What are the core principles of a successful marriage? What does it take to make the marriage work?
Not simply to avoid divorce, but to create a relationship that is on fire. To have deep intimacy and passion that lasts well beyond the honeymoon phase.
To create a 10/10 sex life where your every need and fantasy is fulfilled, and she experiences you as the “best she’s ever had?”
To transcend the merely “good” or “ok” and experience the sublime?
Most of your married friends will claim that it’s not possible.
Even the marriage counselors and therapists of the world will use their pulpits to preach the importance of “good enough.” Claiming that you should settle for any healthy relationship even if it doesn’t lead to a happy marriage.
But I’m here to tell you they’re wrong.
And deep down, you know it.
You’ve seen it firsthand.
We all have those married couples in our lives who seem to defy convention and the status quo.
We all have that friend who, instead of complaining about and belittling his wife, brags about her and the love they share––even though they’ve been together for years.
We all know that woman who’s been with her partner for ten, fifteen, even twenty years and claims that she’s “Just as in love with him” as the day they first met.
So what do they know that everyone else doesn’t?
The good news is…
Creating this type of emotional connection and strong marriage isn’t magic. It doesn’t happen by luck. And it isn’t reserved for the exceptionally lucky.
It’s science, based on core principles and human psychology.
And if you’ll follow the steps in this guide, it’s science you can decode for yourself and use to create lifelong love––whether you’re married, single, or searching for the right person.
Let’s dive in.
The Myths of Healthy Marriage: Why (Almost) Everything You Know About a Happy Marriage Is Wrong
Before we dive into the core concepts and principles for making marriage work, we must address the myths that will keep you stuck and prevent you (or your wife) from experiencing the love you desire.
Myth #1: Happy Couples Don’t Fight
Not only is this idea patently untrue, it’s dangerous.
According to John Gottman, the author of The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work and the Founder of the Gottman Institute:
“In a good relationship, people get angry. But in a very different way. The Marriage Masters see a problem a bit like a soccer ball. They kick it around. It’s ‘our’ problem.”
The findings of his research––which culminated in his uncanny ability to predict divorce with 94% accuracy––were simple.
Although too much conflict is an indicator of a doomed marriage, too little conflict is just as dangerous.
When a marriage is absent of conflict altogether, it’s a sign that one or both partners are suppressing their needs, stifling their truth, and hiding from instead of addressing the issues they have.
The end result is a relationship filled with resentment, contempt, and animosity.
Conflict is necessary for a marriage to work. This doesn’t mean that you need to “fight” with your partner or scream and throw pans (bad idea).
But it does mean that some level of disagreement and tension is healthy.
It’s simply part and parcel of sharing your life with another human being.
Myth #2: Good Communication is THE Key to a Lifelong Love
Although communication is important––and we’ll talk about that in just a moment––it isn’t the end all be all.
This is the central thesis of Gottman’s research.
Communication can be messy, mean, and maddening between partners.
But regardless of how a couple communicates, if their communication is predicated on an underlying respect, admiration, and genuine desire to be together, their marriage can (and likely will) last.
This isn’t to say that communication doesn’t matter.
It does, a lot. And learning how to communicate effectively will certainly improve the quality of your day to day experience with your wife.
However, it isn’t the end all be all it’s cracked up to be.
It’s better to communicate poorly with someone you admire and respect than to communicate well with someone you hold in contempt.
Myth #3: “Low Standards Are the Key”
Warren Buffet famously said that the key to a happy marriage was “low standards.”
He was wrong.
Although this is a common idea among the “experts” and “Instagram influencers” of our modern world, the science paints a very different story.
According to Gottman:
Donald Baucom of the University of North Carolina has debunked this idea by studying couples’ standards and expectations of each other. He has found that people with the greatest expectations for their marriage usually wind up with the highest-quality marriages. This suggests that by holding your relationship to high standards, you are far more likely to achieve the kind of marriage you want than you are by looking the other way and letting things slide.
This finding is actually backed up by the work of another psychologist named Robert Rosenthal.
Who found that, in the classroom, the teacher’s expectations of their students had a direct impact on the students performance.
When a teacher was told that a particular student had high potential and a high IQ––and thus elevated their expectations for that particular student––the student flourished.
The inverse was also true.
And this same principle is at play in our marriages and romantic lives.
By having high standards for ourselves, our partners, and our relationship together, we’re far more likely to meet those standards and experience a high quality marriage that meets our needs and fulfills our souls.
When we enter into the relationship with low expectations, those expectations are typically met.
The bottom line?
Ignore the pundits and influencers.
The higher your expectations, the higher the likelihood that you’ll have the marriage you want.
The Seven Principles of a Good Marriage
With these myths busted, it’s time to explore the seven principles of a good marriage.
1. Love Yourself First
Most therapists and counselors will begin their inquiries into a couple’s problems by exploring how they relate to each other.
And on the surface, this makes sense.
After all, the “marriage” is the problem they’ve been hired to fix, right?
But the immutable first principle they often ignore is that a marriage is a partnership between two separate people.
If those people aren’t showing up to their partnership happy, whole, and complete by themselves, how can they hope to create a marriage that is happy, whole, and complete?
And they won’t.
This brings us to the first and most important principle for achieving a love that lasts:
The quality of your relationships with others will always be a reflection of your relationship with yourself.
Your marriage is a mirror of who you are as a man and how you’re showing up in the world.
If your marriage isn’t working or you aren’t able to find the type of woman you desire, it’s easy to shirk responsibility and lay blame on others.
And this is something I see with my coaching clients all the time:
They’ll lay all of them blame on their partner or their marriage and convince themselves that they need a divorce.
But all the while, they are fundamentally failing to show up to their own life as the type of man who is capable of creating a good marriage.
- They settle for careers that they hate and spend the majority of their day working ridiculous hours to impress people they don’t care about by buying things they don’t need.
- Their body is a wreck, they’re overweight, chronically sleep deprived, and “nourishing” themselves with a stream of booze, fast food, and processed snacks.
- They’re trapped by vices and numb out the pain of their misaligned life with TV, porn, social media, OnlyFans, video games, and substances.
In other words:
They aren’t happy and fulfilled as a man and they’re expecting their partner to fix their problems for them.
When she can’t, they assume that she’s the problem.
On the other side, she becomes resentful of how he’s showing up for both himself and their marriage, causing the conflicts and animosity to build even further.
And with enough time, the relationship becomes poisoned.
Even if they had a deep friendship, love, and respect to begin with…
It slowly fades and dies when the man isn’t showing up for himself.
Over the past decade, I’ve coached thousands of men.
Many of them came to me believing that their marriage was the problem.
But in almost every case, when he started to work on himself:
- Becoming more assertive and confident in his pursuit of what he wanted
- Prioritizing his body and ensuring his biology was on point
- Spending time with his male friends and developing a community separate from your partner
- Making time to pursue his passions and do the things that made him feel alive
- Developing himself as a leader and a man
The marriage started to fix itself.
Although there have been instances where he and his partner were simply a bad match for each other… this is the exception not the rule.
And before you consider a divorce or even consider “working on your marriage”…
I invite you to first consider working on yourself.
Look at the way you’re showing up to the game of life.
Look at your habits. Look at the dreams and goals you aren’t pursuing. Look at the vices that fill your time.
As you slowly chip away at these problems one by one, a clearer and more honest picture of your marriage will emerge.
And once you’re showing up as a fully alive, present, and grounded man––an active player in the game of life––then and only then will you be able to begin doing the work to make your relationship work.
2. Embrace Your Role as a Masculine Leader
Political correctness aside, almost every successful marriage I’ve seen shares one commonality.
A high level of masculine leadership from the man.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be a domineering caveman proclaiming that it’s “my way or the highway.”
But rather that it’s your responsibility to be the leader inside of the relationship.
To make your wife’s life easier and more joyful. To induce positive emotions and hold space for the storms of the feminine.
Although I could write an entire book on these concepts (and I did) at the simplest level, this principle can be distilled down to three core concepts:
- Generate Positive Emotions and Lead Your Wife on the Adventure of a Lifetime
- Respond, Don’t React
- Make Her Life Easier Not Harder
Here’s are a few practical examples to show you what I mean (see if you can relate):
Imagine it’s a Friday night and your partner calls you at the office and asks what the plans are for the evening.
Most men––men who aren’t fully grounded in their role as a masculine leader––will say something like:
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
And by doing so, they now put the pressure on their partner to make the decision, set the plans, and lead the evening.
Compare this to a man who has fully embraced his role as a leader inside of the relationship and responds by saying:
“I’m going to be home at 5:30, and I’m taking you downtown for an Italian adventure at Postino’s. Wear that cute black dress I bought you for your birthday––I can’t wait to rip it off of you after a night filled with pasta and wine.”
Do you see how different this response is?
Instead of adding one more thing to your wife’s ‘to-do-list’ and creating more pressure, you’re not only alleviating pressure, but generating positive emotions and excitement about the night you’re going to share together.
What do you think the result of this type of response is likely to be?
And this same principle applies when handling conflict.
For example if your wife makes a passive aggressive jab when you leave to hang out with a friend during the weekend, the reactive response would be to lose your temper and say something like:
“Are you seriously getting mad at me for spending time with my friends? Why the hell are you so needy!”
A man who understands the importance of masculine leadership and emotional responsiveness vs reactivity would respond with something like:
“Hey, you sound like you’re upset that I’m going out today. If there’s something you need to express, I’m here to listen.”
Again, notice the difference here.
In the second example, you aren’t sacrificing time with your friends––which is an essential part of a man’s life and necessary for his marriage to thrive.
You’re simply opening up the opportunity for deeper communication.
You’re allowing your partner to feel safe in expressing her needs and communicating her inner world instead of immediately lambasting her for her emotional response.
And by doing so, it gives you the opportunity to identify and resolve the real issue.
Through a short conversation you may realize your wife is feeling overwhelmed with her job and taking care of the kids and feeling unsupported because you’re abandoning her on the weekend.
You now have the opportunity to make her life easier by addressing the need directly––e.g. offering to take the kids the following day and give her time to herself or offering to hire a babysitter so she can take Saturday off too––instead of reacting to an inaccurate perception.
Embracing your role as a masculine leader isn’t easy. It isn’t automatic. And it isn’t something most of us were taught (in many cases society teaches us not to embrace this role and labels us as “toxic” if we try).
As a result, there are many men who have otherwise amazing partners––after all, you got married for a reason!––but consider leaving simply because they aren’t showing up fully as the man she needs him to be.
After coaching thousands of men, I can promise you, when you change the way you show up to your relationship, your relationship changes.
3. Understand the Fundamental Communication Rules
As I already shared, the idea that communication is the end all be all of a healthy marriage is fallacious.
Plenty of couples happily make it “till death do us part” despite their abhorrent communication styles.
But simply because you can succeed without mastering communication doesn’t mean that it’s the best approach (in the same way that you can succeed in business while abusing narcotics and alcohol––but it’s certainly not the best way to set yourself up for success).
Luckily, clean communication is relatively simple.
Although it isn’t necessarily easy to master, the basics can be distilled down to a few simple concepts:
Validate Her Experience
Trite though it may be, men tend to be more logical and women tend to be more emotional.
In and of itself, this isn’t a problem. Simply an entertaining evolutionary quirk that makes for more interesting conversations between sexes.
However, inside of a marriage, this quirk can wreck havoc––fast.
Because the default response most men offer when their partner is reacting from an emotional place is to invalidate her experience, ‘logicize’ her emotions, or arm their inner defenses.
For example, you’ve likely had the experience where your partner came home from work or taking care of the kids and expressed an overwhelming emotional response to some seemingly simple or even ‘stupid’ issue.
Her boss said something mean, her co-workers disrespected her, your kid made a crappy comment about her weight, etc.
The default response from most men is:
“I’m sure they didn’t mean it” or “You just need to confront him and tell him to screw off” or “It’s not that big of a deal, don’t let it ruin your day.”
But here’s the rub.
Nine times out of ten, she doesn’t want the solution to her problems, she wants validation in her experience.
And a simple:
“That really sucks, I’m sorry you had to deal with that”
Is often enough to make her feel validated and de-escalate her emotional experience (after which she will often logically resolve the situation herself).
Practically what this means for you is simple.
Before offering solutions, giving advice, or explaining away situations, validate her emotions and express support:
- “That really sucks, I’m here for you if you need anything.”
- “Damn, I’d be upset too, let me know if there’s anything you need from me”
- “Come here and give me a hug, it sounds like you had a rough day.”
Try it out the next time your partner is upset––with you or something else––and you’ll be surprised by the response.
Relinquish the Need to Be Right
This is a particularly sticky point.
Because taken to the extreme, it can cause more issues than it solves.
So let me be clear:
There are times in your relationship where it’s worth fighting for your beliefs and your point of view.
When your deeply held personal values or non-negotiables are being threatened, you owe it to yourself and your partner to stay grounded in what you believe and take a stand for what you want.
- If your partner begins abusing drugs and alcohol and you aren’t willing to tolerate her behavior
- If your partner isn’t supportive of your professional or artistic endeavors (that are a core part of your identity as a man)
- If your partner consistently disrespects or undermines you in public or treats you with contempt
These are all situations where you have a responsibility to stand up for yourself and what you value––even if it leads to conflicts, sleepless nights, or even losing the relationship.
However, assuming that you chose the right partner who loves and respects you and wants to see you win…
These instances will be few and far between.
Far more common are the senseless arguments and disagreements where your need to be right creates unnecessary tension in the relationship.
- You make an innocent comment that she interprets the wrong way and causes her to feel embarrassed
- You forget to complete an errand you promised you’d take care of (due to circumstances outside of your control)
- You were caught up in work or a virtual conversation with a friend and didn’t realize that she needed your attention
When conflicts arise from these types of situations, it’s easy to mount your high horse and engage in a verbal battle over a patently stupid and insignificant issue.
But even if you win the argument, it’s a pyrrhic victory.
Because you had an opportunity to bring her closer to you and instead chose to isolate her out of your need to be “right.”
For example, a friend was telling me a story about how he bought his wife a guitar for their birthday.
When they were out picking it up, the seller asked if it was for her and she responded, “Yup, it is!”
Her husband innocently fired off, “Hey now, it’s for both of us!”
And when they returned home, his wife expressed how his comment made her feel embarrassed.
To him, it didn’t make any sense. It was an innocuous joke he shared simply because they both play guitar.
But to her, it felt like the “gift” wasn’t really hers.
Instead of apologizing and calming the situation down, my friend started a pointless battle with his wife that lasted hours.
Later when we discussed this he shared how pointless he felt the argument was.
All he had to do was apologize for making her feel that way, validate that the gift was indeed meant for her, and express that he loved her and didn’t want to embarrass her.
That would have been that.
But his need to be right soured their day and stole the joy from a meaningful––not to mention expensive––birthday gift.
Unify Your Relationship
The third and final communication principle to consider is simple:
Remember that you’re on the same team.
In any relationship, your goal should be unity and cohesion.
You’re working together to create a more beautiful life and share in the experience of being human.
The moment you start working against each other is the moment your relationship begins to die.
Although this might not be as tactical as some of the other communication advice out there––like avoiding the words “never” or “always” and using “I felt” instead of “You made me feel”––it’s far more impactful.
Because once you internalize this principle, it will change how you communicate permanently.
When you realize that you’re on the same team and that you (hopefully) share the same goals and vision for life…
Everything becomes easier.
Problems become a collaborative puzzle to solve together instead of a reason to separate.
Conflicts are guaranteed in relationships. It’s part of sharing your life with another human being.
But never forget that you’re in this together.
The key to fulfilling relationships, a good sex life, and becoming one of those old and happily married couples is to remember that you’re on the same team.
It isn’t you vs her.
It’s you + her vs all of the challenges and conflicts the world brings.
4. Avoid Romantic “Grey Time”
Although this is one of the simplest of the seven principles, it’s also one of the most important.
Most couples don’t spend quality time together.
Instead, they simply spend time “around” each other.
You know what I’m talking about.
Your partner is reading a book or scrolling Instagram while you watch Monday night Football or play video games.
You’re working on a project and she’s sitting in the same room.
You’re physically near each other, but you aren’t together.
And in my experience, as innocuous as it may seem, this is one of the fastest ways to tank your relationship.
Grey time breeds complacency. It prevents you from having the opportunity to miss your partner or keep the spark and desire alive. And ultimately, it can lead to resentment.
Because you’re “with” each other but you aren’t present. And this creates an intimacy vacuum in the relationship. So when you do want to spend time alone or go out with friends your partner won’t feel like she’s had time with you (despite being “around” you all day).
The solution is simple.
At least 80% of the time you spend with your partner should be focused quality time.
If you’re scrolling through social media or playing video games, do it in separate rooms.
If you’re working, shut the door or go to a coffee shop.
And when you are together?
Turn off the devices. Remove the distractions and be present with each other.
Have meaningful conversations, play games, do fun activities.
Stop settling for a relationship filled with grey time and instead prioritize building a partnership based on quality time.
5. Map Your Love Languages
In his book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman identifies five primary “love languages” that people have:
- Acts of Service: Cleaning the house, plugging in her phone, handling chores etc
- Words of Affection: Telling your partner that you’re proud of them or how much they mean to you
- Quality Time: Doing things together
- Physical Touch: Sex, cuddling, hugs, etc
- Gifts: Buying thoughtful gifts
And when two partner’s love each other deeply and genuinely care for one another… but still feel a sense of disconnection and frustration in their relationship
Incongruent love languages are often to blame.
Simply put, you can express love to your partner in a way that they don’t receive it (and vice versa).
And even though your intention is to make your partner feel loved, she may or may not feel love in the same way that you express it.
For example if your primary love language is acts of service and you spend an entire day cleaning the house and handling small chores to express your affection…
But your partner’s primary love language is quality time…
She may notice the acts of service you rendered, but she likely won’t receive them the same way as if you’d taken a half day off from work to go out on the town with her.
It’s important to note that none of these love languages are “better” or superior to another.
They’re simply a result of childhood programming that creates different attitudes toward and experiences of love.
Even more importantly?
It isn’t your responsibility or your partner’s responsibility to “mind read” and figure out the other person’s love languages.
If your partner loves buying you gifts, and you couldn’t give two damns about them––but would rather have physical affection and words of appreciation––it’s on you to express that.
The best way to do this is by creating what John Gottman calls “love maps.”
Literally sitting down with your partner and writing out a specific list of what you can both do to make the other person feel the most loved.
It might sounds cheesy, but I’ve seen this simple exercise save marriages on the brink of divorce.
Because when you know how to love your partner in a way that they can fully experience––and vice versa––it allows you to be more intentional about the way you’re showing up.
For example, I have a close friend whose primary love languages are acts of service and words of affirmation.
His partner on the other hand prefers quality time and gifts (and gifts aren’t even on my friend’s radar).
Even though he and his wife are one of the best couples I’ve ever seen, they went through a period where they were close to separating.
Because even though both of them were expressing love neither partner felt loved.
After completing this exercise they realized how incongruent their love languages were and set to work showing affection in a way their partner could receive.
Within a month, they felt like they were back in the honeymoon phase because they were showing up for each other in a way that they could each fully accept.
He began buying her small gifts and going out of his way to spend more time with his wife.
She stopped buying him gifts and started instead spending more time keeping the house in order and doting kind words over her husband.
And to this day, they’re in one of the happiest marriages I’ve ever seen.
6. Create a Shared Vision Together
One of the biggest mistakes that people make in marriage is to make the other person their primary goal and vision in life.
Although Disney and rom coms convince us that this is the tried and true method for a love that lasts…
We’ve all been lied to.
The truth is, the most successful marriages and happiest couples are people who have a sense of shared meaning with their partner.
Yes, they are a key priority in each other’s lives.
But there’s something bigger that they’re working toward together.
They’re partners in the game of life. And they’re actively playing the game.
At the end of the day, there are two primary goals of relationships:
- To magnify the human experience (because the highs and lows are better when they’re shared)
- To facilitate growth and accelerate transformation
If you aren’t growing together toward a common goal, you and your relationship are dying––period.
Luckily, this doesn’t need to be complicated.
You don’t need to plot world domination together or create a 52-point strategy guide about how you’re going to dominate an industry.
Instead, you simply need a clear vision of where you’re taking your lives as individuals and as a couple. What are you working toward? What are you trying to achieve? What experiences do you want to share together?
When unified by a shared vision and shared meaning, doing the hard work required to make a marriage work becomes easier.
Because now, you’ve transcended the relationship itself. It isn’t just about you or your partner. It’s about what you’re building together and the life you’re trying to create.
I encourage you to create intentional space with your partner to get clear on your vision together:
- Where do you see yourselves in 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years?
- What experiences do you want to have together?
- What problems do you want to solve? How can you work together to solve them?
- What do you want your daily lives to look like?
- How can you support each other in your individual goals?
Map out a clear picture of the life you’re building together and get excited for what the future has in store.
When you do, it will galvanize you as a unit and lead to greater intimacy, connection, and romance.
7. Keep the (Sexual) Spark Alive
Last but certainly not least…
Successful marriages are built on a foundation of great sex.
This might sound a little triggering, but it’s true.
Without a meaningful and fulfilling sex life you and your partner are nothing but roommates.
And as much as you may like and love each other, there will always be a void left by the lack of physical intimacy and connection.
I’ve written an entire article detailing the key action steps necessary to improve your sex life (ranging from improving physical fitness to communication in the bedroom to dirty talk), and I encourage you to check it out if this is an issue for you.
But the summary is simple.
Sex matters––a lot.
And a good sex life starts outside of the bedroom.
It starts by creating a sense of safety and intimacy with your partner so that she feels safe to express her deepest and wildest desires.
It starts by taking care of yourself physically and mentally.
It starts by being open about what you want, creating the space for her to share what she wants, and getting excited about the joy of exploring each others bodies for years to come.
It starts by prioritizing her and her pleasure and showing up as the type of masterful love that she fantasizes about and brags about to her friends.
And when you get it right?
It will strengthen your relationship in ways you can’t even imagine.
The Missing Key in Creating a Marriage that Lasts (The Final Principle)
Finally and perhaps most importantly…
To create a marriage that lasts you need SUPPORT.
Far too many men try to “go it alone” and figure everything out by themselves.
Instead of enlisting support from men who have been there, done that, and know how to navigate the tricky terrain of lifelong partnership…
They assume that “love is enough” and that they can figure it out alone.
But the men who make their marriage work for the long haul know that they need support.
They need outside perspective and guidance to show up as the best husband, lover, and friend they can.
And if your marriage is on the rocks or you simply know that you can do better…
Then I invite you to consider applying for our men’s coaching program Project Grounded Man.
Inside you’ll get a step-by-step blueprint for not only improving your marriage and becoming the type of lover she craves…
But for fundamentally changing how you’re showing up as a man.
Becoming more grounded, confident, assertive, and powerful in every area of your life.
Thousands of men have answered the call and used our systems to save their marriage, overcome a divorce, and elevate their lives to a level they never knew was possible.
If you want to be next, click the link below to submit a quick application and find out if you’re a good fit.
And we’ll see you on the inside.