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7 Secrets to a Happier Marriage

Relationships expert Harville Hendrix offers advice on how to make your marriage stronger and more fulfilling

4. Make love all the time and sometimes have sex. That may not make sense at first, but it actually highlights a critical distinction. The number of times you have sex isn't important. How you feel about yourself and each other every day of your life does.

"Many couples confuse physical closeness with emotional closeness," says Hendrix. "Sex makes you feel connected, but if you're not emotionally intimate, that connection is short lived."

Happy, stable couples treat each other in a kinder, gentler way all the time: Conversations are respectful, even if they don't agree or like what the other is saying. Arguments are short-circuited before they escalate, allowing partners to laugh, cry, be spontaneous or vulnerable without fear of being criticized or judged.

While it's true that weathering a crisis together can forge deep bonds, research shows that the everyday things you do, or fail to do, more accurately predict long-term happiness.

One way to ensure that your marriage remains strong is by making a list of caring behaviors — the things that each of you can do to show your love — and sharing it with each other. These small gestures form a kind of shorthand that creates a positive emotional climate and sends the message, "I care. You count." So consider: What could your partner do to make you feel special? Send an email or text during the day just to check in? Make reservations for your anniversary without prodding from you? Initiate sex more often? Follow through on at least one caring behavior each day.

5. Compliment each other. When was the last time you told her how sexy she looks in those jeans? Did you let him know that you admire the way he handled a dicey work situation?

At the start of your marriage, you probably showered one another with praise and affection. Maybe you think that since you've said those things before, there's no reason to repeat them. There is: Praising and admiring each other can keep your marital engine humming. Forget to exchange regular compliments and you risk chipping away at the foundation of respect and love that supports your marriage.

6. Remember that you can't change each other but you can change yourself. Sometimes, no matter how many times you ask, cajole (OK, berate) your partner for always being late or sloppy or (fill in the blank), nothing changes. You could continue to fume about it, or you could find ways to flip his annoying behavior into a win for you.

If he's paying too much attention to the TV, use the "free" time to do something for yourself. Pull out your iPad and read a few chapters in your book. Catch up on emails. This way, you dial down your stress level so you can both enjoy the evening.

Keep in mind that any change will be incremental, not revolutionary. The guy who has always raced through the airport at the last minute to catch a plane will not suddenly become the one who checks in a leisurely two hours before takeoff. The paradox is that the more we accept our spouses for who they really are, the more they become like the person we want them to be.

7. Be a little selfish. When we don't make time for ourselves to do the things we love and need to do, we can't feel loving and understanding. We feel squeezed. Pay attention to what makes you feel happy, rested, whole. So don't skimp on the gym, or feel guilty about playing poker with your guy pals. When you feel good about yourself and your life, it will be easier to feel good about your relationship.

Week 2: New Ways to Spice Up Your Sex Life. »

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