Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

5 Psychological Principles for Maintaining a Happy Marriage


Apr. 5, 2018 Fatherly

Marriage takes work. We know this, you know this, everyone knows this. But what many people don’t realize is that they might be working on the wrong things. Or even working on the right things in the wrong way. “In our culture, there’s so much focus on getting together rather than on being together and staying happy together,” says Suzann Pileggi, who, along with her husband, James Pawelski, director of education at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, authored Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. “Looking at positive psychology research and seeing what is it that can actually lead to a happier marriage.”

Positive psychology, Pileggi explains, is the science of strengths and looking at what makes individuals and couples thrive. “Our book is the first book using the science of positive psychology to apply to relationships,” she says. “So, while there are many books out there, a lot of them are focused on fixing what’s wrong. The research shows that, if you’re focusing more on growing the nuggets of what’s good, you have a better chance of having a happy relationship.”

With that in mind, here are five tips that Suzann and her husband say will lead to better days for you and your spouse.

1. Cultivate a Healthy Passion
The myth of starry-eyed lovers who are forever on each other’s minds and obsess over each other daily is well known. But this thinking is detrimental, Pileggi says, as it can give rise to the idea that obsessive passion is a healthy thing.

“In the beginning of a relationship, you can’t stop thinking about your partner, you might be distracted at work, you might cancel plans with friends to see your girlfriend or future spouse,” she explains. “But if that continues months or years into the relationship and you’re not seeing your friendsanymore, you’re not engaging in activities that you did before the relationship, and you can’t focus on anything else, that could be more of an obsessive passion.”

In order to create a healthy passion, Pileggi says to be sure to make room in your mind for your other interests and other people. Then, when you are with your partner, find ways to connect over things that you both enjoy. “It’s about forging a deeper bond, not trying to be competitive,” Pileggi says. “So don’t choose something that you really like and enjoy and your wife has no interest in. The idea is to connect, not to compete.”

2. Prioritize the Positive
At the beginning of a relationship, positive emotions are flowing with regularity. Excitement, joy, passion are all right at your fingertips. But, as the relationship progresses and you both get more comfortable with each other, some people expect that those positive emotions will just happen without any effort. Not so, says Pileggi. “The research shows that the happiest couples with the most sustainable marriages are the ones who actively cultivate them all the time and prioritize them as opposed to waiting around for them to happen,” she says. “Because, like with anything, the newness of something, those heightened positive emotions, the level and the frequency just naturally don’t occur as much as in the beginning of a relationship, the falling-in-love stage.”

So, couples in long-term relationships who are looking to cultivate positive emotions have to ask themselves what can they do each day, what activities or actions can they do in order to keep positive emotions flowing in a marriage. “Imagine if you just bought a gym membership and went once and then said, ‘Okay, now I’m going to be fit,’” Pileggi says. “No, you work out regularly and throughout your lifetime.”

One activity that Pileggi and her husband discuss in Happy Together is a ‘Positive Relationship Portfolio,’ And yes, it is actually a portfolio: of pictures, mementos, and other such items that mean something in your relationship. If that’s your style or not, we get it. The point of the exercise is to devote time to thinking about the fond memories of your relationship, which, per Pileggi, is extremely important. However you do it is up to you.

3. Savor Experiences
Positive emotions and moments are fleeting. Pileggi says that it’s important to slow down and take time to enjoy them. “Research shows that if you spend at least 15 minutes savoring something you could increase your satisfaction,” she says. “One way to do that is sharing secrets with one another. Ask your spouse about a favorite childhood experience, or a secret they never told anyone or big idea or dream they always had for the future.” The point is this: the more you open up and talk about these sorts of things, the deeper bond you’re able to create.

Read More on Fatherly

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

Former NFL player circled the Earth 374 times as an astronaut. But he may be better known for his dogs.

The lessons and experiences are now being told in Melvin’s memoir.

Read More

How Men and Women Rate Marriage and Sex

And why clear and open communication is the key to your relationship.

Read More

What to do When you Feel like Quitting

You can’t just be physically present, you must also be mentally and emotionally present.

Read More

Meet the 2018 Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade Award winners

Dr. Roberts, founder of the Living Heart Foundation, was recently recognized for his great work.

Read More

Chronic Pain: Treat it With Mindfulness Meditation, Not Opioids

Alternative measures are being sought in the face of the Opioid Epidemic.

Read More

Why It Doesn’t Feel Good When Someone Else Succeeds

Which flavor of envy are you experiencing?

Read More

Watch This NFL Player Turned Entrepreneur Explain How He Keeps Challenges in Perspective

Lights Out Brand founder and CEO Shawne Merriman shares his internal monologue during tough times.

Read More

6 Personal Finance Rules to Live By in Your 40s

There are a lot of changes that typically happen in your 40s. Don’t let them derail your financial goals.

Read More