In honor of Valentine’s Day and to help mark National Marriage Week USA, we’ve compiled some of the best marriage advice we’ve featured on the Family-Studies blog over the years. The following list, while not exhaustive, is meant to serve as an easy-to-digest resource for individuals, couples, researchers, and therapists to read, use, and share on Valentine’s Day and beyond in their efforts to promote and strengthen healthy, life-long marriages (find even more helpful resources under our "Marriage and Relationship Education" category).
1. Make the little moments count.
One of the most important tips we’ve covered on this site is pretty simple: our daily habits and interactions have the greatest impact on our marriage over the years. In “Daily Rituals Cultivate Lasting Love,” IFS research fellow Amber Lapp wrote about her grandparents’ lasting marriage, noting: “The secret to their success was the habits they formed together—habits that prioritized their marriage.” And in “Why the Little Moments in Marriage Matter,” our founding editor, Anna Sutherland, built on this theme in a summary of a new study that “confirms that mundane positive interactions lay the foundation for lasting marriages,” and that in successful marriages, positive interactions outnumber negative ones.
2. Take time to relax together.
When Valentine’s Day rolls around, many of us who are married with kids begin to panic, realizing just how long it has been since we’ve had a night out with our spouse and wondering how we are going to find a decent sitter so we can make that happen this year. While it doesn’t matter so much when we spend time together, a consistent research finding is that strong marriages are built on cultivating a friendship that includes shared leisure time. As Dr. Jason Whiting pointed out in “True Love is Passion Rooted in Friendship,” there is “more to love than the fires of passion. Love in its complete form also includes friendship.” And we maintain that friendship by relaxing together. In his post,“ Leisure Time and Marital Happiness,” IFS senior fellow Scott Stanley reviewed some of the research on the positive effects of just having fun as a couple, emphasizing: “To help keep your marriage, strong, try to do things that you both enjoy during leisure time.” Finally, Harry Benson of the UK-based Marriage Foundation wrote about, “The Benefits of Monthly Date Nights for Married Couples” based on new research, which found that “monthly date nights bring added stability to the relationship between new parents.”
3. Make worship and prayer a priority.
Research consistently shows that shared religious practices, like prayer and attending religious services, are tied to marital quality and happiness. Writing in the post, "Religious Service Attendance, Marriage, and Health,” Harvard University professor Tyler J. VanderWeele explained his research on the link between religious service attendance and a lower likelihood of divorce. And in “Faith and Marriage: Better Together?” IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox reported that married couples who pray and worship together have happier marriages than those who do not.
4. Share your marriage with others.
Another powerful message that we’ve tried to communicate on this Family-Studies blog is the value of sharing our imperfect-but-mostly-happy marriages with younger couples or marriage-minded singles. Journalist Ada Calhoun made this point in her book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, where she wrote that “[b]y staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope.” And, as I explained in “Please Don’t Hide Your Happy Marriage,” one of the dangers of "hiding" our happy marriages from others is that “the unhealthy relationships in our culture can begin to drown out the happy marriages all around us,” which is “why we need more happily married individuals and couples who are brave enough to be open about their blissful unions, including celebrities.”
5. Seek out older, wiser couples for support.
Just as we can offer hope to others through our marriages, we can also gain hope from the seasoned married couples in our lives, who too often are an untapped resource for couples who are struggling. Harry Benson and his wife Kate addressed this in their book, What Mums Want, when they shared how their own troubled marriage was saved by the wisdom and guidance of other married couples in their lives. “Without the love and help of these wise friends,” Benson wrote, “I am certain that our marriage would have continued its downward drift and eventually come to a confused end that neither of us wanted.” As the Bensons found, spending time with older and wiser married couples can be a lifeline for a troubled marriage.
6. Don’t be afraid to get professional help.
Even in the best marriages, professional help is sometimes necessary. This is something that Michelle Obama writes about in her new book, as IFS contributor Ashley McGuire recently pointed out. However, many struggling couples don’t seek help, as marriage therapist Steven Harris noted in his post, “In Marriage, If You See Something, Say Something." Harris found that “in a sample of married Americans considering divorce, less than two-thirds had spoken to anyone about it.”
For couples who might wonder if their relationship needs outside help, Dr. Jason Whiting highlighted six relationship “red flags.” Additionally, IFS senior fellow Scott Stanley offered 8 suggestions for avoiding divorce, where he pointed out that: “Most couples in serious trouble wait far too long to get professional help. If both of you know something is seriously amiss, seek help now. When both partners are motivated, a lot of good things can result from seeing a skilled counselor.”
7. Keep on keeping on.
Finally, and most importantly, a consistent theme we’ve shared on this blog is don't give up on your marriage. Ada Calhoun put it this way in Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give: the key to a lasting marriage is to “stay long enough to see things change, for good and for ill and for good again.” Her message is borne out in new research that found that for most couples, marriage tends to get better with time—and perseverance. In an interview with IFS about his latest study, sociologist Paul Amato put it best when he shared: “Contrary to what many people think, marital quality does not inevitably decline—it tends to remain high or even improve over the decades.”