Christian author Shaunti Feldhahn writes about 12 habits that most couples embrace that make their marriages happy and successful in her new book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. Contrary to popular belief, Feldhahn discovered that highly happy couples put into practice seemingly negative habits like going to bed angry and not looking to their marriage for happiness, among others.
After interviewing and surveying 1,000 couples to uncover the most important habits, Feldhahn found that these "secrets" are shared among individuals regardless of age or racial background or any other factors. Furthermore, she found that half of marriages in America are not prone to fail but the truth lies closer to 30 percent and even less within the church.
"The key is that no matter what the state of your marriage, small changes in awareness and action truly can change everything," writes Feldhahn. "These habits can yield gold for those who apply them."
An edited transcript of Feldhahn's interview with The Christian Post is below:
CP: What were some of the most surprising secrets of highly happy marriages you found during your three-year research study?
Feldhahn: I was expecting that they would be major and systemic things and they would take a few years to learn but instead I was encouraged to know that the things that made the difference were pretty small and simple. They weren't always easy to implement but they also weren't ultra-complicated.
The most important of these little changes that I frankly view as a prerequisite for having a happy relationship is to learn to believe the best of the other person's intentions rather than the worst.
Oftentimes, when we're hurt, it's very easy to say, "he knew that would hurt me but he said it anyway." If you boil it down, that's assuming that he doesn't care about you. But we found that the happiest couples actually say, "no, I know he loves and cares about me so he must have known how much it hurt me." They switch the way they think. If you want to have a happy marriage, you cannot believe the worst of your partner's intention.
CP: What would you say is the most important component for Christian couples to embrace in order to have a successful marriage?
Feldhahn: If you look to your spouse to try to fulfil you and make you happy, you're looking to another person and to the institution of marriage for something that it wasn't meant to deliver; only God can do that.
CP: In your book, you write that couples can remain happy despite both individuals being different. How about couples who find themselves "unequally yoked" as noted in the Bible?
Feldhahn: The Bible tells us to not go into that situation, we all know that, but if you are in that situation, all the habits that make such a difference in marriage, can be effective if only one person does them. They don't require both people, at least at the start, to do them. It's exactly what the Bible tells us, it's the power of doing what we can do and looking to the strength that God gives us to treat the other person in the way He asks, even if the other person doesn't do the same.
If you're the only person doing it in the beginning, it will start to change the dynamic of the relationship and because God is faithful, He will soften the heart of the other person.
CP: You also focus on several pointers for both men and women that can create a major impact on one another. For men, you mention he should compliment his wife often and send her messages letting her know she's beautiful. You also advise women to notice their husband's effort and let him know he's appreciated as well. What is the difference between these pieces of advice?
Feldhahn: There is no difference in the reasons why these little actions can be so powerful; the difference is in what they hit emotionally for a man and woman. All of us have insecurities, deep needs and fears but as women we ask, "Am I beautiful, loveable and worthy of being loved for who I am?" A man asks, "Am I able? Adequate? Am I any good at what I do?"
That's why women need to hear that their husband loves them and thinks they're precious. That's why when he puts his arm around her, it means something to her. It says, "You're mine, you are worthy of being loved for who you are." For men, hearing the words "I love you" is nice but it doesn't hit him emotionally as much as saying "thank you."
CP: You debunk some myths. For example, couples should never go to sleep mad. How is this a positive habit?
Feldhahn: We've heard "don't go to bed mad' all our lives, which makes couples feel pressure to resolve their problems. But when you have two exhausted people sitting up in bed at midnight trying to hash something out, they will say things that hurt the other person and it can create additional problems. The happiest couples have found that although they want to resolve their issues, they are careful how they handle their anger and have learned to sleep on it.
CP: Your research revealed that over 90 percent of highly happy couples hang out with one another. Are couples putting too much emphasis on date night and not on the day to day together time?
Feldhahn: I don't think people put too much emphasis on date night. What they don't realize is the power of just hanging out. In a time of high stress, the temptation is, for most couples, to hang out less because you avoid the conflict. Marriage is a companionship and intimate friendship and the greatest predictor of friendship is not shared values or similar personalities but geographic proximity.