17 Secrets for Making Marriage Work (In Honor of our 17th Wedding Anniversary)

17 Secrets for Making Marriage Work

(In Honor of our 17th Wedding Anniversary)

I am honored today to host my very first guest collaborator—my husband, OJ. OJ and I met in college and just celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary on October 19th. We’ve been through some huge challenges over the years (here’s an example) and we’ve seen some great successes (here’s an example). But the biggest success, in my mind, is not that we’re still married or that we still love each other; it’s that we genuinely like each other very much—and our “like” keeps on growing.


But that in no way means we find marriage “easy”. Ha! No! Not at all. We have our disagreements, struggles, insecurities, and yes, even, our all-out fights. As I tell OJ all the time, “You are the one person in the whole world who drives me the most crazy! In both the good and the non-good way!” And he always laughs and says, “Of course I am! We’re married!” Yes, no matter how “good” a marriage is, it requires work, hard work, and, very often, simply “making it work” (as Tim Gunn would say).


17 Secrets for Making Marriage Work

So, in honor of our 17 years, OJ and I would like to share our “17 secrets for making marriage work.” Some we learned years ago, and others we’re still working out, but we hope that one, two, or all of our secrets will help your marriage work too! (Though we agree on all of these, OJ’s tips are preceded by his name and written in his own words!)


1)   (OJ) Make sure your core values are in harmony, even if they’re not at the same “burning” levels. When it comes to whether to have kids or not, religion, politics, financial principles, and basic life values, it’s very tough to make a great marriage with glaring differences. Make sure you look closely at this before you tie the knot—it can make or break you!


2)   Accept responsibility for your mistakes. A while back I realized (and explained to OJ) that too many of our arguments grew out of each of us being too defensive. Since then, I try to make myself admit my mistakes and apologize as soon as I see them. And OJ is constantly saying, “My bad…” when he says or does something wrong. It’s hard to be upset when your spouse admits their mistakes.


3)   (OJ) Be on each other’s side when it comes to the kids. Don’t let the kids pit you against each other. Back each other up. If you disagree with your spouse, back her up in front of the kids and then discuss it in private. The kids need to know you’re a united team, and your wife needs to know it too.


4)   Learn & speak each other’s “love languages”. If he loves physical touch and you love verbal affirmations, it can feel like you’re literally speaking a foreign language to each other. Learn to speak the “love language” that your spouse speaks. For instance, if I offer up a little “physical touch,” OJ’s so much more likely to help with the kids, give me “free time,” and talk about my day. (Watch my  30SecondMom tip on Love Languages).


[one_third][box] “…Let there be spaces in your togetherness. …Stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet[/box][/one_third]

5)  (OJ) Space is a good thing in a marriage. Having your own hobbies, friends, vacations, and sometimes even sleeping quarters can help each of you feel like your individual needs are met, and this helps you come back even healthier and happier to your relationship. As long as it doesn’t become an “all the time” kind of thing, having time apart works wonders!


6) Build the “like” as well as the “love”. It’s great to build the romance, but it’s perhaps even more important to become great friends. Get to know each other. Talk and share your lives with one another. Have fun together. Play together. It’s just as important to build the “like” as it is to build the “love”.


7) (OJ) Say “No” to the kids and “Yes” to time alone. It’s so easy to get overscheduled when you have kids. And that not only takes time away from your relationship, it can place a strain on it. You just have to say “no” to too many activities, traveling sports that keep you apart all the time, etc., and say “yes” to time together without the kids.


8) Never discuss important matters when it’s late and you’re tired. In fact, we have a rule: “No serious discussions after 10 pm.” Having heated discussions when you’re tired is a recipe for disaster! Just say no.


9) (OJ) Be polite. Talk nicely and respectfully to each other. It goes a long way.


10) It’s OK to go to bed angry sometimes. In fact, it’s often the only way to stop the crazy arguments that come from exhaustion (when rules 8 & 9 are not followed). I always feel like I can see things more clearly with time and sleep. It gives both of us distance and helps us calm down, so we’re much more likely to resolve things the next day.


11) (OJ) Take vacations without the kids. You need time completely alone to remember why you fell in love in the first place, to experience new things together, and to just be you, as a couple.


12) Jump off “cliffs” together! OJ likes to jump off literal cliffs (like this huge one in Costa Rica), and I like to jump off symbolic “cliffs” (like writing my first book). And sometimes life pushes us both off “cliffs” we aren’t sure we’ll even survive. Marriage is an adventure, so encourage each other to come along for the thrill; then make sure you’re always waiting, smiling, & cheering for each other at the bottom!


13) (OJ) Indulge in each others’ dreams and fantasies. I went with Christi to Europe not because I wanted to go to Europe, but because she did, and we had a fabulous time (see us at the top of the Eiffel Tower, photo top left). Likewise, she indulges in my dreams too, like “hook-ups” in odd locations (the Huey Lewis concert; the mountaintop…).  (Me: Ok, dear, we get it).


14) Practice thinking fondly of each other when you’re not together. Building the positives up in your mind is so helpful. Think of what you love about him/her; remember to send a kind little text; or just sit and think of one thing you appreciate, and smile.


15) Support each other’s hobbies and interests. OJ loves to golf—I mean he LOVES it. In fact, he’s trying to golf so often I call golf his “mistress”. But I see how happy it makes him, and I want him to be happy. And he wants me to be happy too. We used to do “time for time”—where however long he was gone, I’d get the same time to do what I wanted. But now, when we each have something we want to do, we simply try to make it work. Because a happy spouse is a good thing.


16) (OJ) Grow together. So many couples who’ve been married a long time and get divorced say, “We just grew apart.” To that, we say, “Grow together.” Keep tabs on your friendship, your goals, and your values. Keep the conversation open. Make sure you grow together.


17) Laugh often. Research shows that couples who laugh together have stronger relationships. And couples who can laugh and tease even in the midst of tense discussions are even stronger. Laugh at yourselves. Laugh at the silly things the kids do. Laugh at each other (kindly), especially in those moments when you can see how ridiculous you’re both acting. Keep the fun, lightness, “like,” and love in your relationship by laughing together as often as you can.



[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/square-head-shot1.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. Learn and Grow with Dr. Hibbert and her community of really great people![/author_info] [/author]



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Whether you’ve been married 1 year or 40 years, I’d love to hear your secrets for making marriage work. Leave us a comment and share below. We couples need all the “secrets” we can learn!



About Dr. Christina Hibbert

Clinical Psychologist, Mom of 6, Postpartum Couples DVD Producer, Non-Profit Founder, and expert on Parenting, Women’s Emotions, Pregnancy & Postpartum, and Grief & Loss, Dr. Christina Hibbert loves songwriting, learning, and teaching what she learns. She really hopes you’ll join the Personal Growth Group and choose to grow together!


  1. Julie Brinton says:

    #13 intrigues me. Europe and kinky “hookups”. I’m thinking this is a win win situation for OJ!

    Thanks for the great advice!

    • Too funny! I was waiting for someone to comment on that one. I didn’t want to change his words, and the advice is good advice, but I think you’re right–it’s a pretty good deal for OJ! (And for me too;).

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