Six Tips for a Healthy and Happy Marriage

Six-and-a-half years ago I was a blushing bride dreaming of her happily ever after. After enduring a rigorous marital boot camp at my church’s Pre-Cana program, I thought I knew a lot about love and marriage.
I knew squat.
I admit I still know fairly little, but I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two. So in honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing my tips for a healthy and happy marriage. No oversized stuffed animals bearing red hearts required.
1. Keep a sense of humor. For our sixth anniversary, my husband Dave and I took what we thought was going to be a relaxing trip to the beach to celebrate our marriage. First mistake: We brought our little ones with us. Turns out the kids’ idea of relaxing is a bit different than our own. The baby boycotted sleep, and three-year-old Madeline decided to revert back to her pre-potty training ways, resulting in a stomachache and a clingy and needy preschooler.
On the way home, the baby started sobbing, even though we’d just stopped so I could nurse her, and Madeline was saying she was hungry — again. I smiled in spite of it and said to Dave, “Happy anniversary! Don’t you feel so refreshed and eager to start your work week?” We both burst out laughing. Then we started singing silly songs as a family and both kids and parents stopped fussing and were happy.
Dave and I have learned to laugh at silly stuff, things we can’t control (antsy babies, constipated preschoolers) as well as more serious things. Sometimes laughing — even through the tears — is all you can do when life deals you a rotten hand. It’s all in how you play the cards, so we always try to keep smiling poker faces.
2. Be forgiving of each others’ wrongs and failures. I’m not perfect, and neither is Dave. We’re two imperfect human beings trying to perfect our love for one another, which means we fail — sometimes a lot. I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff and to even overlook it most of the time. Does it really matter that Dave still doesn’t know where the colander goes and that I have to hunt for it a little longer? If I can’t find it, then doesn’t that mean he unloaded the dishwasher for me?
At the end of the day, we’ve had to learn to love and to accept one another as we are and to leave any big changing that needs to be done in God’s hands.
3. Recognize that marriage has its ups and downs. I’m a hopeless romantic. Always have been. I like to be spontaneous when it comes to love and to read Shakespearean love sonnets, to listen to the likes of Air Supply, and to be surprised with notes or flowers for no other reason than “just because I love you.”
This is all well and good, and sometimes it happens. But in the context of a marriage with kids and more kids, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes spontaneous love fests just ain’t gonna happen. So we schedule at-home date nights and hope the kids will stay in bed long enough for us to gaze into one another’s eyes for a few seconds — or to watch our latest Netflix selection.
Marriage isn’t always rosy and romantic. It’s downright hard sometimes. Some days I feel like a crazy, lovesick teenager — and others I feel completely stressed or exhausted or both. Romantic love is wonderful, but it’s not enough to sustain a marriage. As Mother Teresa said, it’s not real love until it hurts. “True love” is really about making the decision to put someone else’s needs above your own.
Love is ultimately a decision. (Never thought a romantic, touchy-feely person like myself would ever say that.) I have made the decision to love Dave for better or worse. Thankfully, there’s been a lot more of the “better” for us.
4. Always put your marriage first. Marriage needs to take priority over work and your kids. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to let your dearly beloved take the backseat when you’re worn out from caring for kids all day. Similarly, some men (and women, too) can get so wrapped up in their work and future ambitions that they have little time for their spouses. But the best gift you can give to your marriage — and to your children — is to love your spouse and to put him or her first. A strong marriage not only helps you succeed in other areas of life, but when their parents love each other and frequently show that love, it helps kids to feel more loved and secure.
5. Be cheerful when your spouse comes home from work. This is a tough one for me. I’m often more than ready for reinforcements when Dave comes home after a long day, and I’m tempted to hand off the kids and beat a hasty retreat. Other days I’ll immediately start venting about how tough my own day was. But what I strive to do is to greet Dave like Christ when he comes home each evening. I try (although I frequently fail — and he loves me in spite of it; see tip No. 2) to rein in the impulse to emotionally dump on him, and instead to give him a hug and to ask, “How was your day?” This helps to set the tone for the entire evening.
6. Never underestimate the power of prayer and the sacraments. The best thing I can do when my marriage feels like it’s hurting — or even when we’re basking in bliss — is to have confidence in the graces I receive through prayer and the sacraments. No marriage can fail if we invite Jesus to be at its center.

Kate Wicker


Kate Wicker is a wife, mom of three little ones, and author of Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body. Prior to becoming a mom, she worked on the editorial staff of a regional parenting publication. Currently, Kate serves as a senior writer and health columnist for Faith & Family. Kate has written for a variety of regional and national media.

  • Reader

    Fun to read: I wish Inside Catholic would publish more clever, self-aware, undogmatic, unpretentious articles like this. More like EB White, less like Cotton Mather.

  • Doug Moore

    Thanks for this article, not anything new, but important none the less. After many years of marriage, it does not really change. Love is a decision.

  • Jennifer


    Love it! These are the simple, foundational things a lifelong marriage is built on, and it’s the stuff we need reminding of all the time. Laughter can work wonders…forgiveness is a MUST…make time for each other…and PRAY LIKE CRAZY! That’s the most important of all. It’s easy to love my spouse when I’m in the habit of taking him to Jesus in prayer.

  • Betty Beguiles

    Excellent post, Kate! Number three has served me especially well. I always try to remember that marriage is made up of a series of valleys and peaks. We shouldn’t get discouraged when we’re in the valley, it won’t last forever and serves to strengthen us and our marriages (I think many divorces are the result of couples believing that they are doomed to live in that valley for the rest of their days together as a couple), and we also must guard against pride when we’re on a peak. We still need God and we’re only on that peak thanks to His grace. Thanks again! Great insights. I’m going to keep these handy. smilies/smiley.gif

  • Marjorie Campbell

    4. Always put your marriage first. Marriage needs to take priority over work and your kids. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to let your dearly beloved take the backseat when you’re worn out from caring for kids all day.

    This is a great article, Kate Wicker, and I am sorry to cut to to quick … but does this number 4 point mean “sex”? Are you saying, “take the time to have sex with your husband?” ~Which branches me out to a long-answered Catholic question that bugs me: How do Catholic Women make their spouses feel like our highest priority? I’ve noticed a sort of endearing simplicity with my own dear male that has to do with food and sex … but I am wondering what you recommend for all of us gals who seriously get the picture and KNOW we want these wonderful husbands to feel like Top Dog … How, Kate Wicker, how do we give them that, eh?

  • Anonymous Catholic Dad

    Especially after the arrival of the kiddos, I join Marjorie’s husband in offering “an endearing simplicity … that has to do with food and sex”. We men are not at all complicated.

  • Chuck Weber

    I also thought the omission of sex was notable.

    Just say it in plain English (if it is indeed what #4 implies). My wife probably thinks at times that our sex life is more like numbers 1, 2 or even 3! (-:

    BTW, we BOTH work and I do most of the cooking. Note to other simplistic-minded men–doing the cooking also helps with sex. While you are working the frying pan, her crock pot is warming up. Food and sex go together.

  • ChristopherY

    The best tip to a healthy marriage is something I learned from Star Wars, “Let the wookie win.”

  • Kate Wicker

    Get your minds out of the gutter, folks. smilies/smiley.gif

    In all seriousness, I honestly wasn’t alluding to sex in tip number 4, but I can certainly see how you could read between the lines and think that’s what I meant by allowing a wife’s “dearly beloved to take the backseat.” What I was really attempting to address was more of the big picture – how we (both husbands and wives) can’t allow kids or work or anything else to supplant the sanctity of marriage.

    All that said, physical intimacy is certainly a part of putting your marriage first. I’ve just seen so many couples say things like, “Oh, we’ll spend more time together once the kids are older. There’s just not time for us as a couple right now.” But this way of thinking encourages a slow erosion of marital unity. You have to make time for each other. One simple way my husband and I do this is by scheduling regular date nights (usually at-home ones). When you carve out couple time, I find it’s easier to be attuned to your spouse’s needs (physical or otherwise).

    I also knew of a couple with nine kids who spent 10 minutes alone together when the husband returned home from work. This was their way of “putting their marriage first” in the trenches.

    Marjorie, as for making our husbands feel like top dogs, I suspect you might have more insight than me (I’m still a newlywed compared to many couples out there). However, one marriage booster I’ve personally embraced is making the effort to take care of myself. No, my husband doesn’t expect me to look like a super model, but most men are visual creatures, and I think a little effort on my part – like taking my fashion choice up a notch even for our at-home date nights – goes a long way in saying, “You and our marriage are important to me.”

    Okay, I’m really starting to sound like a Hallmark card…

  • Stephen

    You can save yourself a lot of trouble by not getting married to begin with. Celibacy is a higher state of perfection anyhow.[smiley=cool]

  • mike,uk

    we are visual , us men that is . yes kate you are right looking good helps. it shows you still care and want to be wanted . by your husband , i still fancy my wife after 25 years 19 married 3 kids , more so when she wears the right clobber. ok guys . treat your gals to a nice hair do .etc, i am a hairdresser. i know they will love you for it, dont let the devil iodge in your home make him pay , pray often and he will do the right thing and leave. stay loyal to each other ,and jesus amen.

  • Apollo F. Salle

    Back in the 1970’s when I was still living in my native Philippines, there was this op-ed column in the Panorama magazine (a Sunday supplement of the Manila Bulletin, one of the leading dailies in the Philippines) on Christian marriage and family life by Joe and Anita Meilly, a devout, conservative Catholic couple (the husband Joe has long since passed away but his widow Anita continues to write an op-ed to this day) and who periodically appears on television talk shows if the topic for discussion is about marriage and the family. In one such op-ed, the (very religious) Meillys said there is this one way that is either ignored or simply not done by most married couples but is actually both an easy and “fun” way of ensuring that the marriage not only will last but will also be “a happy and healthy” one. And it is this: taking a shower together (and the more often, the better!)!