Happily Ever After Secrets

How do couples really live happily ever after? Here, newlyweds and couples who've been together for years share their secrets for marital bliss.

Of course you want your wedding to be fairy-tale perfect. But that’s just the first day of the rest of your life as a couple. What you really want is to live, well, happily ever after. Here, couples talk about how to stay wedding-day happy in all the years to come.

Married less than 5 years

“Have regular ‘marriage meetings’ once a month or so, or more often if you need to. In our meetings, my husband and I talk about anything that’s bothering us. This allows us to vent without anger, since the whole point of setting aside the time is to raise problems (or potential ones) and solve them sooner rather than later.”
—Alison Chi, married 21/2 years

“The most important thing my husband and I do to keep sex and romance alive in our relationship is to schedule special dinner and movie dates a few times every month. (We do it even if we feel tired!) We arrange to have a sitter watch our children, and we plan an afternoon or evening just for the two of us.”
—Molly Castelloe Fong, married 3 years

“We do things as a couple to stay connected, like take bike rides on the weekends, run races together and read books to each other in bed. We went through all the Harry Potter books that way! All this keeps our romance on the front burner.”
—Mollie Bridgeman, married 2 years

“Surprise him now and then. Tell him that the two of you are going out with friends, then take him out alone for a romantic dinner.”
—Ranella Hirsch, married 3 years

“It’s important to have realistic expectations of marriage and remember that in the story of Cinderella, the ending comes right after the ‘I Do’ part. The special feeling you get at the beginning does fade, but it turns into a more real, comfortable and accepting love. If this happens, it’s natural and doesn’t mean something’s wrong with your relationship. Enjoy it!”
—Leanne Scarella, married 2 years

“We will sometimes arrange to take a trip to a location that neither of us has been to before, and we do it without making any hotel reservations or specific plans. Once we get there, we decide what we want to do. That way we create little adventures for ourselves, and it’s fun to figure it all out together.”
—Dave Wolkowitz, married 4 years

“Put each other first. My husband and I make it clear to each other that our marriage is the number one priority. For example, my husband’s in business school and I’m pregnant with our first child. Although he’s had to rearrange his internship schedule, he’s managed to be with me at every doctor’s visit, childbirth class, maternity-ward tour and baby-registry outing. I wouldn’t mind going by myself or with my mom or my sister, but the fact that he insists on going tells me that I am number one to him. I really believe there’s nothing more romantic than that!”
—Beverly O’Neal, married 3 years

Married 5 to 10 years

“We say, ‘I love you’ to each other every day, at least once, but usually more often. It’s an easy thing to take for granted, but the actual saying of it is a reminder and a sort of mantra to keep the focus on your commitment and your partner. Plus, I feel good that my husband knows how I feel before he goes to work in the morning and before he goes to sleep at night.”
—Kate Bieber, married 6 years

“Don’t lose your sense of fun and adventure in the sex department. After five years of marriage, we still look for new places and new positions. The frequency that you have sex will decrease over the years, but the quality doesn’t have to. In fact, sex gets better when you’re more comfortable with a person, because you’re able to tell him what you like or don’t like. Also, don’t underestimate how great it is simply to cuddle in bed. And touch is so important. My husband and I still hold hands when we’re riding in the car or sitting across from each other in a restaurant.”
—Robin Wood, married 5 years

“We have a rule about no TV or computers in the bedroom. We have kids and both of us work full-time, which means we are together only a few hours each night. In that time we don’t want to be distracted. This idea isn’t innovative, but it has really helped us be a good couple.”
—Kelly Baek, married 6 years

“Use your words! Don’t waste time pointing and blaming. Get to the issue and work it out. When one of you is wrong, he or she should say, ‘I’m sorry.’ And always say, ‘Thank you,’ even for the little things, especially if he puts his dirty underwear into the hamper. Every person in the whole world wants appreciation, and no one gets enough of it.”
—Lee Murrow, married 6 years

“Once a month, you should treat yourselves to a lovely dinner or night out. When you get dressed up with a little perfume, cologne, a fresh shave and so on, you both feel more sexy and alive.”
—Marianne Bender, married 5 years

“Pursue your separate interests. Whether that means having regular lunch dates with your gal pals, going to the gym a few times a week or reading for 30 minutes every night, you will be a happier person and have more to talk about with your spouse when you are together. Friday nights, I go to yoga and my husband goes out with the guys, but when we get home that night we feel good and really enjoy sharing with each other what we did.”
—Annabella Gualdoni, married 5 years

Married 11 to 15 years

“After your first child is born, resolve not to make any judgments about your marriage for one year. Not only are you sleep deprived, but it’s difficult to adjust to your new lives as parents, not just spouses. People will tell you that it’s the best time of your life, but it can be tough and it’s helpful to keep in mind that it is OK to struggle or experience growing pains. The good news is, it gets much better once you get used to your new roles as parents and the ways children change your relationship.”
—Liz Price, married 12 years

“My husband and I e-mail each other with goofy things we find online, poems or quotes. It helps keep us connected, especially on days when the time zips by and we don’t end up seeing much of each other.”
—Andrea Messina, married 13 years

“Don’t compare yourself to your girlfriends who are discussing how many times they ‘do it’ each week. Part of keeping the intimacy in your marriage is remembering the word ‘intimacy.’ It’s your business. (Plus, your friends are probably exaggerating.) Meanwhile, keep the intimacy alive with sex, romance, communication, sharing, laughing, tickle fights, favorite movies and favorite desserts.”
—Vicki Stern Brown, married 15 years

Over 15 years

“My husband and I love to experience new things together, whether it’s a trip to the Galapagos Islands or a new restaurant in the San Francisco Mission District. And above all, we share a sense of humor—my husband always makes me laugh.”
—Katie Rodan, married 23 years

“Fearing the empty nest syndrome, we’ve made an effort to plan little field trips, hikes, museum visits or any other outings that are easy and that we can do together. We also treat each other to random surprise gifts. My husband sends me flowers for no reason, and I whip up new recipes that are interesting, healthy and different.”
—Sharon House, married 37 years

“My wife and I want our relationship to be about ‘yes.’ Yes, we can go to the movies. Yes, we can plan a cool vacation. Yes, I can clean up the yard. Yes, I can give you a back rub. Of course, there are times when ‘no’ is a necessary answer, but we’re always thinking about how to get back to ‘yes.’”
—Neil Chethik, married 20 years

“Men: When your wife wants to talk, turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, stop surfing the Net and listen. Show her that you are paying attention to her. It’s that simple. And under no circumstances should you propose solutions to her problems—unless she specifically asks you to.”
—Jim Carper, married 22 years

Love Docs’ Rx for a Happy Marriage

Don’t Fight to Win. “Make yourself happy rather than right. Being right and being successful, particularly in the setting of relationships, are not even close to the same thing. Your goal should be to make you and your partner happy by doing what works rather than working so hard at showing your partner how you are right and how he or she is wrong.” —Dr. Phil McGraw, Ph.D., author of Relationship Rescue (Hyperion Books)

Pucker up often. “Many married couples stop kissing when they become too familiar with each other, but this is the first step to a diminishing sex life. Kissing is the most intimate connection between two people and it not only keeps your sex life alive, but also keeps your relationship alive.” —Ava Cadell, Ph.D., author of 12 Steps to Everlasting Love (Peters Publishing)

Make Your Needs Known. “Your partner can’t read your mind; he or she can’t guess what your needs are. The only chance your partner will ever have of connecting with you and responding to your needs depends on teaching your partner what really makes you tick.” —Dr. Phil

Talk about sex. “The best sex begins outside the bedroom with an intimate conversation. By talking to each other, you reduce your anxiety about what your partner wants and add excitement to your love life. Start talking at a time when you’re relaxed (not after work or when you’re hungry). The car is a great place because you’re together, but you don’t have to look each other in the eye if you feel embarrassed.” —Linda DeVillers, Ph.D., author of Love Skills: A Fun Upbeat Guide To Sexcessful Relationships (Impact)

Forgive. “It’s not so much what happens between partners that determines the outcome of a relationship, as it is how they handle what happens. If you and your partner have a forgiving spirit, and allow each other some measure of grace when one or the other of you seeks to reduce hostilities, your future will be bright.” —Dr. Phil