All those friends who say, "marriage is work" are right, but maybe not in the way you think. "Work" doesn't have to be a negative term. In fact, if you're willing to put in just a little bit of effort, you might find married life is better than dating—and more fun than you ever thought it could be. Here, Anita A. Chlipala, LMFT, founder of Relationship Reality 312 in Chicago, shares her tips for a happy—and stress-free—relationship.
1. Fight with a smile.
How you duke it out can make all the difference. "Couples who head toward divorce not only have more negativity during fights, but they also escalate this negativity in their arguments," says Chlipala. "A conflict that begins on a negative note usually ends that way too," she says. Instead, if you approach conflict gently, your spouse is likely to be more responsive. It may sound crazy, but try to have positive interactions during an argument (like cracking jokes to cut the tension), says Chlipala.
2. Embrace your differences.
Acceptance is a key aspect of happy couples, and it can be demonstrated by a couple's ability to compromise, says Chlipala. "In fact, research shows that no matter whom you're with, you will have issues that have to be managed, not solved, and those account for about 70 percent of all problems couples have," she says. This is because the issues are rooted in personality, values, preferences, dreams, etc. "Happy couples recognize these differences as part of the ‘marital package' and work on compromising for a win-win."
3. Be adventurous.
Doing something exciting or different can increase the romance. "The chemical associated with novelty is dopamine, which produces feelings of exhilaration, energy, focused attention, longing, and butterflies," says Chlipala. “These feelings are associated with romantic love, the love people feel when they first fall in love with their partner," she says. Visiting a place where you've never been, or even just switching up your weekly routine by going to a different restaurant, will help add excitement to your relationship.
4. Run errands together.
Yes, grocery shopping can help your marriage. One of the top reasons for divorce is disconnection—couples drift apart, says Chlipala. Just being in each other's presence and having fun doing something mundane (like running errands together) creates a sense of intimacy. A weekly date night can of course help a couple feel more connected, but just spending time together alone can strengthen your bond as well, says Chlipala.
5. Keep your sex life outside the bedroom (too).
Sure, sex is the ultimate form of intimacy, but simply keeping that physical contact confined to the bedroom can leave you feeling disconnected. "Other acts of physical touch such as hugs, cuddling, kissing, and massage elevate oxytocin, the cuddle hormone," says Chlipala. "These little acts not only help maintain a sexual connection, but an emotional one too."