5 Keys to a Happy Marriage

Images via Galit Breen

Soon after our wedding, my husband Jason and I moved into a townhome that we loved. We decorated it in shades of blue and yellow that we’d later regret and we fell in love with our neighbors that we’d always adore. 

The cul de sac was small and new and even though we were the youngest couple there, we got to know our neighbors quickly.  We’d wave from our small squares of backyard, go for walks around the block at the same time of night, and meet up at the community mailbox once a day.

While everyone who lived there was lovely, my neighbor Rita was my secret favorite. She was a grandmother and a titch shorter than I am; at barely 5’1” I rarely get to say that. Her skin was a tanned shade of mocha kissed by years of running in the sunshine, and tanning in booths. Her almond shaded, shoulder length hair was always sprayed into place, never bouncing, never moving, and sans a single loose strand.

She walked with a slight hunch that she never talked about and with pocket dog tucked under one arm that she always talked about. And if her husband Mike was there, they’d be hand in hand or shoulder to shoulder or knee to knee. Their love was free.

One day — before we had shared sweet iced tea or after dinner walks or her perfect chocolate chip cookies — Rita stopped me at those mailboxes. “I want to talk to you about your husband,” she said, pointing at me with one knobby, tanned, hot pink tipped finger, her huge diamond glistening in Minnesota’s trademark afternoon sunshine. Her words were laced with a rasp and a cough that never went away. “A good marriage just needs two things.”

At that time I didn’t know that marriage could be hard, I was young and new and more naïve than I’d like to admit.

Rita and Mike looked at each other across BBQs, he brought her afternoon drinks and she met him for lunch – packed in brown paper sacks — at work once a week. At that time I didn’t know that marriage could be hard, I was young and new and more naïve than I’d like to admit. But even then, I knew to listen. They were golden.

Still pointing at me, she squinted into that sunshine. I noted her black mascaraed lashes and glistening green eye shadow. “A good marriage just needs two things.” She said again. “One,” She counted with one finger up, “Money in the bank, and two,” She added a second finger, keeping track of the gems she was passing on, “Plenty of sex.”

We burst out laughing. It was the good kind of laughter, thick and rich and threaded by memories we were confident we’d soon share. Eleven years of marriage later, I can say that Rita’s words were wise and right; when possible these do make married life easier and sweeter.

Besides sex and money, there are five keys that, when kept at the forefront of our hearts, hold our marriage tight. Each one is a puzzle piece gifted to us on our wedding day, coming from people who’d been married for less than a year and those, like Rita and Mike, who’d been together longer than not.

Each time we’ve wavered, it has been because we loosened our grip on one of these five keys, or one of Rita’s tips. So whenever we can, we thread these between us.

5 Keys to a Happy Marriage

1. Be kind.

2. Say yes more often than no.

3. Talk, listen, laugh, and touch every day.

4. Have at least one interest of your own and at least one shared interest (besides your children).

5. Remember you’re on the same team.

Do you have your own list? Please share in the comments. 

What do you think?

5 Keys to a Happy Marriage

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. She has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in human development and was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her h ... More

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  1. I think those things are key to a successful relationship. N yes, you should definitely keep those posted out on the open. It’s the little things that mean the most. That are easy to to forget.

  2. Araceli says:

    I’m getting married Dec 21st! I want to know other ways of us spending time together (his in the Navy). I might not get to see him often so any tricks?

  3. Morgan Hart says:

    After being married 9 years and counseling families for several years, my best advice would be to learn to fight fair. Everybody has disagreements, and relationships wouldn’t be healthy without being able to air those disagreements, but it’s important to “fight fair” instead of “fighting dirty.” Couples I’ve met that have significant problems haven’t learned how to do this-they either never fight, never get over things after arguing, or treat each other so terribly during an argument that it leaves long-lasting scars. Also, pray for each other and with each other often.

  4. Ellen says:

    I’m not married yet, but I think your neighbor gave you great advice. Communicating every day and connecting is SO important! And not by ttext message! And having outside inteerests is so very imprtant. thanks.

  5. NAOMI says:

    I am not married but have been with my significant other already for 10 years. He had 1 previous child who is now 12, and we have a 2 year old boy and expecting our first girl this month. Guess you could say that we both agree that we are not ready to get married. Funny, you would think that we would be even after 10 years, but we both think that marriage is such a big commitment that can cause problems IF we allow it to.

    I COMPLETELY agree with the neighbors advice! Along with your 5 keys. My biggest dilemma was figuring out of we were on the same team. especially during arguments.

    • Morgan Hart says:

      Funny you think you’re not ready to get married-which is a commitment, to be sure, but you both feel you are ready to have children together, which is such a bigger commitment and affects lives other than your own two.


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