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While no two marriages are exactly alike, "a happy and healthy marriage is one in which both partners feel safe, secure and loved," describes Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. And here, our experts say, is exactly what that looks like.
1. A willingness to make room for each other.
Says Doares, "The most difficult challenge of marriage is accepting that the two of you have always been and will always be two different people." In an unhealthy marriage, a couple won't give one another space to be themselves and do what they enjoy, while in a healthy marriage, "a couple learns how to make room for each other, while building something bigger," Doares says. "It's okay to ask for someone to alter their behavior but you cannot ask them to change who they are. Learning the difference is an important part of accommodating to each other."
2. Saying yes more often than no.
You always reserve the right to say no, Doares says. But "in a happy marriage, when partners can say 'yes,' they do and as often as possible," she explains, because it creates the feeling of being on a team. "And saying 'no,'" she says, "is avoided whenever possible. but is graciously accepted when it happens."
3. A willingness to let go of the little things.
In a happy marriage, couples don't bicker or berate one another for insignificant issues. "They let go of the little annoyances because they know these just aren't important," says psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman. "It's the little things that add up to big issues for a couple. Focusing on every annoyance or small disappointment creates a climate of negativity where resentment and resistance will grow. This climate slowly erodes the good in the relationship until it is dwarfed by all the negativity."
4. Complete — but gentle — honesty.
It's not always easy to be honest. But in a healthy marriage, Doares says, "honesty is the norm. Whether it's about where you are, how you feel, or what you want, you are honest." No white lie or spared feelings is worth the cost to your marriage, she says. "This avoids the possibility that one of you agrees to something you don't want and resentment creeping in," Doares explains. "Real intimacy means there are no secrets and happy marriages are also intimate ones."
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5. A fast friendship.
You don't have to be BFF with your spouse. But he or she, says Coleman, must absolutely be your friend. "Friendship is essential to happy intimacy," she says. "A shared sense of humor, someone who gets you, a partner who is easy to be with and likes what you like, all help to strengthen the daily fabric of a shared life."
6. Generosity of spirit.
In a healthy marriage, each member of the couple believes the best of the other. "Happy couples give each other the benefit of the doubt," says Doares. "If there is a hard way of looking at something their spouse did and a gentle one, happy couples always choose the gentle one. They choose to believe the best of each other and, as a result, usually get it."
7. A mutually satisfying sex life.
Sex is more than just physically satisfying. For couples in healthy marriages, good and frequent sex builds an unbreakable bond. "Sexual intimacy is what distinguishes a marriage from a best friend relationship," says Coleman. "It is important to the relationship and if both people are not satisfied with the quality and quantity, discontent and resentment can grow."
8. A commitment to dealing with challenges.
"No marriage, even a happy one, will be challenge free," Doares warns. The difference between an unhealthy and healthy marriage, then, is in how those inevitable challenges are met. "In happy marriages, the couple works as a team and is committed to not leaving the other one behind," Doares describes. "They are willing to learn how to communicate productively so they know they can resolve anything that comes up."
9. Intellectual intimacy.
In a healthy marriage, couples get turned on in and outside the bedroom. "They turn each other on intellectually," Coleman explains. "Intellectual compatibility is a very important component of relationship chemistry. When a couple has this, they inspire one another, turn each other on with their ideas and thoughts. And most importantly, it's never boring."