happy couple
Jo Julia Photography

The term “happy” might mean something different for everyone, but, in essence, it means being fulfilled and at peace with the life we have. This very much includes the people we surround ourselves with—namely our significant other. According to Julie Williamson, licensed professional counselor who practices in St. Louis, Missouri, the answer to how to be a happy married couple means to feel the freedom to be fully yourself, both positive and negative attributes, knowing and trusting that your partner will love and accept you, even when you're less desirable qualities shine through or during times of conflict. “For some couples, happiness may look like spending the majority of their time together, even running small errands with each other,” she says. “For others, it may look like each individual taking space and time for themselves, and then coming back together for quality time.” Wondering where you and your significant other fall on the spectrum?

Relationship experts share their best-kept secrets for how to be a happy married couple.

They intentionally listen to each other.

Especially when you live together, it can feel like all you do is spend time together and talk—but how intently you converse and communicate is key. Putting down your smartphone, shutting off the TV and turning off Spotify playing in the background are all important dos that should be done prior to listening to your partner—and is essential in the “how to be a happy married couple” quest. “Truly listening, speaking from the heart and wholeheartedly throwing themselves into whatever it is that they're doing allows them to actually be with one another in the present, which contributes to a deeper connection,” says Amanda Stemen, licensed clinical social worker with private therapy and coaching practice in Los Angeles, California. “When speaking with one another mindfully, each feels heard and understood, which increases the love.”

They check in with each other.

It may sound simple, but it always surprises Williamson to hear from couples who treat each other more like roommates. “You don't have to take a full hour to have a conversation, but taking three to five minutes and asking your partner how they're doing, about their day and what their plans are for the rest of the day can be helpful,” she says.

They’re physically intimate.

This might not always mean sex (although plenty of sex is important too), according to Stemen, but physical contact is necessary for healthy growth and development—even in adults. “It also increases emotional connection, which in turn increases physical connection, and the cycle continues,” she adds.

They give each other compliments.

When it comes to how to be a happy married couple, it’s always nice to hear someone give you praise and admiration, especially those closest to you. Acknowledgement of the positive things you and your partner are doing affirms your appreciation for each other. “Compliments strengthen the relationship, whereas frequent criticism can destroy a relationship,” says Stemen. “It can be challenging in long-term relationships to remember what drew each person to the other or find new things to compliment, but looking for the positive will always lead to finding it.”

They take adventures together.

After a while, it’s normal for couples in long-term relationships to fall into a routine that, at times, can become mundane. This is why it’s so important to switch things up and try new things together. “This doesn't mean having to traverse the world or climb mountains—although that works too—it could be as simple as cooking something new together, going roller skating instead of the movies on date night or refinishing an old, boring piece of furniture in the home,” says Stemen. “It doesn't matter as long as it's new and different.”

They do nice things for one another.

This doesn’t have to mean a romantic grand gesture—something as simple as brewing your partner a cup of coffee before he or she leaves for work in the morning can go a long way in terms of relationship happiness. “Buying something nice out of nowhere (or for a special occasion), making breakfast in bed or planning a surprise getaway also mixes things up a little,” says Stemen. “The idea is this lets one another know they're being thought of and how important they are to their significant other.”

They spend time apart.

A secret ingredient to how to be a happy married couple is time spent together and apart. “Doing things without one another creates a sense of mystery that keeps the relationship from getting old,” says Stemen. While this time apart can be spent with other people, Stemen also points out the importance of spending alone time. “It allows for connecting and reflecting on oneself, the relationship and relationships with others and something greater than ourselves (If that's important for each),” she says. “This reflection strengthens a relationship, creating far more happiness than when a relationship is too codependent.”

They practice self-care.

While you might not associate some of the things you do for yourself, such as working out or getting monthly massages, as something that would benefit your partner, but you should! “Taking care of yourself is taking care of your partner,” says Williamson. “As you practice self-care and become mindful of your own thoughts and feelings, it allows you to ‘fill your tank’ so-to-speak, gives you energy to engage with your partner and helps you make clear and thoughtful decisions regarding what you say and how you relate to them.”