Whether you’re celebrating one year of marriage or 10, there is always room to strengthen your relationship and work toward the goal of a happier long-term union. While this looks different for every single couple, there are a few core things people in partnerships can practice every day in order to sustain a happy, flourishing marriage.
According to one relationship expert, working on yourself is the simplest way to become a better spouse. “A healthy, long-term connection boils down to two people showing up in the best versions of themselves, which can only come through self-awareness and a look at what can I, not they, do better,” says licensed relationship expert and therapist Lair Torrent. By bringing the best version of yourself to your marriage each and every day, you're better equipped to face any challenges your relationship might encounter.
Meet the Expert
Lair Torrent is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of The Practice of Love.
So, how exactly do couples become the best versions of themselves, both apart and together? Here, Torrent talks us through the key ways individuals can work on themselves and ultimately become better spouses to one another, ensuring a strong, happy partnership. Spoiler alert: It may be simpler than you think.
Before you can do any work on a relationship, each individual partner has to look inward in order to show up in the best way possible for themselves, their partner, and the marriage as a whole. “People always want to say [the key to happiness] is communication, but good communication starts with knowing how you show up to your partner and to the relationship. “This requires taking responsibility for your thoughts and actions and doing your personal work (either on your own or with a therapist) to be the best version of yourself daily,” says Torrent.
Look at How You Argue
Arguing within any kind of relationship is unavoidable—especially if you’re in it for the long haul. Torrent emphasizes that you can’t just fight to win, or fight to play the victim role. He frames it like this: “Couples who fight constantly are building a relational culture between them that is founded on one-upmanship and competition, where one partner is the victor and the other is the vanquished.” However, couples who want to feel closer to one another during challenging times should consider that ultimately, two partners’ goals are the same. “Healthy relationships that span the test of time are ones where each partner realizes that the relationship is a zero-sum game—meaning, if your partner loses, then you lose too,” Torrent explains. “And if you really love this person, why would you want them to lose anything?”
Build Healthy Habits
Good habits are the foundation of any healthy relationship, and that includes the relationship with yourself and with your partner. If both partners do the work to form healthy habits on their own and together within the marriage, this sets everyone up for success. Even though it may seem like going to couples’ counseling isn’t necessary until issues arrive, Torrent emphasizes that seeking a relationship therapist before larger issues come up can be a great way to work on habit-building as partners. “A quality therapist can help you build healthy habits—like identifying and combating unhealthy narratives—which will only result in the longevity of your relationship,” he says.
When it comes down to it, Torrent’s biggest piece of relationship advice for long-term happiness in a marriage is quite simple: Take responsibility. “This is the medicine few people want to take but it is the one that makes all the difference. The mark of a truly mature relationship is one where both partners see their shortcomings know where they have misstepped, and are not afraid to own it,” he explains. “Personal responsibility is the road less traveled. It’s the road of emotional intelligence.”