What Makes Marriage Work? | Finding Solutions Counseling Centers

What Makes Marriage Work?

by Julie Fender


As a marriage counselor, I am often asked my thoughts on what makes marriage work or to offer my best marital advice. When asked, I think about all the collective wisdom and theoretical approaches to healthy relationships and there has been much researched and written on the topic. I draw from these daily in my work and will include a list of my favorites. However, when people ask this question of me, I believe they are seeking something actionable; simple truths than can be used that very day. So with that in mind, and credit to all the greats in the field, here are some simple (but not easy) things we can do to love our spouses better.


  1. Think about how you think about your spouse. Our narrative, or the story we tell ourselves about them, shapes our feelings and influences our behavior toward them. By choosing to focus on their positive qualities or extend the benefit of the doubt, we produce loving feelings toward our partners. This manifests in more positive interactions.
  2. Know yourself and how you contribute to conflict and disconnection. We all do things to protect ourselves when we get our feelings hurt. Do you withdraw? Get defensive or critical? Do you keep score? While these behaviors seem to help in the moment, they block repair and resolution.
  3. Instead of doing that thing, lead with vulnerability and tell the other about you. Gently tell them how you’re feeling and what would make it better for you. Don’t tell them about them. This leads to an accuse/defend cycle.
  4. Turn a complaint in to a request. There is a hope, need, or desire in every complaint.
  5. Allow intent and impact to be different. Because you are upset doesn’t mean your spouse had bad intentions. And just because you didn’t have bad intentions, doesn’t mean your spouse can’t be upset.
  6. Give grace. Remember your spouse married a fallible and flawed person tooJ.
  7. Practice empathy. Truly try to see things through their eyes. We can get pretty blinded by our own perspective. Stay curious about the other’s experience.
  8. Differences are not deficits. Challenge yourself to think of how your differences benefit you and your family.
  9. Most things are about opinion or preference and not an issue of right or wrong. Figure out how to get most preferences met instead of trying to convert or convince the other to see it your way.
  10. Greet and part well. This habit creates safety and connection.
  11. Cultivate interests and friendships outside the marriage. While marriage is supposed to be our most important relationship, it can’t satisfy all of our needs all the time.
  12. Touch and attend to intimacy. A healthy and vibrant sex life goes a long way!
  13. Choose who you love, then love who you chose.
  14. And lastly and most importantly, the right way to load the dishwasher is determined by the one loading it.


Challenge yourself to commit to a few of these ideas and notice what happens!

For a deeper dive, here are some of my favorite books on marriage:

  • The New Rules of Marriage by Terrence Real
  • Boundaries in Marriage by Townsend and Cloud
  • Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson
  • The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
  • Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix

If you need some help to make your marriage work better, please call 703-636-2888, ext. 4 or reach Julie at 703-636-2888, ext. 12.