Skip to main content

Looking for Happily Ever After? Experts Share How to Make a Marriage Work

These seven principles are the roadmap to a happy marriage.

Heather Bien
Heather Bien

couple holding hands

In Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver's book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, they lay out the principles that help couples learn how to make a marriage work. It's an academic deep-dive into the research that the Gottman Institute has dedicated its work to for decades, and it applies scientific, exacting research to the small, daily behaviors, as well as the overarching feelings, that can cause a marriage to succeed or fail. 

In it, Gottman and Silver explore the concepts of love maps, how to turn toward your partner instead of away, how to avoid stonewalling and defensiveness, and other behaviors that contribute to a healthy relationship.

He's now nearing 80, but Gottman's research built the roadmap for how to pursue a strong marriage. Using Gottman and Silver's seven principles as the guiding light, we asked to experts share their best advice on how newlyweds can make a marriage work.

What can an engaged couple do to set themselves up for a happy marriage?

As you're planning your wedding, it can be easy to focus solely on the big day and forget about all that comes afterwards. According to Michelle Mouhtis, a relationship coach and licensed therapist who works with many couples going through the wedding planning process: "Talk about the marriage just as much or more than you talk about the wedding! Talk about the way you want to raise a family, your spiritual beliefs, how you feel about spending and saving money and how you both feel about your sex life."

One way to make these conversations flow naturally? Go to therapy! Andrea Battiola, Ed.S., LPC, owner and psychotherapist at Peak Couples & Sex Therapy, says, "Think about premarital therapy as an investment. It's an investment in your future happiness together. Putting the time, energy and money into your relationship on the front-end will help you and your life partner be more prepared to celebrate life's wins and to face life's challenges as a team."

Additionally, therapist and writer Sara Kuburic adds, "Explore expectations, goals, and assumptions about relationships and one another. Ensure that you understand who you are –– and keep working on that self-relationship –– and are willing to put in the effort." You can only make a healthy marriage work if you want to make it work –– so make sure you know where you each stand before you say, "I do."

The 7 Principles of How to Make a Marriage Work

Using Gottman and Silver's seven principles, let's explore specific examples of how newly and not-so-newly married people can honor their partner's needs—and their own—and lay a strong foundation for a successful marriage. 

1. Share love maps. 

A love map is your vision of an ideal relationship and partner. It's your preferences, likes, dislikes and what fills your cup within a marriage. It can be the little things or bigger concepts –– and it also relates to love languages. Battiola says, "Knowing your partner's love language can help you tailor your appreciation to them in a way that will register best for them, making them feel more seen, understood and cared for."

2. Nurture fondness and appreciation.

Everyone wants to be with someone who loves them for who they are! Make sure your partner knows and understands why you love them. Remind them often, and they should do the same for you.

3. Turn toward each other.

Happy couples run towards each other, not away, when things get hard. They avoid stonewalling or giving the silent treatment, and instead lean on each other for support. But, this isn't only relevant during a crisis time, it's also key to everyday happiness. If you put in the hard work of committing to quality time every day, you will see the payoff in your marriage. 

"Day-to-day, couples can spend a few minutes with no distractions to really talk and listen to each other about their days, celebrate any wins together, and offer support if your partner is going through a hard time," advises Mouhtis.

4. Let your partner influence you. 

Your spouse doesn't always have to be right –– and neither do you –– but you do need to listen to their point of view and try to understand where they are coming from. Marriage counselors recommend the couples make decisions as a couple, weighing the thoughts of and impact on both parties.

5. Solve your solvable problems. 

Disagreements will happen! But that doesn't mean they need to turn into insurmountable marital problems. Instead, Mouhtis recommends regularly checking in, "Ask your partner, have I been a good partner to you this week? What ways was I supportive or helpful? How can I be better moving forward  It gives both of you an opportunity to name and nip any resentments in the bud before they become a bigger issue."

6. Overcome gridlock. 

Often, unresolved issues within a marriage are the result of gridlock, or stalled dreams on the end of one or both parties. This can raise insecurities and frustration, making one partner reluctant to open up. Bringing in a therapist can help save your marriage from the merry-go-round of gridlock and bring you both towards attainable common ground.

7. Create shared meaning. 

Whether your individual and partnered goals include family, travel, business ventures, building a welcoming home or adopting a dog, it's important to recognize and respect the meaning of those milestones reached together. Relationship coach Lee Wilson explains, "Speak often of experiences that the two of you have already had together and what fulfilled, uplifted and excited you about those."

Don't forget to check in regularly. 

While these seven principles are wonderful, they're only as effective as you and your partner commit to working towards them. That's why Battiola sings the praises of a regular time to check in with each other. She says, "Check-ins are a set time to talk about what is going well between you and what needs a little fine-tuning. Let's say this month your sex life has been a bit lackluster. If you already know you'll have your monthly check-in next week, you can feel secure there's a time for you to kindly share concerns. You also get an opportunity to make them feel good, and feel good yourself by hearing what's been going well over the last month. We all love positive reinforcement!"

Lastly, Mouhtis leaves us on a positive note to remind everyone why they've ended up with their person in the first place, "Don’t forget to go on date nights and have fun with each other, too!"