1. You have fun together.
“The skills couples need to keep intimacy alive in a long-term relationship aren’t obvious because people don’t talk about them,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “Most couples need to lower their expectations of romance and glamour and raise the level of fun they have together,” she says. This means having regular dates and check-in talks, plus taking time to enjoy activities together. “Successful couples make plans to try new things together, go out, have fun, laugh, and play,” adds Marni Feuerman, a marriage expert in Boca Raton, Florida. “They know that novelty breathes positive energy into a relationship.”
2. You’re trustworthy.
Hiding purchases, online relationships, or your feelings from your spouse? That’s a big no-no. “Couples in successful marriages have each other’s backs and do not keep secrets,” says Feuerman. “They behave in ways that better both each other and the relationship—not just themselves.”
3. You’re in it together.
“The most powerful thing you can do to keep a marriage strong is form a partnership in which both parties feel respected, cared about, and needed,” says Tessina. Even if you’re having problems, if you approach them as a team they’re easier to solve. Michael J. Salamon, PhD, a couples therapist based in Hewlett, New York and author of Every Pot Has a Cover: A Proven System for Finding, Keeping and Enhancing the Ideal Relationship, points to a couple he recently worked with as a great example of teamwork. “Financial stress caused them to cut their budget way back, and the stress was exacerbated every month when bills arrived,” he explains. The couple fought a lot about what to pay and when. So Salamon asked them to develop a plan to manage their bills while he observed them. “Just giving them the task of working on it together changed the tone. They saw the challenge now as something that belonged to both of them and, and something they should work on together,” he says.
4. You touch each other.
Often. Couples who love each other show it, even during the difficult times that land them in therapy. If you want your marriage to make it, touch your partner as often as possible (put your hand on your spouse’s leg while driving; give him a little squeeze now and then; hug and kiss each other.) Make a point to cuddle in front of the television, on the porch swing, or in your bedroom. “Intimacy is the art of making your partner feel understood and accepted,” says Tessina. “When this feeling is created, barriers fall.” And that brings us to sex. “If a marriage is going to last, both partners need to be able to demonstrate their love by giving and receiving physical affection,” says Feuerman. “A romantic relationship is a sexual relationship and not just a platonic friendship.”
5. You let go of grudges.
Simply put, resentment will destroy a marriage. So you need to step up and say “I’m upset because X.” “When one spouse claims to be ‘fine’ when he is in fact agitated, it creates an environment in which one person has to guess the other’s true feelings, and no one likes that game,” says Karissa Brennan, a New York City-based psychotherapist and founder of Cloud Counseling, an online counseling site. “The more you show your partner what bothers you, the more she’ll understand how to help you through it,” she says. Marriages are successful when couples learn to express their feelings clearly and respectfully in the moment.
6. You lean in.
Not in a Sheryl Sandberg kind of way, but in a body language kind of way. “A tilt of the head, a shift of the leg, a look or a change in tone can all indicate a breakthrough, a change in awareness that says they are now hearing, understanding and are being responsive to one another,” says Salamon. He cites a couple he recently worked with where the wife felt like her husband didn’t show affection anymore. After a bit of back and forth it became clear that mornings for the couple were especially hectic. “I asked if they kiss one another good-bye when they leave every morning and hello when they get home every night,” he says. “They committed right then and there to kiss more, even if just in passing, and to have one date night a week.”
7. You like and respect each other.
Spouses in successful marriages really strive to meet each other’s needs simply because they genuinely like to see their partners happy. “They’re concerned when their spouse seems unhappy and don’t just blow it off, thinking ‘that’s his problem,’ ” says Feuerman. They ask what’s wrong when something seems off. They offer solutions. And they show gratitude and appreciation for each other by thanking them and hearing them out.
8. You empathize with each other.
“I notice if couples are empathizing with each other, listening attentively, and responding,” says Feuerman. “Good partners turn toward each other—not away—when one of them is trying to make an emotional connection.” Likewise, successful couples try hard to avoid gridlock on issues. “Some issues in a relationship are just not solvable (for example, personality traits) so a couple that is going to make it practices things like tolerance, empathy, and negotiation when problems arise,” says Feuerman.
9. You make up the right way.
The biggest clue to whether a marriage is sustainable is how couples reunite after a tiff, says Jeannette Raymond, PhD, a licensed marriage therapist in Los Angeles and author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t!. “Taking the initiative to invite your partner back into your world after a disappointment is a good sign,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you have necessarily gotten over it, but it shows that your need to restore your emotional connection and security in the relationship takes precedence over your hurt feelings.” These couples want to make it work and recognize that sometimes that means saying you’re sorry and sticking around to solve the problems. Adds Feuerman: “One of the most important things I notice is that the couple views their marriage as a life-long journey and not something to quickly bail on when things get rough. The couples that make it ride out the ups and downs together as a team and stay committed.”