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The 7 Steps to Happily Ever After

Step 6: Build a best friendship.

Think about the things that make your closest friendships irreplaceable: the trust that comes with true intimacy, the willingness to be vulnerable, the confidence that the friendship can withstand some conflict. Don't those sound like good things to have in your marriage, too?

"Happy couples are each other's haven," says Holland. "They can count on the other person to listen and try to meet their needs." Greer adds, "When you're true friends, you acknowledge and respect what the other person is; you don't try to control or change them. This creates a sense of safety and security when you're together — you know you're valued for who you are and you see the value in your partner."

Then there's the way, when you've been with someone a while, that you become almost a mind reader. You have a shared history and inside jokes. Your guy knows what you'll find funny, you forward him links to articles you know he'll enjoy, and best of all, you two can make eye contact at a given moment and say volumes without opening your mouths. And is there anything more pleasurable than sharing the newspaper with someone? Sitting in companionable silence, absorbed in your respective reading, sipping coffee, occasionally reading something out loud, but mostly just lazing happily together, communing without needing to speak? Ahh....

Step 7: Face down a major challenge together.

You're sailing along through life, and suddenly you hit a huge bump. A serious illness. Unemployment. The loss of a home. A death in the family. How do you cope?

The truth is, you never know how strong your relationship is until it's tested. All too often, the stress of a crisis can pull a couple apart. But the good news is, when you do make it through in one piece, you might just find yourselves tighter than ever.

"What didn't happen to us?" says Daryl, 28, a preschool teacher in Harrisburg, PA. "My husband lost his job and took a minimum-wage job he was way overqualified for just to make ends meet. He was offered a better job in a mountain town outside San Diego, so we moved. Then during the California wildfires several years ago, our house burned down and we lost everything. We were living in a one-room converted garage with no running water and a newborn. But we found that this chaos somehow brought us even closer together. We took turns losing it. We really kept each other sane."

Hey, marriage is no roll in the hay. It's tough, real work. But the reward, the edifice you build together that will shelter you through years of tough times, is more than worth the effort. The small, friendly cottage you build — decorated with your shared history and stories, filled with color and laughter — will be the warmest and safest retreat you can imagine.

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