There may be a secret enemy to your marriage, and you may not even know it.
That something is unexpressed conflict, according to writer John Weirick of Relevant magazine. When couples don’t express their complaints to each other, it can lead to assumptions and accusations between them, which can often drive a wedge in the relationship.
“You can disagree on what color to paint the kitchen, the best school for your kids, and even about which church denomination or political party is best,” Weirick wrote. “Those disagreements may cause friction and some heated debates from time to time, but they won’t destroy your relationship if you don’t let them. Those unresolved conflicts can last as long as you’re both alive. You can agree to disagree and move on."
To resolve these conflicts, Weirick says it’s important to speak honestly and attack the issue at hand, rather than your spouse. This will help couples trust each other about handling relationship conflicts in the future and keep those enemies away.
“Working together, you can identify and defeat the secret enemy in your marriage,” Weirick wrote.
But as much as there are potential enemies to a marriage, there are heroes, too. Here’s a look at 10 heroic things you can do, based on scientific research, to help save your marriage or keep it strong.
Don't share too much on Facebook
Facebook can often cause relationship problems, especially when it comes to how much you share online, according to three separate studies from the University of Kansas cited by The Huffington Post.
The studies found that people in relationships “feel less special and unique,” when their partner overshares personal details on Facebook, The Huffington Post reported.
"There's an assumption that as a partner you're entitled to some kind of privileged information," Kansas doctoral student Juwon Lee said in the study.
Limiting how much you share online can help resolve these relationship issues, the study said.
...But include your partner if you do share
If you’re going to share a lot of personal details on Facebook, you might as well do it with your partner. A study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture earlier this year found that couples who post updates often about their relationships tend to be happier, as I reported in February.
The study, which analyzed social media and relationship habits of 1,000 couples, found those who posted more Facebook updates about their partner, spouse or relationship were more satisfied. Couples also reported being happier when they had their spouse in their profile picture, the study said.
“You can stop the eye-rolling,” wrote Kate Hakala for Mic. “The road to a happy modern relationship might be paved with the same tagged statuses and selfie shots that you've been posting for years.”
Be your spouse's best friend
Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this year found three important facts about modern marriages: honeymoon phases often last longer than just the first year or two of marriage, some married couples experience a dip in happiness during middle age and it’s important to marry your best friend.
The research said that the happiest married couples are those who establish a strong partnership with their spouse, rather than just a romantic relationship, according to The Huffington Post. This implies that marrying your best friend will give you the best chance at a happy marriage, HuffPost reported.
“The third big takeaway from their research was that those who considered their spouse a ‘best friend’ boasted the highest levels of happiness — in fact, the well-being benefits were twice as large for those couples,” according to The Huffington Post. "This makes sense, given that previous research has shown that close relationships are crucial for long-term well-being.”
Believe in big, cheap weddings
You can still have a big wedding without breaking the bank. And doing so may just help your marriage, according to a study from two researchers at Emory University.
The study, which surveyed more than 3,100 American adults who have been married, found that those who had cheaper weddings had less divorce rates and longer marriages, CNN reported.
The study also said those who spent more than $20,000 on their wedding were 1.6 times more likely to get divorced than those who spent between $5,000 and $10,000 on their wedding, CNN reported.
"The wedding industry has long associated lavish weddings with longer-lasting marriages,” the study’s co-author Andrew M. Francis told CNN. “Industry advertising has fueled norms that create the impression that spending large amounts on the wedding is a signal of commitment or is necessary for a marriage to be successful.”
The researchers didn’t explain why this is, though, and said it was merely a correlation result.
Be a Republican
Last month, a new study from the Institute of Family Studies found that Americans who identify as conservative or Republican tend to have happier marriages.
The study, which analyzed data from a 2010-14 General Social Survey, found that there were more married Republicans than Democrats, and conservative marriages tend to be happier than liberal ones.
This may be because of the values both partners share, or by the demographics of each political party.
“Why are married Republicans happier than their Democratic counterparts? Perhaps the partisan divide can be accounted for by differences in the demographic and cultural composition of each party,” the researchers note. “After all, prior scholarship has found that marital quality varies by sex, race/ethnicity, education and religiosity."
Still, this finding is highly debated among researchers and political pundits. In fact, a 2010 book from researchers Naomi Cahn and June Carbone argued that Democrats had happier marriages because of some values they promote, The Atlantic reported.
And as the Family Studies researchers noted, both Democrats and Republicans have strong marriages, regardless of which lasts longer.
"Although conservatives are more likely to be married than liberals,” they wrote, “their marriages tend to be of equal quality.”
Know the secrets to a happy marriage
If your partner knows some basic secrets about a happy marriage, then you’re likely to have a blissful relationship, according to a poll of 2,000 British couples cited by the Daily Mail.
The poll found that certain qualities like honesty, a sense of humor and getting along with a partner’s friends and family members can make all the difference in a marriage, the Daily Mail reported.
Partners who are also quick to pay attention to their spouse and say “I love you” often will also see themselves in a happier relationship, Daily Mail reported.
“In the modern world, marriages are having to survive against a host of new technology with many couple falling out over what to watch on the TV or one or both of you spending too much time focusing on your computers, tablets or mobile phones,” author Andy Gibney told Daily Mail. “After being married for a while, it's easy to find you are stuck in a rut and not really paying each other any attention, but hopefully some of these 'secrets' will be helpful.”
Wait to be physically intimate
Having a happier marriage can be as simple as waiting until you tie the knot to be physically intimate, according to a report from the National Marriage Project.
The report, called “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults,” found that those who cohabitate or have sexual partners before marriage are less likely to have a high quality marriage, our own Lois Collins reported.
“In general, couples who wait to have sex later in their relationship report higher levels of marital quality,” the study said, according to Collins. “There are many possible explanations for this link. One is that some people who are already more likely to struggle in romantic relationships — such as people who are impulsive or insecure — are also more likely to have casual sex."
Susan Boon, Ph.D., teaches a relationship class at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. And she always offers one piece of advice to students about their relationships — you need to be nice, according to WebMD.
Boon’s piece of advice is based on a book by John Gottman called “Seven Principles for Making Marriages work.” Boon has used the book for a lot of her own relationship advice, including that it’s important to embrace the little things and be respectful of your partner.
"The little things matter," Boon told WebMD. "What a happy marriage is based on is deep friendship, knowing each other well, having mutual respect, knowing when it makes sense to try to work out an issue, when it is not solvable. Many kinds of issues simply aren't solvable."
That’s why it’s important to avoid those unsolvable issues by being nice and facing conflict without anger, Boon said.
Love date night
Yes, believe it or not, date night can be crucial to keeping your marriage happy.
As I reported back in March, research from Indiana State University found that couples who embraced date night were more likely to have a long-lasting relationship than those who didn’t.
Date nights will refresh or rekindle relationships by forcing couples to partake in new experiences and activities that can help partners grow, according to the study.
Relationship expert Aaron Anderson agrees.
"Your identity as a spouse and as a couple often gets lost behind the routine chores and everyday tasks,” Anderson wrote in a blog post for Relationships Rx. “You forget about things like talking as grownups, flirting with each other so date night is an essential element to put into your routine as a couple because it allows you to focus on your relationship and on each other in adult ways."
Be honest with your spouse about money
Earlier this year, CNN Money cited a report that found that one in five Americans don’t tell their spouses about purchases they make that are $500 or more. On top of that, 7.2 million Americans haven’t told their spouses about any secret bank accounts, CNN reported.
This, of course, can also damage your relationship. A 2011 study published in Family Relationships found that money is a sensitive area for couples and can be a source of conflict.
But when couples share their financial burdens with each other, their marriage is often happier, according to U.S. News and World Report.
“No one likes handling money on their own,” according to U.S. News and World Report. “Investing and other types of financial decisions can be stressful and often come with a hefty dose of responsibility. Handling it solo can be stressful. That’s why couples usually report that they prefer to share jobs and are more satisfied when they tackle decisions together.”
This can also help partners become more confident in their financial decisions since they know their spouse is there to carry the burden with them, U.S. News and World Report said.
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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.