5 Rules For a Happy, Balanced Marriage

As soon as you say 'I do,' everything becomes a 'we.' But does that mean there's no longer a 'me'? Discover what the best marriages are made of.

Rule #2: Agree to Disagree

But what if he doesn’t like what you like? Chances are, he won’t. Disagreements are a huge part of being a "we." Newlyweds sometimes give in to each other because they don’t want to make waves, but backing away from conflicts won’t make them disappear.

Instead, expect big differences of opinion, be clear about your position, and listen closely to his. Then compromise, if possible. Most important, be okay — really okay — with not always getting your way.

"In a great marriage, partners get their way only about 50 percent of the time," says Coché. "In any disagreement, each person should feel that he or she was handled fairly, otherwise resentment builds up, and it can get nasty."

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Rule #3: To Your Own Self Be True

Of course, you don’t have to share absolutely everything in a marriage. Take hobbies and personal interests, for instance. It can actually be healthier for you, and your relationship, if you continue to participate in activities without your spouse, says Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., a social psychologist in Los Angeles and author of the forthcoming Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way.

"If you have a passion for something and your husband doesn’t, don’t put it on hold," she says. "You’ll bring fresh energy into the relationship by following where your own enthusiasm leads."

Enthusiasm is an understatement for what newlywed Brian Dickerson feels for duck hunting. "He proposed to me in a duck blind," says his wife, Carrie Crawford-Dickerson, from Mission, Kansas, whose own passion is visiting art museums. Since Carrie’s not crazy about hunting and Brian’s no museum lover, they decided to pursue their interests separately, but once in a while will come together for a shared art or hunting outing. It’s a compromise that keeps them both happy, they say.

Rule #4: Keep Your Pals Close

As with interests, some friendships should also be kept separate. "I worry that as we get used to living as a couple, I will have to make couple friends and always do couple things," says Katherine Westhoff, a bride-to-be from Kansas City, Missouri. She plans to set up monthly girls-only outings with her friends once she’s married, so she doesn’t lose touch with them.

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That's a good plan, confirms Tracey Ellenbogen, MSW, LSW, an outpatient psychotherapist at the Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "One person cannot possibly meet all of your needs," she says, "especially someone of the opposite sex. I've heard some women say, ‘I don't need anyone else but my husband.' But if you jump into your marriage neglecting who you were and with whom you were relating before marriage, you only stifle your own growth. For a relationship to grow, the people in it need to be growing as well."

Remember, though, that you are not the only one with needs. You must be prepared to give your husband space to fulfill his own desires. Kara Udziela, a newlywed living in Vancouver, Washington, is paying for her husband, Chris, to attend school. Eight months into his computer science program, he told her he was considering changing his major to electrical engineering. This would mean another year of classes and additional financial strain.

"I wanted to cry," Kara says. "But instead, I said, ‘I want you to be happy in the long run. One more year won't kill us, compared with 30 years of you going to a job you hate.' " As it turned out, Chris decided to continue with computer science after all. "My support paid off," says Kara. "He felt he had freedom to explore, and he thanked me for making it okay for him to be scared or unsure and to change his mind."

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