Thermostat settings. Dirty socks. Toothpaste caps. Our little habits make
our spouses crazy. But no two people are ever truly compatible, so quit
nitpicking each other, relationship experts advise. Save the battles for the
big issues -- and you'll have a happy marriage.
Susan Boon, PhD, a social psychologist at the University of Calgary in
Alberta, Canada, teaches classes in interpersonal relationships. A few years
ago, she picked up the book, Seven Principles for Making Marriages
Work, by John Gottman, MD, psychologist, relationship researcher for 30
years, and founder of The Gottman Institute in Seattle. Ever since discovering
the book, Boon has recommended it to her students.
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Long-lasting, happy marriages have more than great communication, Boon says.
"Dr. Gottman brings up something no one ever talks about -- that
irreconcilable differences are normal, that you just have to come to terms with
them, not try to resolve the unresolvable. On some level, that should have been
obvious, but it hasn't been," she tells WebMD.
Most marriage therapists focus on "active listening," which involves
paraphrasing, validating, affirming your spouse's feedback, says Boon.
"That's all well and good and may help you get through some conflicts in a
less destructive way. But, as Dr. Gottman puts it, 'you're asking people to do
Olympic-style gymnastics when they can hardly crawl.' Many people will fail at
those techniques. Research indicates that most people are dissatisfied with the
outcome of marital therapy, that the problems come back."
In happy marriages, Boon points out, couples don't do any of that!
Instead, you must be nice to your partner, research shows. Make small
gestures, but make them often. "The little things matter," says Boon.
"What a happy marriage is based on is deep friendship, knowing each other
well, having mutual respect, knowing when it makes sense to try to work out an
issue, when it is not solvable. Many kinds of issues simply aren't
Learn how to identify issues that must be resolved, that can be
"fruitfully discussed," she notes. "Learn to live with the rest.
Just put up with it. All you do is waste your breath and get angry over these
things that can't be changed. You're better off not trying to change them. Work
around them. Commit to staying together, even though this is something you
A long-lasting, happy marriage is about knowing your partner, being
supportive, and being nice. Research shows that, "for every one negative
thing you do, there must be five positive things that balance it out," Boon
tells WebMD. "Make sure to balance the negatives with positives. Your
marriage has to be heavily in favor of the positives."
While it sounds easy -- and while it can be easy -- this commitment to being
nice is no small matter, Boon says. "You have to do nice things often. But
it's harder to be nice when the heat is on, when you're really angry, or when
something has happened for the 15th time. Nevertheless, the balance must be
heavily, heavily stacked in the positive, to have a happy marriage."
Also, couples must stay in touch with their special ways of repairing the
relationship, Boon says. "It can be humor; it can be whatever helps diffuse
the escalating heat. In happy marriages, couples naturally do this. They
deflect the anger, and get back on an even keel."