happy biracial couple on beach, couples counseling
Couples Counseling, Covid-19

The First Steps to A Happy and Healthy Marriage

We have now been in quarantine for six months. This forced time in my house has caused my home improvement list to multiply. I have started noticing all the cracks and imperfections in each room of my house. This hyper-awareness of my house got me thinking (I have had more time for thinking too!).  

We do the same thing in our relationship with our spouse or partner.

When we first begin a relationship it feels great! Romance is high and each partner feels loved. Some refer to this time as the “honeymoon phase”. Over time, the romance fades and you become hyper aware of all “cracks” in your partner. Or in the relationship itself. Traits or habits that you once found quirky or even cute, now drive you crazy. 

Perhaps you can relate to this in your own relationship. And quarantine has only magnified these annoyances. For some to the point of anger, criticism, contempt, and/or defensiveness. Maybe these negative feelings towards your partner aren’t new to quarantine. Maybe the negativity started long before the quarantine. No matter when your negative feelings began it can be challenging to return to the love you once felt. 

John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, has researched couples and marriages for over 40 years. In his research, he has identified what steps makes marriage happy and successful while other relationships fail. 

His research is revealed in his book Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work. In this blog we will explore the first steps to a happy and healthy marriage, and how it can be applied in your relationship with your partner. 


love maps, the first step to a happy marriage

Often, couples come to counseling wanting to restore the love they once felt for each other but feel helpless. They are so hurt by the negative behavior towards each. And they  often want to focus on learning to communicate and minimize conflict to stop the negativity. 

While it is important to practice communication skills or how to minimize conflict, it can be hard to implement these skills in real time outside of the counseling session. A couple’s best efforts may fall short and and the frustration and helplessness continues. 

So, what can couples counseling focus on to help create positive change that has been proven to work?

Gottman found, when couples have detailed love maps, they are better equipped to face challenging situations in their relationship. This is the first of many steps to a happy marriage.

A love map is simply a way to get to know the inner thoughts of your partner.  Love maps are built when we gather information about our partners so we can better know and understand who they are. 

How well do you know your partner? I am sure most of us could list their favorite food, sports team or TV show. But how much do you know about their day to day lives, annoyances, fears, joys, and dreams?

Creating a love map or getting to know your partner is easy but it takes time and intentionality.

The first step is to ask your partner questions about their past, present and future. This can be fun! Plan a date night where you take turns asking each other questions to help you get to know each other in a deeper way. Here are some ideas and you can get others too the Gottman Card Decks App

  • What is your dream vacation? 
  • Who is your favorite relative? 
  • What is your ideal date night?
  • Who was your least favorite teacher from childhood?
  • What’s your favorite song?
  • What are the biggest stressors you face right now?
  • What is your fondest unrealized dream?

Next, write down your answers so you can revisit them from time to time. A good time to revisit them is on an anniversary or after a major life event. Consider how and why your answers have changed or stayed the same.

Don’t take any answer for granted or assume you already know the answer.

You might think you know your partners’ biggest pet peeve but by asking find out it has changed in the last year. Major life events can often cause us to reconsider our lives and decisions in new ways. If we don’t check in with our partners to see how their answers have changed, we begin to grow apart. 

For some couples this process of building a love map is easy to do on their own. Others need help from a couple’s counselor to help them work through the negative patterns that have built up over time or because of a recent crisis or trauma.

All relationships take hard work and need attention to be happy and healthy. 

When you take the time to not only notice the “cracks” in your relationship, but also invest in repairing the “cracks” you can begin to strengthen your relationship and prevent future “cracks” from starting.  

If you want help in taking steps to a happy marriage

or have relationship concerns that need the support of a couples counselor, look no further! Couples therapy is both vulnerable and valuable. There is no perfect time to start but it is always easier to treat relationship problems as early as possible to minimize future damage.

About The Author

Kelli Carter, couples counselor  intern

Kelli Carter is a Clinical Mental Health Intern at Montgomery Counseling Center, in Rockville, Maryland. Kelli is a graduate student working toward her clinical mental health counseling masters degree. This training training has given her experience in a variety of evidenced based counseling practices. Kelli is currently completing Training in Level 1 Gottman’s Method.

Through counseling she explores how to build relationships with others and yourself that will help you in your daily life. She aims to help clients gain more self-awareness and give resources to be your best self and grow in healthy relationships with others. Kelli is currently accepting new clients at MCCC at a reduced-rate. Kelli is directly supervised by MCCC founder Laura Goldstein, LCMFT.

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