instead, take the view that it
doesn’t matter if you end up doing more
than half of what has to be done. Making sure
your relationship stays fifty-fifty will put
so much tension into your marriage that it’s
not worth the effort. So unless your spouse is
very lazy or a real responsibility shirker, don’t
keep track of who does more.
8. Watch Out for the Little Things.
A family court judge once commented that in 99%
of the divorce cases he presided over, the couples
were upset about very small matters. Here are
some of the types of complaints he was referring
“ She never lets me leave the window open at night.”
“ He always wears that loud shirt that embarrasses
She never replaces the toilet roll when it’s
“ He always leaves his socks on the floor.”
These small matters can be very detrimental to
a relationship, so watch out for them. There
is, however, a silver lining to this cloud: Just
as little things can ruin a relationship, they
can also build one. A brief call to ask how your
spouse’s day is going can make a big difference
in his or her feelings toward you. Remembering
your mate’s birthday with a little gift
can mean a lot. Even just bringing your partner
a chocolate bar or a novel you think he or she
will enjoy can mean a great deal, because it
shows you care.
Women in particular often need small but frequent
gestures of love.
9. Greet Your Partner Happily.
Smile at your mate when you greet him or her.
It will make your spouse feel appreciated and
loved. Even if you’re in a bad mood, be
sure to flash that grin. It’s a small investment
that can go a long way.
10. Respect Your Spouse’s Privacy.
Don’t go through your partner’s things
out of curiosity or in an effort to make them
look neater. Privacy is a fundamental need all
humans have, so be sure to respect it. Similarly,
make it a habit not to repeat your spouse’s
words to others. You never know what your mate
wants kept secret.
11. Set Boundaries Respectfully.
When you want to refuse your partner’s
requests, do so in a quiet yet firm way. For
example, suppose that your spouse wants to talk
to you about a non-pressing matter at a time
when you’re busy with something urgent.
A soft, yet assertive “I can’t talk
now — I’m in the middle of something” will
save you from having to raise your voice.
Learning to talk respectfully but assertively
will reduce the decibel level in your home, and
it will prevent many disagreements from snowballing
into major conflicts.
12. Be Loving.
Be affectionate. Open up and express with words
your love for your spouse. People need to feel
loved, so be sure your mate hears these words
13. Don’t Compare.
Don’t compare your partner to others. There
is always someone else who will seem better than
your spouse in some way (until, of course, you’ve
married that person). So save yourself misery
and avoid comparing.
14. Verbalize Your Needs.
Don’t expect your partner to read your
mind. Instead, verbalize your needs, and give
your mate a chance to respond.
In the following statements, the speaker is verbalizing
his needs to prevent feeling hurt afterward:
Next week is our anniversary. I know I’ll
be hurt if we don’t go out to dinner or
do something else to celebrate it. So could we
please do something like that?”
I need more displays of affection from you throughout
the day—smiling at me more, talking to
me more softly, maybe telling me ‘I love
you’ sometimes. I don’t know why,
I just need it. Could you do this for me?”
Being so direct in asking for what you want might
not seem as romantic as having your partner intuit
your desires, but it’s a lot better than
feeling disappointed and getting into fights!
15. Don’t Criticize in Public.
Be careful not to criticize your spouse in front
of others. Doing so will embarrass your mate
and will weaken the bond of intimacy in your
Criticizing your partner in the presence of your
children is equally bad since it can cause your
kids to disrespect your spouse.
16. Be Careful With the Kids.
Don’t allow your children to disturb your
marital harmony. Here are two things you can
do to help ensure that this does not happen:
Give your spouse priority over your kids. When
each competes for your time, put your mate first
as much as you can. Realize that being a good
spouse is probably the most important role model
you can give your children.
Don’t make your spouse into the family
police officer. Avoid saying things such as, “Wait ‘till
your father comes home!” or “We’ll
see what your mother says to that!” Your
partner will not appreciate having to be the
disciplinarian in the family because you’re
not strong enough to discipline your children
17. Watch Out in the Beginning.
Be prepared for problems in the beginning of
your marriage. Statistics show that the first
year of marriage is the time couples are most
likely to divorce, followed by the second year.
So don’t put yourself under too much stress
during those two years. This is not the time
to start your own business or change careers.
Instead, remove as much outside strain from your
life as possible so you can focus your energy
on working out whatever problems arise in your
marriage. You and your partner have to learn
to share a life together, and that’s not
an easy task.
18. Minimize Monetary Conflicts
Disagreements about money issues are among the
most common causes of conflict among couples.
In fact, when the Association of Bridal Consultants
asked newlyweds to note which topic caused their
most serious arguments during their first year
of marriage, 67 percent said it was how their
money should be spent.
If you find yourselves arguing over money, work
out a system the two of you can live with.
Here is how two couples worked out their money
Brad and Jennifer have three separate checking
accounts—one for him, one for her, and
a joint account. When they get their monthly
paychecks, they deposit these into their separate
accounts and then contribute an agreed-upon sum
to their joint ac-count. Every time a bill comes
in for a shared expense—such as the mortgage
or the electric bill—they pay it from their
joint account. When they want to save for the
future, they both put equal amounts into a joint
savings account. This system works for them because
they’re each willing to pay a bit more
than their share to preserve marital harmony.
For example, if Brad thinks that Jennifer is
on the phone a lot one month, he doesn’t
ask her to pay most of that month’s phone
bill. He knows the bill is small and that it’s
not worth risking a potential argument over it.
And when Jennifer sees that Brad makes a ten-minute
overseas call that she feels is unnecessary,
she says nothing for the same reason. Thus, although
they set up a 50-50 system, each has an attitude
of ignoring the little things even if that means
their relationship may in fact be 40-60 or even
sometimes 30-70. They realize that in fighting
for a perfectly fair system, they’ll lose
more than they’ll gain.
Kevin and Laura have a joint checking account
into which they deposit their monthly paychecks.
They worked out an arrangement whereby each may
spend $100 a month on anything they want without
consulting the other. Although Kevin earns more
than Laura, and thus might deserve to spend more
than she does, he realizes that she does more
of the housework, and therefore agreed that they
could spend equal amounts.
19. Have Conflict Resolution Time.
Set aside time to work out the problems that
keep recurring in your relationship. This should
be a time when both of you are relaxed and willing
to discuss these matters. Otherwise, the issues
might arise at times when you may not have the
patience and goodwill necessary to deal with
20. Look for Solutions.
Focus on finding solutions to your problems.
Here are some examples:
If your mate complains that you’re making
too much noise, don’t argue back and say
it’s not true. Instead, find ways to lessen
the noise, such as by being quieter or moving
to another part of the house. If your spouse
likes to leave clothing on the floor, don’t
go on the attack and call him or her a slob.
Instead, look for a solution. For example, offer
to put a box on the floor in the corner of the
room where your partner can leave the clothing.
If you concentrate on finding solutions, you’ll
avoid many conflicts.
21. Be Forgiving.
When you’re upset with your spouse, be
forgiving. Realize that we all have flaws, and
that each of us makes mistakes occasionally.
It’s part of being human.
Think of all the mistakes you’ve made in
the past. Since you can forgive yourself for
all of those misdeeds, it’s only fair that
you be able to forgive others for theirs as well.
Realize that when you forgive your partner, you’re
not saying that what he or she did was okay.
You’re saying that you choose not to let
it get in the way of your relation-ship.
A wise man once said, “Marriage is three
parts love and seven parts forgiveness.” Love
by itself just won’t cut the ice.
22. Minimize Criticisms.
Minimize the number of times you criticize your
spouse. Marriage researchers Clifford Notarius,
Ph.D., and Howard Markman, Ph.D., say one put-down
can “undo hours of kindness you give to
So look the other way as much as you can. If
you feel your mate’s behavior is only slightly
wrong or will probably not recur in the future,
ignore it. You’ll save yourself many needless
It’s been said that the difference between
a successful marriage and a mediocre one often
consists of leaving about three or four things
a day unsaid. Keep that in mind the next time
you want to criticize your spouse.
Definitely keep quiet if you think your partner
knows he or she did something wrong. For example,
if your wife breaks a dish or your husband has
a fender-bender, it’s not necessary to
say, “Be more careful next time.” Your
mate realizes that already.
23. Correct at the Right Times.
If you feel that you must criticize your partner,
make sure you’re calm before you begin
speaking. When you’re upset your words
may come out too sharply.
Similarly, don’t rebuke your spouse at
a time when he or she is under stress. Your rebuke
will probably not be heeded at that time anyway,
and you may provoke a major battle. Have patience
and wait for the right time.
24. Forget “Always” and “Never.”
When your mate does something wrong, don’t
exaggerate the offense. For example, if your
husband often leaves a mess in the kitchen, don’t
tell yourself, “He always leaves a mess
for me to clean up!” If your wife is frequently
late, don’t say to your-self, “She
is never on time!” Thinking in exaggerated
terms is a bad habit. Not only does it make you
more angry, it’s probably also untrue.
It’s unlikely that someone always leaves
messes or is never on time.
So don’t let yourself think this way. Replace
words such as “always” and “never” with
words like “often” or “sometimes.” You
will feel much less angry inside.
25. Don’t Give Up.
Realize that even in the best marriages couples
sometimes have conflicts. The “happily
ever after” ending so commonly found in
our films, theater and literature is not true.
A realistic portrayal of a good, happy marriage
is one in which two people sometimes argue but
are able to work out their differences peacefully.
So if you and your spouse are not getting along
well, don’t give up. Try to work on your
Guidelines for Arguing
26. Stay in the Present.
Don’t raise past misdeeds to score points.
It’s not fair to throw back at a person
an old incident, something that occurred months
or even years ago. If you do, your partner is
likely to resent you for it, and you’ll
create much ill will. Instead, stick to the issue
27. Watch Your Behavior.
Monitor your behavior when you argue. Don’t
get violent or use sharp language. You can never
go back in time and undo what you say or do,
so be careful. Realize that a few moments of
physical roughness or harsh words can seriously
damage your relationship.
Keeping yourself calm will help you control your
behavior. One easy way to do so is to take a
few slow, deep breaths every few minutes. If
you find that you still can’t control your
words, be silent until you’re more relaxed.
28. Take Time-Outs.
Be sure to stop a destructive exchange of words.
When your partner gets beyond the point of being
civil and rational, or when you see yourself
beginning to act in a destructive manner, put
an end to the discussion. Say something like, “Let’s
continue this conversation later.”
But if it’s an important topic, don’t
just drop it. Be sure to raise the subject again
at a time when you’re both more relaxed.
If you wait until you’ve calmed down, you’ll
be surprised at how much easier it is to work
out your disagreement.
29. Keep Up Your Responsibilities.
No matter how angry you are with your spouse,
don’t stop doing what you’re expected
to do. If you’re the one who cooks the
meals, continue making those meals. If every
Sunday you give your partner two hundred dollars
spending money for the week, continue doing so.
Don’t change your behavior—it will
make your fights much worse. Make a rule in advance
with your mate that the two of you will continue
your responsibilities no matter how angry you
are with each other. And if your spouse refuses
to keep such a rule, at least you keep it. When
your partner sees you doing so, he or she will
eventually follow suit.
30. Seek Outside Help.
If disagreements with your spouse are interfering
with the harmony of your marriage, don’t
be afraid to seek outside help. Couples therapy
has greatly improved many marriages, and is certainly
worth trying. Just make sure to find a therapist
who’s been trained in counseling couples.
David Sunshine, M.A., is a certified crisis counselor
who has written numerous articles to help people
build strong and lasting marriages. These tips
are courtesy of the Association for Marriage
Enrichment. Visit the website at: