What Does It Take To Have A Happy Marriage?

By Toni Hoy|Updated February 22, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Richard Jackson, LICSW

What's the secret to having a happy marriage? Only a small percentage of married couples seem to have figured it out. Yet, for those who do, marriage is an amazing part of their lives. It seems like everyone has their favorite happy marriage quotes. Some say, "Happiness is being married to your best friend." Another popular one is "Falling in love is easy. Staying in love takes practice."

One saying to focus on if you want to have the kind of marriage that brings you joy for many years is "A good marriage isn't something you find, it's something you make, and you have to keep making it."

Would you like to know how to have a happy marriage? It might not be as difficult as you think!

Characteristics Of A Happy Marriage

So, how do you define a happy marriage? Most people have a laundry list of characteristics they would like to have in their present or future marriage. If you agree well enough with your partner on this subject to be able to give each other what you need from the relationship, you're golden.

Starting out right is a major hurdle, but you still need to love each other, have a satisfying sexual relationship, communicate well, agree on how to manage practical matters, and remain independent without losing each other.

Starting Out Right

A happy marriage can be compared to a cake: it’s difficult to have a good one if you don’t have the right ingredients. Different cakes have different ingredients, of course, but you generally need to have a few basic ones that go together to make the kind of cake you're trying to make.

Happy marriages come in many different varieties as well, but without a foundation of compatibility, commitment, and a dash of excitement, marriages are less likely to work for the long haul.


When two things are compatible, they aren't necessarily the same. In fact, they usually aren't; rather, they’re complementary. In other words, compatibility means that the two things can be together without having problems because of something inherent in their natures.

Before you get married, you need to make sure you can accept your partner for who they are. Later, it's important to develop those characteristics that make you compatible.


Commitment is another word that's often misused. For most people, the commitment of marriage is simply an unbreakable promise that you won't have sex with anyone outside the marriage. Others may not mind that so much but have other points they want their partner to commit to. Overall, though, the commitment involves whatever it takes to create and nurture a happy marriage.


When you first start out together, some degree of excitement is to be expected. It's that excitement of falling in love that often brings two people to the altar. If you never have that spark, your marriage may not last long.

As the marriage continues, however, you need to do exciting things together so you can continue to associate your partner with excitement. It isn't just about keeping your sex life fresh. You might get excitement from any kind of activity you participate in together, from mountain-climbing to traveling or adopting an animal.

Love and Sex

Sex isn't everything. Even love isn't everything. Yet, without these two ingredients, your marriage isn't going to be very happy. The good thing is that these are both factors that can be improved over time.

Romantic love and sexual satisfaction are crucial to a happy marriage, but you won't get far if you don't respect each other. Companionship is also quite important, especially if you plan to stay together for many years.

Romantic Love

Romantic love is a beautiful thing but it's oh so fragile. It's that sparkle in your eyes as you look at each other from across the room. It's lingering thoughts that keep you focused on each other. It's the physical pull you feel, drawing you unerringly to each other.

If it weren't for romantic love, there would likely be far fewer marriages, happy or otherwise. If you stay together for long, romantic love will wax and wane. You can't force it to come back sooner, but you can create situations that remind you of those happy days. For example, you can set aside time for romantic rendezvous or couples’ vacations to reignite that spark.

Sexual Satisfaction

In the first months or years of a marriage, satisfying your partner may seem easy. The relationship is new, and everything you do feels novel, just because you've likely never done all these things together before. Even if you lived together long before getting married, you may have thrived before simply because you didn't feel any pressure to keep it fresh. You could always leave the relationship easily. Now, though, there may be more of a sense of pressure.

So, what is the secret to keeping sexual love alive? You could take the route of the couples in the play "How to Transcend a Happy Marriage" by trying comarriage, or as it's popularly called, swinging. You could have an open marriage, having sex with others outside the marriage. Even now that people are more comfortable with their sexuality, most people can't maintain such a marriage for long. If you can, it might be the right choice for you. The main thing you need to do is to take every lovemaking session as a new experience and never let yourself fall into an emotionless routine. Seek to touch each other physically without withdrawing emotionally or intellectually.


We all want to be respected. A happy marriage allows us to have one special person who respects us no matter what happens. Respect your partner for the qualities you saw in them when you fell in love with them for the first time. Honor them for who they are as well as what they've done for you and others.


Having a companion to do things with, go places with, and share things with is a wonderful benefit of a long marriage. Companionship is often overlooked as we spend time with our friends. That's important too, of course, but having a friendship within marriage is a great way to build a relationship that can weather illness, disability, age, and time itself. Try taking sex off the table and just spend a day together enjoying each other's company. You might be surprised at how much closer you'll feel the next day.


Trust is one of the most important features of wedded bliss. Yet, there are hundreds if not thousands of ways you could betray your spouse's trust. Stick to whatever agreement you have about sex, and always put your spouse first in this. You can also break trust by promising things and not coming through with them. So, don't say "I promise" when what you actually mean is "I’ll try to do it if it's easy and convenient."

Give them good reason to trust you with your innermost thoughts and feelings, both to build intimacy and to let them know they can trust you to keep private what they don't want to share with anyone but you. In all matters great and small, prove that when you say something, you will do your utmost to live by your promise. If you're not going to try, don't tell them you will.


If you don't communicate well with your partner, you can easily learn better ways of getting your point across. You can take classes on healthy communication, read about it, and practice it. If effective communication still eludes you, couples therapy is another possible step. The goal is to say what you need to say but say it in a way that honors the good in both of you.


It doesn't really matter how many times you say, "I love you," if it's a rote recital of the words it isn't going to help either of you. You need to say, "I love you" when you're feeling it or when your partner especially needs to hear it.

Instead of trying to say the "right" words, share who you really are and trust that your partner wants to know. Without this emotional honesty, your marriage will be built on platitudes that can't sustain it.


Caring is an important part of communication in a marriage, too. You love this person. They're a major part of your world. If you didn't care about them, why would you even stay in the marriage? You can't just assume they know you care. You need to think of that caring whenever you communicate with them, even if what you're telling them might be unpleasant for them to hear. Especially then, in fact. It's always okay to suggest changes or ask for what you need. It's never okay to belittle them, try to hurt them with your words, or emotionally abuse them in any way.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for you. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Owning Your Problems

Therapists often talk about "I statements." This is a way of expressing the problems you have with others by owning that you’re part of the problem. The basic formula is: I feel ____ when you ___ because _____. An example might be: I feel angry when you're late coming home because I think you don't want to be with me.

This reminds both of you that you're the one who's unsatisfied with the relationship. It also gives them an idea of why you feel the way you do so that they can address the root of the problem rather than surface issues alone.

Practical Matters

Assuming you're going to combine households with your spouse, you will need to find a way to live with them in your home. The more both of you contribute, the more balanced your relationship will be. Lopsided finances can lead to a lopsided marriage.

Shared Responsibility

It’s important to share the responsibility of running a home and maintaining your relationship. You both need to contribute to the household chores and contribute to the household as each of you is able. It's great to divide up chores and other household tasks. It’s best if you both of you can find happiness with the arrangement. If not, it will be more difficult to maintain a happy marriage.

Financial Security

What do you need to feel your marriage is financially sound? All couples need to have enough resources to take care of their basic survival needs. Others aren't happy unless they have a healthy savings account and multiple investment accounts. Sit down and have a talk with your partner, whether you're happy with your finances or not. They may be unhappy but also concerned about what will happen to the relationship if they reveal their dissatisfaction.

Decide on mutual goals and talk about where each of you draws the line in financial matters. Learn to use money and credit responsibly if that's an issue for you. Do what you need to do, whether that's get a better job, stop running up debt, or help your spouse learn how to manage money. Agree on who pays what if you keep your money separate. Be a team in your quest to be financially secure.


When you marry someone, you're tying your life to theirs. Yet, you also need to remain the individual you are and avoid letting your life be swallowed up in the marriage. You need to know yourself, honor who you are, and meet some of your needs outside the marriage. Maybe you need a friend you can confide in when you have concerns about work. Perhaps you need someone you can just hang out with while doing things your spouse doesn't enjoy.

Identity Issues

When you're married, a part of your identity is that you're someone's spouse. That can't be all there is to you, though. You need to know who you are when you're in other relationships and situations.

If you're having your own identity crisis, it's helpful to talk to a counselor to define more clearly to yourself exactly what makes you, you. Then, you need to exercise that knowledge by being true to yourself, even as you continue to be caring toward your spouse.


Your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are your own. A couple can share life goals, opinions, and even feelings about things in their life together. Still, there will be times when you don't. For those times, you need to allow yourself to feel differently, think differently, and act differently.

Act on your own sense of what's right, helpful, enjoyable, or beneficial to you. If it causes discord in your marriage, it's better to deal with that separately than to tie the resolution of the problem to being who you aren't.

Financial Independence

Unless you have no control over the situation due to disability or temporary job loss, it's crucial that you both remain financially independent. Spouses that don't have a way out of the marriage if they should choose to leave tend to feel trapped. You thus both need to be able to manage your finances and make a living.

Even if you always stay together, it's a wonderful way to boost your self-esteem. In addition, it makes you a more fit partner because you're able to contribute something vital to the marriage.

How To Improve Your Marriage

Are you concerned that the marriage you're about to begin isn't right for you? Do you have "cold feet"? Before you give up and run, consider going to a therapist for premarital counseling. It can help you and your spouse-to-be work out both a foundation and some of the details of how you'll choose to be together in the coming years.

Do you worry that your marriage is falling apart? If so, time is of the essence. You can read books on the subject, go to seminars and couples' retreats, or try to work it out between the two of you. Any of these options can help. If they don't, seeing a couples' counselor can give you a chance to stop, breathe, find your common ground, and work on the rest until you both feel happy in your relationship.

Counselors are available at BetterHelp to help you sort out the issues and learn healthy ways of being together. The counselors at BetterHelp are licensed and qualified to help you with your marital problems or questions. The service is affordable, and you can get started quickly. If you want to have a happy marriage—and who doesn't want their marriage to be happy?—now is the time to learn how to do it right. When you do, you dramatically increase your chances to have a happy marriage year after year.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.