4 Keys To A Good Marriage

Couple Holding Hands

My wife Joanne and I have just celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary.

The time has flown by since we said “I do” and life has changed.

We now have two beautiful children and our work, housing, and interests have changed over time.

There are several things that we have implemented in our relationship early on that have served us well in the journey so far, and will continue to serve us in the future.

I wanted to write down 4 of these things as a constant reminder to myself, but also for anyone else who is on this journey of a lifetime.

I chose these 4 things not because they are exhaustive, but because I often encounter the opposite of these things as prevalent relationship advice in our culture.

Just a very quick note to say that although these keys are built around the idea of continued commitment to our partner, if you are in an abusive relationship, either mentally, emotionally, or physically, please get out of that relationship as soon as is safe to do so. You are under no obligation to stay with someone under those conditions.

1. It’s 100/100, Not 50/50

love heart
It seems to be a common assumption that relationships are 50/50, give and take - If I do the dishes, you should take the rubbish out.

This approach seems to make common sense, but here is why it doesn’t work.

People have radically different ways of viewing the world, as well as viewing their own contributions (for example, the Ikea Effect). The things that we think are important and put a lot of time into might not be important to the other person.

We might believe that ironing is of great importance, and spend lots of time ironing ours and our partner's clothes. In a 50/50 relationship we will then believe that our partner must do something equally important to balance out the hard work, otherwise, they will not be “contributing equally to the relationship”.

Our partner may not see ironing as important as we do, and the hard work may not be as recognised as we would like. Alternatively, our partner may indeed do something that they believe is of equal significance but it will not be as important to us.

From there, things start to break down as we begin to nurse grudges.

This mindset is often reflected in financial arrangements where a couple will bank separately, with their own separate streams of income, and will each pay 50 / 50 of the bills and expenses (this becomes much more complicated if children come along and one of them decides to reduce work hours). Not that this is the case all the time, but that in many cases it seems indicative.

In a 100/100 relationship, we put into it as much as we can. We don’t hold back from the relationship because we believe that our partner is not doing their fair share. We remain fully committed. As seen in the vows that we made: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

This is because love stands at the centre of our relationship. In modern society we often confuse infatuation with love.

We think that love is a feeling.

In most relationships the infatuation stage ends after around 2 years.

Real love is a decision that we make to constantly support our partner and to see the best in them.

How Do We Do This

As with most relationship building, it starts with a frank conversation.  Frank conversations should be a regular part of a healthy relationship. Checking in with each other to see how we are doing.

Before Jo and I got married we completed a book recommended by a couple who were mentoring us in our relationship.

The book was full of practical questions about living together and sought to gauge our assumptions. It asked questions like “who do you expect to do most of the cooking in this relationship?” and “how do you feel about ironing”.

Once the questionnaire was completed we were able to discuss our answers together.
This removed any preconceived ideas about life together. We were able to address our assumptions and reach consensus about decisions.

I think that something like this, even for a couple who have been together for a while is a great discipline.

Alongside something like the above, a discussion around what a 100/100 relationship looks like for you both will be very useful.

If this is something that interests you then book some time in this week to have that conversation together. It is very important that it is not an accusatory thing; it is not a blaming thing, it is just a conversation to ensure that you are both going in the same direction.

2. Cultivate Common Interests

Couple Cycling along together
There is a perpetual myth in conventional relationship advice that states that if a couple spends too much time together then they will “become sick of each other”. Equally, there is the other end of the spectrum that states “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

To this end, couples often seek to intentionally cultivate interests that lead them away from each other.

 They believe that they must be “their own person”.

There is nothing wrong with having our own interests. But when we purely cultivate our own interests that take up our time, and then we also work apart and have separate friendship groups then we start spending less and less time together. 

If we add children into the mix our couple time becomes even more diminished, and before we know it our partners become unrecognisable from the people that we fell in love with.

Of course, life brings with it change, and the person that we fell in love with will not be the person that they are today, but the primary question is: have we changed and grown together, or have we changed and grown apart?.

Cultivating common interests acts as a way to draw us together, and help us to grow together.

How Can We Cultivate Common Interests?

It is important to note that cultivating common interests is not getting our partner to like the same stuff we do. Rather it is finding common ground.

This can take the form of sports, like playing squash together, or take dance lessons together (if you have kids and can’t get a babysitter, just use a dance lesson from youtube! 😊).

It could be playing board games or computer games together (my wife and I recently completed the Harry Potter Lego game!).

Another couple we know once joined a cheese tasting group. The possibilities are endless!

It is worth noting that the interest should involve active participation with one another rather than a passive interest. Sitting down and watching television together is not a common interest that draws you together.

Think about the common interests that you share with your partner, are you utilising these interests to draw closer to them?

If you do not have any common interests then have a chat about creating a common interest together.

3. Carve Out Time and Space Together

Hour Glass representing Time
To cultivate common interests together takes time. 

Amidst working and social lives (or if you have kids, acting as a taxi service) it can be difficult to find time to reconnect. 

Often by the time it eventually comes to sitting down after a long hard day we only have the energy to sit in front of the television and put our feet up.

Equally (and this is more for those of you who have children) when you are surrounded by children toys and piles of washing it can be difficult to create a romantic space.

Both of these factors culminate in an eroding of our relationship. This is why carving out both time and space can be an important factor in our relationships.

Many couples have found the idea of a “date night” helpful here – a specific night each week which is intentional for working on a relationship.

This night can be used to foster closeness. This ties in with the 2nd key of common interests. 

Do something that you both love together. Take time to intentionally get to know each other. Jo and I recently worked through a set of questions together that couples don’t usually ask one another. It was fun just chatting and getting to know each other a bit better. After nearly 10 years it was surprising how many things we still didn’t know about each other.

Date night does not have to involve spending money, nor does it have to involve going out (especially important for those who have children and can't get babysitters). There are so many free ideas, and ideas for staying in (a quick Pinterest search will give you loads of ideas).

How Do We Do This

Date nights are by no means the only solution here and it best to find out what works for your specific relationship. 

It can also be good to have more in-depth times such as weekends away or taking a days holiday from work together whilst the kids are at school for example.

Regarding space, we have a policy whereby we do not keep children’s things or general clutter in our bedroom. This is our personal space and is used for connection, therefore we do not want clutter that can distract.

Have you thought intentionally about carving out space and time for each other? If not, then sit down with your partner and talk about it.

4. The 1 In 5 Rule

Sign saying Give Thanks
The one in five rule states that for every negative interaction with a person, there should be five positive ones.

If we imagine a relationship as a bank account, all day long we are making withdrawals and deposits into the account (relationship). If we make too many withdrawals without making enough deposits then our relationship goes into the red. At this point, our relationship is in danger and will start to break down.

In this analogy withdrawals are negative interactions and deposits are positive interactions.

Throughout the day we are constantly making withdrawals through our interactions with others. We misunderstand them, make requests of them, chastise them or accidentally dismiss them. The relationship is slowly eroded.

This is why we must be extremely intentional about our deposits in the relationship.

This starts with an attitude of gratitude.

It starts with noticing the many things that our partner does for us and thanking them for it.

One good discipline is to think of one thing your partner has done for you in the day and make your thanks for that thing the last word to them at night.

5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction might seem like a lot. But we often underestimate the weight of a negative interaction.

A negative interaction holds much more weight than a positive interaction which is why we need to be intentional about our positive interactions.

Start noticing the interactions that you have with your partner (and especially children, if you have them). How many of the interactions are negative? How many are positive?

What keys do you have that have helped your relationship to flourish? I would love to hear them. Leave them in a comment below.
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