You Better Take Good Care of Yourself to Have a Happy Marriage

young couple in love

A belief of mine is that you have to take good care of yourself to have a healthy and happy relationship. Taking good care of yourself is your job and not something you can sluff onto your partner.

Of course, the beginning of a relationship feels so different. I was just scanning face book yesterday and came upon a post from a young friend in India who just got engaged. He’s over the top with excitement, writing about the wonderful person he’s going to marry. He said she completes him. Then he added, “I’ve never met a person in my life that made me feel so happy and comfortable to be around.”

The Enchantment Phase

These sentiments are so typical of the early, enchantment phase of a relationship. The dopamine and oxytocin our brains produce is real and instigates a powerful emotional bond to our partners. This is totally good because at some point this couple is going to face some challenges in their relationship. Although the high my friend is feeling is going to eventually wear off (don’t tell him that) these powerful feelings will not only keep the couple together but remind him of his deep love for his wife.

But I also want you to notice how the statement places responsibility for his happiness outside, on his wife. In fact, the in-love feelings we all experience in the early stages of our relationships are rather effortless, an emotional high that just washes over us and require little effort on our part. Even the most immature of people fall into and out of love.

A more mature love, on the other hand, requires time, shared experiences, persistence, even hardship and just plain hard work. It doesn’t just happen on its own. You have to take responsibility to make it happen.

Stepping Up to Your Responsibility Inside Your Relationship

I believe that, ultimately, you, not your spouse, are responsible for your happiness inside your relationship. If you’re going to be happy and complete, you have to learn to take good care of yourself. Don’t get me wrong. The words and actions of your partner affect you significantly and you each have a responsibility to also show up for each other in a caring way.

But ultimately, you have to take care of yourself if your marriage is going to mature. If you don’t care for yourself then you become too dependent on your partner. You’ll find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster going up and down depending on how your spouse is behaving. Or, you’ll find yourself manipulating your spouse in various ways to get your needs met.

One way to take good care of yourself is to be clear about your needs. As I shared in my last blog post, some partners tell themselves that “if my spouse really loves me, she/he will know what I need…or give me what I need.” Don’t go there. Your partner cannot read your mind. Besides, your partner isn’t always in a place to give you what you need. You have to take responsibility to make sure your needs are met.

A Personal Example of Taking Good Care of Myself

Let me give you one example. I recall spending a Saturday morning tackling one of my least favorite chores, cleaning the garage. I worked hard and when I finished, stepped back with a bit of satisfaction and pride. But I also recognized that I wanted someone else to recognize my hard work. So, I went into the house and called Judy to come and have a look.

She came to the door, looked around, and told me it looked good and whirled around to go back inside. I stood there feeling unfulfilled and so I called her back out and said something like, “I’ve spent the entire morning working on this garage and I’m feeling really proud of what I’ve done. I need you to tell me in no uncertain terms that it looks really, really good. Can you do that?”

So, she did. I then walked her through a few of the decisions I’d made and places I’d cleaned and organized and told her I needed to hear a few “oohs” and “aahs.” I then thanked her and let her go back in the house.

In some ways this was a minor event and I think we both chuckled about how I handled it. But I was aware of my feelings and really wanted to hear the words and so asked very directly for what I felt I needed.

I Can Even Take Good Care of Myself When She Doesn’t

And, by the way, if Judy had not been available or if she had not been in a mood to grant my requests then I could have done it for myself. I could have said, “Roger, you have worked really hard this morning on a project you’ve been procrastinating. Good work! Look at this. Look at that. Good for you for getting this done.”

I could have affirmed myself, which is ultimately the affirmation that makes the biggest difference.

A lot of people think that it doesn’t count if you have to ask for what you need because then your partner is only doing it out of guilt or obligation. So it doesn’t count. I want you to know that that thinking is not true and a set up to feel hurt and resentment.

You, not your partner, are responsible to take care of your needs and so it is okay to be clear and explicit. “I need a hug.” “I’m wondering if you could lend me a hand with this.” “I’d like a little timeto talk tonight.” “I’m hoping we can have some couple time this weekend.” “I’m in the mood for affection. How about you?”

You Won’t Always Get What You Need

Being aware of your needs and communicating them does not always mean your partner will give you what you need. That has to be okay. You also have to learn to respect your spouse’s needs and feelings. You have to learn give and take and even delay gratification. It’s not about always getting everything you need or want. It is about being aware and taking responsibility for yourself and learning how to take good care of yourself.

I like to run and to ski and Judy does not. I enjoy periodically watching sports on tv. These are things that I’ll do on my own or with other friends. Likewise, there are things she enjoys that I do not. But we can support each other by allowing one another to fulfill our needs as well as sometimes engaging in a supportive way.

Most important is that you are aware of your needs and that you take responsibility for getting those needs met by inviting your spouse to support you as he or she can. This is how you grow from enchantment (“She makes me whole”) to a more mature and enduring love.



  1. Kevin

    My wife and I celebrated 20 years of marriage in the fall of 2020. We have two teenagers. We were introduced by a couple of people who sang in the church choir I directed at the time. We were also in our 30’s and both sets of parents had been married for several decades. People ask me what it takes – it’s commitment. You will have conflicts, disagreements, and rough patches. We work through things and 20 years later we are still on our honeymoon. Keeping a marriage going is a mature decision. We also have friends who have divorced – and for those couples, they also made the right decision for them.

    The bottom line is that our marriage survives and thrives even in the face of things that pull many marriages apart.

    Finally, there is nothing so wonderful as being in a relationship for a long time. We enjoy each other even more.

    We also give each other alone time.

    • Roger Allen

      Beautiful comment, Kevin. Congratulations to you and your wife for 20 years of marriage and your commitment to each other in spite of the hard times.

    • Alan

      >> People ask me what it takes – it’s commitment

      After 20 years, I am struggling really, really hard to understand what the carrot is in the marriage.

      It’s hard work, hard work, more hard work, insults, humiliation, nothing but torture. I can absorb it, and more of it, no problem – but I need to understand what the enormous effort is for.

      What is the reward?

      • Roger Allen

        Hi Alan. I recognize that your comment was in reply to Kevin. But, if I may respond, I’d say that I’m sorry to hear that your marriage has been such hard work. I think that is true for most people but not the insults, humiliation and torture. Certainly not all marriages bring joy. I would hope you’re able to find some answers to free yourselves from the toxic patterns you’re now experiencing. This is not a fun way to live.

  2. Ann

    Dear Dr. Allen,
    I always enjoy your writing and perspectives. I think you have touched on a very, very common problem with marriage and other things today. As a woman I recognize that we were raised on hundreds of years of fairy tales where the woman was ‘rescued’ by her loving man; Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, romance books, etc. almost every culture has similar tales. It’s no wonder that we easily believe that someone else will rescue us and make things better. Happily ever after… it takes a certain emotional development and health to be able to objectively look at marriage as a partnership that will have good and bad experiences. The question will be does the partnership work for the couple and also for the children. I know many people who have gotten divorced because they weren’t happy. Happiness is transitory. Contentment, similar goals, etc. are more important in the long run and most beneficial for the children in the marriage as well. I have been married for a long time, almost 37 years. we are not in our honeymoon phase, I don’t think we ever really were to be honest. But we are together and have three grown daughters who are married, two with children . I talk to them and say that marriage is like any other relationship, sometimes you enjoy each other and sometimes the other person really rubs you the wrong way. However, we must realize that divorce is not a solution. it is a dissolution of the legal marriage but often just a transition to other problems; issues with children, new relationships and your children and the other person, etc. we are not living in a fairy tale and we will not live happily ever after just because someone else will make it so for us. The more we develop ourselves, establish joint marital friendships and independent friends, hobbies, interests, etc. the less concentrated and dependent we will be in on our partners. Today many people are told to “follow their bliss and live their passion”. Wow, that sounds difficult and exhausting . Thank you for your columns and insights.

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks, Ann. So many good thoughts in your comment. Yup, marriage is up and down, kind of like life. And yet its as though we approach it with the same fantasies towards our partners that we have as young children towards our parents. As children we think our parents will make everything all better and then as we grow older we realize they are imperfect people. Likewise, our spouses are imperfect people who aren’t going to rescue us from life and make us happily ever after. The key is to be self-responsible and, as you suggest, develop a healthy balance between our own independence and dependence on our relationships. I’m not saying that divorce is never an option, but will say that second and third marriages result in even higher levels of divorce. We have to give up the fairy tale. Maybe more than follow your bliss we should learn to create our bliss by being present to reality.

  3. Kelly Mitchell

    Thank you Dr. Allen. Your course on child development was such a blessing. Our home is much healthier and happy with some of the tools we got from taking it. Many thanks. Have a great weekend.

    Kelly Mitchell

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks, Kelly. I appreciate your feedback and am very happy to know the course was helpful to you.



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