Android app on Google Play iPhone app Download from Windows Store


How to Make a Marriage Work

I’ve been happily married 11 years, and I’m still as in love with my beautiful wife Eva now as when I first fell for her 13 years ago.

That’s not to say we don’t have our problems and arguments, but we’re getting better and better at making it work. I realize there are lots of people who have been happily married four, five, six times as long as us. And I bow to them, knowing that I still have lots to learn.

But a young friend of mine told me recently that he’s engaged, after only starting to date a very short time ago … and I offered him the advice below. Marriage is hard work, and getting married young you have the odds stacked against you, but my friend is intelligent, determined, adaptable, honest and good-hearted, so he’s got a chance and I wish him happiness.

I had a failed young marriage, which I now think was not the fault of either me or my ex-wife, but it taught me that I had a lot to learn and made a lot of mistakes. I’ve applied the lessons to my first failed marriage to helping make my second marriage better.

So … some thoughts on making a marriage work:

Learn to resolve disputes with the other person’s heart in mind. The most important thing is to be able to talk about problems and feelings calmly and with the other person’s interest at heart — not just wanting to be right. If you’re going to make it work, you’ll have to work on a way to talk about tough things, and this means you both have to try to see it from the other person’s perspective, and find a solution that will work. You’ll likely be bad at this in the beginning, but whether you’ll last depends on your ability to come back together after a fight and figure out how to get better at communicating/resolving things the next time.

Eva and I have gotten much better at this, not blowing up over things like we used to, but we still struggle. Recently we’ve come up with a system: have a mandatory cooling-down period (say, 2 hours), then talk about it starting with a neutral description of the situation and what happened, then share our feelings about it and acknowledge the other person’s feelings, put aside wanting to be right, then focus on finding a solution that will work for both of us. Afterwards, we then do a review of how we did with the resolution process. To be honest, we are still figuring this out.

Most disputes and other conversations are about two things: do you care about me, and can I trust you. When you argue about putting the toilet seat down or whether we should go to the in-laws’ for Thanksgiving, it’s only partly about those actual things. What it’s really about is this: I care about the toilet seat (or going to my parents’ house for dinner), so can you show me you care about what I care about? If you ignore the other person’s desires (continually leave the toilet seat up when they ask you not to), then you are signaling you don’t care about what they care about. And what it’s really about is, I’ve given you my heart and opened up to you, so can I trust you with it? Will you reject me?

Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize this and can sometimes think the other person’s concerns are silly and so they dismiss the issue. The other problem is the person who cares about it doesn’t explicitly say they care about it and want the other person to care — they just imply it and hope their partner gets the message. So the responsibility is on both partners to figure this out.

I should note that ideally, the care and trust of the other person doesn’t need to be continually tested and questioned — you know it. That’s not always the case, though, and it often takes time to build that trust.

Finances are the biggest source of friction for most couples. The reason is that they really are an emotion-packed way to show what’s important to people, and when you think you’re talking about whether you want to buy a boat, what you’re really talking about is whether you want a certain kind of lifestyle, whether you value her point of view, whether you respect her opinion on things, whether you care more about the boat or your relationship, and so on. There’s a lot that goes on under the surface of conversations like this that most people don’t realize is there — bringing it out in the open is a smart move.

Sex is another source of friction. When preferences are the same, all is well, but when things change the guy can feel frustrated while the girl can feel like she’s not enough and not appreciated and only wanted for her body (to bring up a common example, not always true). Being able to work out how to resolve these differences is an important skill.

Don’t have kids early on. One of the most wonderful people in my life is my daughter Chloe, who I had young and in the earliest stage of my first marriage, and I wasn’t even 20 years old yet. I am incredibly glad I had her. That said, for other young couples I recommend waiting. Learning to make a marriage work is much, much harder when you add the pressure of kids to the equation. Get good at the relationship before even considering a kid. Get to know each other’s values around parenting, really well, before diving into parenthood. It’s pretty much irreversible, once you have a kid, and I know lots of people (myself included) who grow apart or fall out of love with their partner, split up, only to leave the kid in a split home. And if you have a kid you have to deal with the ex-spouse for the rest of your life, even if you hate each other. I’m lucky in that my ex-wife and I get along, but it’s often not that easy.

Be good at being alone separately. And secure in yourselves and each other when you’re apart … not just good at being together. This is important, because lots of people aren’t confident in themselves and so look to the other person to fill a void, to meet an emotional need, and that ends up being not healthy in the long run.

But make time for each other. Time to be together, even when things get out of the honeymoon phase and get more routine. Never take the relationship for granted. Make weekly dates so you spend time alone together. Eva and I like to go to dinner alone (without the kids) and take walks together.

You will both change. That means the person you fall in love with now will be different in 5 years, and more different in 10. How you feel about that person will be different than how you feel about the person you love right now. And vice versa — you’re changing and she’ll feel differently about you. You might have an expectation that she stay the same, and yet she changes — how will you resolve this? She’ll feel like you don’t love her as she is, you’ll be frustrated that she’s not who she was before that you loved, etc. And vice versa.

How do you handle this? Learn this skill:

Appreciate the person for who they are. Very often we wish the other person were different, were better, were more considerate, could instantly know what we want, would match up with some fantasy (strong, tender, caring and romantic, perhaps, or sexy, always passionate about sex, nurturing). We don’t always realize this is happening, but it can cause lots of problems — resentment, disappointments, frustrations. I’ve learned that when I see my wife for who she really is, not who I wish she were (though I sometimes fail), I am happier. I appreciate her, love her, am not dissatisfied.

You can appreciate the person as they are right now, instead of who you thought they were when you first fell in love, instead of who they might become later. This is an ever-changing thing, so the skill of seeing the person as they actually are at this moment is one that you have to practice each day, each year, not just once and then hold the picture in your head.

And when you can appreciate the person for who they are, tell them. Show them. It means more than you might realize.

So that’s what I’ve learned — it’s only a start, and I’m still learning. It’s a lot of work, and there will be struggles. But that’s the best thing: the pleasant days when all is well are amazing, but in the struggles you both grow as people, you learn, you can find a path to growing closer.

I don’t know what the future holds for my marriage, but I know that in this moment, it’s all that I could want it to be.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC