The Little Thing That Keeps My Marriage Happy, According to 12 Men

A dozen men talk about the small rituals and silly habits that keep their relationships happy.

Marriage is a job, make no mistake. And like any job, the presence of inside jokes, distractions, and your favorite co-worker can make even the most draining days bearable. If you imagine your kids as the bosses, laughing and bonding behind their backs every now and then only serves to strengthen your ability to do a good job as parents. The big picture is what keeps you going, but the little things are what get you there.

We spoke to a dozen dads all shared tiny, seemingly insignificant parts of their relationships that actually make a huge difference in keeping their partnerships happy, healthy, and productive. Every example shares the common thread of something small and special that helps them stay strong. Here are the small things that keep them going.

1. We Run Together.

“My wife and I are fitness fanatics. It’s how we met and has been one of the joint interests and passions that have bound us together. Going to the gym together was a big part of our routine as a couple, and running together was always a particular favorite. Now, two kids later, I’m the stay-at-home parent and she is employed full time. Finding the time to work out together has been difficult. Especially during the last eighteen months when the children — who are under seven years — have been at home virtually constantly due to the pandemic restrictions. So our ‘Special Little Thing’ is finding a way to go out together for a long run. It reminds us of what brought us together in the first place, re-kindles the intimacy and freedom of our pre-parenthood days, and keeps us fit, as we are both pretty competitive.” — Dave, 35, UK

2. We Do “Mini Challenges”.

“We have a toddler, and we do little things to help each other throughout the day. If she’s had a tough day at work — she’s a doctor — I will wash the dishes even if it’s her turn to do it. I let her sleep in on weekends by getting breakfast ready and feeding our son. Sometimes I might even take him grocery shopping after so that she can sleep in a bit longer. But the most unique thing we do is hold ‘mini challenges’ over each other’s household gadget picks. For example, I like to boil eggs the old fashioned way. She, on the other hand, has a fancy half-dozen, auto-shutoff, egg cooking device. We just had a little boiled egg contest to see whose method was better and gave eggs that could be peeled easier. Sounds cheesy but these ‘showdowns’ are a lot of fun, and always lead to some funny jokes.” — Srikanth, 34, Tennessee

3. We Touch Base in the Morning

“Since the pandemic began, we’ve had to completely change our schedules. Having two small kids at home and schools shut down meant someone had to stay home all day. My wife likes to get up very early to do work before the kids are up. She’s usually up around 5 am. She preps breakfast, has her coffee, and answers some emails. Then, at about 7:30 am she comes to the room with a little coffee, I wake up, and we sit and chat. How was my day with the kids? What did we do? How was my work? How was her evening with the kids? Did they watch a movie? Go out with friends to the park? We go over those details, talk about what we expect to happen, and then she goes off to wake up the kids and I spend another hour or so in bed. Those little chats have replaced what was traditionally our old pillow talk, and it’s been a really nice part of our relationship.” – Sean, 46, Toronto, Ontario

4. We Rock Out.

“About five months ago, I picked up a guitar after 30 years without playing. Because my wife was always singing while doing house chores, the first thing I did was learn one of her favorite songs. Then one Sunday morning I started strumming it after breakfast. She immediately recognized it and started singing. It came out really well — so much so, that our six-year-old daughter thanked us with a round of applause. Ever since, I grab my guitar every other Sunday morning for a mom-and-dad open mic kind of thing. We’ve developed a little repertoire, and are even thinking of playing in front of friends someday. Either way, it’s a little ritual that has given us lots of happy moments so far, and we most definitely plan to keep it going.” — Alan, 47, Barcelona, Spain

5. We Judge Reality TV

“In the hour between when our kids go to bed and when we go to bed, my wife and I bond over her favorite reality TV shows. At first, I was really against them. I didn’t think they had much value, and I’d much rather be watching hockey. But then I realized they were serving a purpose in our relationship. The couples on the shows often act out examples of what not to do in a relationship. My wife and I talk about how ours is better or how we’d handle a situation in a healthier way, whether that’s true or not. In short, it’s given us a backdrop to discuss a lot of things without us having to fight about them first. Now watching those shows with my wife is something I look forward to, believe it or not.” — Stephen, 34, New Jersey

6. We Compliment Each Other Daily.

“The biggest little thing that makes our marriage and relationship together worthwhile, is that we start and end every day with a compliment. Once before my wife leaves for work in the morning, and again before we fall asleep each night. It is usually the subtle small things, such as thanking each other for doing something so well, or how well of a job one of us did with teaching our kids something. This is something that we do out of habit now, and don’t even need to think twice about it. There are some nights when the typical argument might arise, but the moment that compliment comes out from either one of our mouths, it’s all smiles again. It’s a great feeling, and an even greater diffuser of any tension.” — Leo, 34, Oklahoma

7. We Share Playlists

“My wife and I take turns playing each others’ Spotify or YouTube playlists whenever we can. Every week or so, we create a new playlist. And while the songs are playing we explain to each other why we chose the song and what, if anything, it means to us. It’s a fun way to stay connected on another level, and hear some music we’ve perhaps not been introduced to before. And, of course we’re always looking for that nod of approval from each other, that we chose a good song! Shows we still value and care about what the other thinks, and it always gives me a little buzz when my wife likes something I picked.” — Jay, 42, London, UK

8. We Do a “60 Minute Drill”.

“My wife and I work together from home, and we even share an office together, but that’s not what I would say keeps our relationship happy and healthy. The one thing that we do every day after we get the kids to bed is retreat to the bedroom and spend the next 60 minutes doing something together. Sometimes it’s watching a show, cleaning up, reading a book, making future plans, planning a menu, or being intimate. It’s the thing that keeps us happy and healthy. No matter what else has happened during the day, even though we shared an office together, we focus specifically on those 60 minutes after putting the kids to bed. It’s just for us. Spending time together doing non-work and non-parent things definitely helps keep our relationship fresh.” — David, 43, Indiana

9. We Document the Funny Moments.

“This is random, but I keep a running tab on my phone of funny things my wife says – stuff that I find totally bizarre or hilarious. Then, when we have a moment to ourselves, I read them back to her. The key is that she’s always in on the joke, so when a bizarre or hilarious moment happens, I tell her that it’s being ‘added to the list.’ It keeps our relationship playful, allows us to reminisce about the moment it was said or when it happened, and it always brings back that loving, warm feeling in her eyes that I’ve done something right.” — Robbie, 39, New York

10. We Quote Movies and TV Shows

“It started with The Office. When we were dating, my wife and I bonded over our love of the show. So, of course, we would quote it endlessly back and forth. The Office is still a big go-to, but quoting random movies and TV shows has really become a way in which we make each other laugh, and genuinely surprise each other. The other day, I said something from Dumb and Dumber, and I was sure it would bomb, but she replied with, ‘Suck me sideways!’ We both cracked up, and then decided to watch the movie. It seems like there’s a movie quote for every occasion, and I’m glad it’s something fun and silly we can share at least once a day.” — Darian, 39, Ohio

11. We Write Lunchbox Notes

“Every day, my wife and I write notes to our kids in their lunchboxes. When we do, we also write notes to each other and put them in each other’s lunches to read later in the day. I look so forward to those notes. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad morning, I cheat and read them early. Sometimes I wait until the end of the day. And I save all of them. My wife thinks it’s silly, but I have about five Tupperware containers full of little Post-Its she’s written to me over the years. They’re not all winners. Plenty of them have been written while we’ve been in the middle of big fights. But they’re a simple, tangible reminder that we’ll always have something to say to each other. I like that.” — Clint, 41, Pennsylvania

12. We Play Words With Friends

“Yep. That’s still a thing. My wife and I have been together for almost eight years, married for four. When we first started talking, we got into some pretty heated WWF games between dates. It was a great way to initially break the ice, and it’s become a way to keep in touch with each other during busy days, trash talk every now and then, and really just remind ourselves how it’s been the simple things that give us so much enjoyment as a couple. Our kids play, too. They have games against each other, and they’ll start games with my wife and I. But nothing compares to me and her, one-on-one. It’s definitely a little thing I love about our relationship.” — Cameron, 38, California