“Rules for a Happy Marriage” I read out loud as I examined the plaque I had just pulled out of a gift sack. I was young, in love, and engaged. The occasion was my wedding shower given to me by our church. The plaque was cheaply made and worn. A coffee stain was clearly visible and it was starting to become detached from cheap corkboard backing. It looked in sad shape compared to all the other new shiny things that I had been opening. But one look at the tiny widow crowned in white hair that had given it to me showed me that there was much more to this gift than meets the eye. Later, she told me something that I will never forget that was both touching and pulled at my heart-strings. But first, I want to share with you this gift that I unwrapped 16 years ago.
10 Rules for a Happy Marriage That Keep Me on Track
The rules below are verbatim what is typed on the plaque. That humble plaque still has a proud place in my kitchen in a place that I walk by it every day. Like the sweet widow who gave it to me, there is much more to them than it first appears. I can’t say that I have kept them all 100% every day of my marriage, but the pursuit of them keeps both my husband and me on the right track.
Related: 6 Keys To Happiness in Marriage
Rule 1: Never Both be Angry at the Same Time
Of all the rules for a happy marriage, this one is probably the hardest one for me. I am usually the one whose temper flares the quickest. If he gets annoyed and says something that gets under my skin, I have to remember to respond instead of reacting when I get mad.
When a person is angry, they are so consumed with emotion that they don’t (or can’t) listen. They are busy thinking about their response and how they feel and in defense mode. When both husband and wife are angry at each other at the same time, you have all the ingredients for a loud argument that can easily result in saying things that you don’t mean and many hurt feelings.
Rule 2 for a Happy Marriage: Never Yell at Each Other Unless the House is on Fire
I will readily admit that my husband is better at following these rules for a happy marriage. If someone is yelling, it’s usually me. I have heard him yell only a handful of times in our marriage. If I’m yelling, I have lost my temper and I’m probably angry. This ties directly into the first rule for a happy marriage above.
Related: 4 Things to Remember When Everything Goes Wrong (Read this one if you need a laugh)
Rule 3: If One of You Has to Win an Argument, Let it Be Your Mate
Marriage is a lot of give and take. Being considerate towards your spouse is at the heart of any happy marriage. It’s very hard to remember that if you both convinced that you are right. It’s usually not over big things either.
For example, my husband and I have a difference of opinion on what kind of bread is best. I am trying to make healthier choices, so I don’t eat that much bread. When I do, I prefer whole wheat or some other type of whole-grain bread. However, he often takes a sandwich to work for his lunch. He likes Sunbeam bread. That’s his favorite.
Since I am the one that fixes his lunch, I started getting whole-grain bread. He protested, saying that it tasted like eating grass. I tried compromising and getting white whole wheat bread. He still didn’t like it. Can you guess what kind of bread I always keep stocked now? Sunbeam.
I still think I’m right and whole-grain bread is healthier, however, I decided to let him win that one. His sandwiches are made out of the bread he likes. When he sees that, he knows that it’s one small way that I tell him that I love him and that his opinion is important, even if it’s different from my own.
Rule 4: If You Have to Criticize, Do it Lovingly
When you are married to someone day in and day out, sometimes you have complaints that have to be aired. Complaining is about one specific thing or incident. Calling each other names or making derogatory remarks about the character of your spouse ( for example “you are so stupid and selfish!) will undermine even the happiest of marriages because it disregards respect, admiration, and trust.
Instead, keep your complaints respectful and full of love. My husband did this beautifully to me several weeks ago. We were in a store together and he corrected our youngest. I immediately jumped to my child’s defense and contradicted my husband in front of our child. When he brought it up to me, it was several days later. He did it with no anger and lots of love. He started by “You have such a bond with our youngest child. You are very quick to jump to his defense because you love him so strongly.” That got my attention and it reminded me of my love for our youngest. But then he continued and stated how he felt frustrated when he tried to correct our son’s behavior.
The way that he approached it made me go into a receptive frame of mind. Communicating the issue with respect and love made it much easier to listen, admit that I had been wrong and needed to take a step back.
Rule 5 for a Happy Marriage: Never Bring Up Mistakes of the Past
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. There is no need to bring up mistakes that happened in years past. Bringing them up does not help the current situation, and usually only serves to hurt the other person.
Rule 6: Neglect the Whole World Rather Than Each Other
Though some of these rules for a happy marriage sting a little bit, I love this one. Life is busy and it’s all too easy to get caught up in daily obligations. In our 15 years of marriage, we have found that it works best for us when our marriage is our #2 priority. #1 is God. Your marriage is your most important relationship here on earth. Your kids will grow up and leave the “nest.” However, your spouse is meant to be your life’s partner.
When busy times hit and I am busy trying to juggle many things, I have been guilty of breaking this rule. But when my husband tells me, “I feel like I’m just getting leftovers and everyone else is getting the best of you.” I know it’s time to change my focus. In those times, I’m usually overwhelmed and drawing closer to my husband enables us to draw strength from each other instead of letting circumstances tear us apart.
Rule 7: Never Go to Sleep With an Argument Unsettled
The few times that I have done this, we have both felt terrible in the morning. If the argument drags on and on it just leaves us more time to hurt each other’s feelings and for resentments to build. Yes, sometimes we have to wait a bit so that we can discuss things more objectively. (aka- without me losing my temper and yelling.) But we always try to get it settled as soon as possible and before we go to bed.
As a side note – there is actually research now to back this old saying up. When you go to bed angry, it makes it harder to suppress the negative thoughts. In other words – it makes it harder to forget the disagreement.
Rule 8: At Least Once Every Day Try to Say One Kind or Complimentary Thing to Your Life’s Partner
I think this one is my husband’s favorite. I know that this is one that he absolutely excels at. One of the most important ingredients/rules for a happy marriage is expressing admiration for your spouse. This is especially important if their love language is words of affirmation.
It sounds pretty simple, but it’s one of those small things that makes a big difference. When you say one kind or complimentary thing to your spouse each day, you first have to think of something good about them. This cultivates an attitude of gratitude when it comes to your spouse and reminds you of why you fell in love with them.
When your spouse hears these compliments or kind things, you build them up and they feel good about themselves. They then associate those positive emotions with you and are more likely to return those compliments.
Rule 9: When You Have Done Something Wrong, Be Ready to Admit It and Ask Forgiveness
Humility. It can be a kicker, can’t it? It’s much easier to get defensive and declare “It’s not my fault because…” than to humble yourself, admit wrongdoing. However, the humility and taking responsibility for your actions and mistakes will build up your marriage while defensiveness will slowly erode it.
Rule 10: It Takes Two to Make a Quarrel, and the One in the Wrong is the One Who Does the Most Talking.
This has always been my least favorite of the rules for a happy marriage. Want to guess which of us usually does the most talking in an argument? It’s me. Quarreling is where you are having an argument and you both get mad.
It’s hard to have a true quarrel when the other person is not reacting. We say things in anger that we don’t mean. Are there times to be angry? Certainly. But you are in control of your actions and your words all the time.
Treat your spouse with respect, love, consideration, and kindness. Seek to understand first and be understood second.
Related: Best Ways to Show Someone You Care
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Rules for a Happy Marriage
The secret in these rules for a happy marriage is not in keeping them perfectly. I don’t think that any couple could keep them perfectly every day. The secret is in the pursuit of keeping them. The day that I unwrapped that worn plaque, smiled and thanked the sweet widow that had given them to me, I knew I had unwrapped a hidden gem.
After the wedding shower was over, she walked up to me, steadying her small frame with a cane. She put her wrinkled hand on my arm and looked up at me and told me. “Those rules served me well all the years that my husband was alive. I’m not using them anymore, so I wanted you to have them. I hope that you have as many happy years as I had.” I saw the sparkle of tears in her blue eyes as she finished. Though he had been gone for 10+ years, it was apparent that her love for her husband was just as strong as ever. I want to love my husband like that forever.
Love is one of the strongest forces both in and beyond this life. I want my relationship with my husband to grow stronger with time and for us to draw closer through both the good times and the bad. I want that for you in your life too. That’s why it was on my heart today to share these 10 rules for a happy marriage with you. Which one is your favorite? Leave me a comment below!