Marriage, it has been said, is one long conversation. Of the many sentences spouses speak to one another over the course of their time together, the most important are those that offer compromise or an agreement that helps them get through — or on the same page about — an issue. It could be as simple as agreeing to a rule about budgeting to avoid financial disagreements, or creating a rule about what harsh punishments look like in your household so that you’re not second guessing one another in front of the kids. No couple agrees on everything; but coming together to finally say, “okay, here’s what we can do” and then hashing it out from there is a crucial tactic to overall happiness.
So, we wondered: What are some rules a couple agreed upon that, ultimately, made their marriage a lot better? That is, what compromise or understanding or shared sentiment made clear had a positive impact down the road? To find out, we spoke to nearly a dozen moms and dads all of whom identified times during their marriages when tensions were high and then came to an agreement that fixed things for the better. Here’s what they did, how they did it, and why it vastly improved their relationships.
1. We Agreed to Enforce Consistent Consequences
“Our kids are four and six, and my wife and I have never really been on the same page about discipline. I think we were both just so exhausted having one baby right after raising another that we neglected to have that conversation. ‘What happens when they’re at the age when they’ll make bad choices?’ So far, it’s been an evolving process. Initially, neither of us agreed on what warranted discipline. She would say one thing. I would say another. The kids would be confused. Then we’d get irritated with each other, and just both throw up our hands and quit. It took a lot of conversations but, eventually, we both agreed that the worst thing we can do is undermine each other. So, if something happens, rather than act in the heat of the moment, we report to each other and decide what to do. That way we’re all on the same page – me, my wife, and our kids. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes and slip-ups moving forward, but the communication and mutual support has definitely helped us grow as parents and as a couple.” – Brian, 38, Tennessee
2. We Agreed to Set Firm Boundaries With Our In-Laws
“Once the dust from the birth of our son settled, and life started getting back into a routine, our in-laws (on both sides) had become fixtures in our home and in our lives. I love them, dearly, but I needed space. It was a tough conversation to have. I brought it up with my wife, and she took it personally. She got offended, and said I didn’t appreciate all the help they were giving us. There was a lot of tension after that initial conversation. It lasted for a few weeks, until she brought it back up. I was shocked, honestly, but I think she’d reached a bit of a breaking point with them, too. So we agreed that time spent with the grandmas and the grandpas would be more special if it wasn’t almost all day, every day. Even though there was some prickliness when we first mentioned it to them, everything seems to have worked out. Now my wife and I are deep into rooting our own life, rather than trying to build one around the presence of so many other people.” – Chris, 33, Connecticut
3. We Agreed to Follow a Budget
“When we first got married, Amazon packages would show up on our doorstep almost every day. Not gifts. Stuff my wife ‘needed’ for our new house, and our new life together. We definitely weren’t struggling financially, but it became so habitual that I had to speak up. My wife was pissed, and said I didn’t appreciate her trying to make the house look nice. I said I thought the house did look nice, and that we needed to prioritize handling our money before it became a problem. It was a real sore spot for a while, and we didn’t talk about it for a few months. It just kind of sat and festered. Then, we learned that two friends of ours — a married couple — had split up because of money issues. Not even reckless spending, just not being on the same page about finances. Obviously, we didn’t want that to happen. So, we sat down one weekend, got on the same page about wants and needs, and set a budget that allowed for some ‘fun money’, but also savings, investments, and emergency funds. I’m so glad we were able to agree on how to manage our money. Like I said, we’ve seen too many cautionary tales to take it lightly.” – Max, 37, New Jersey
4. We Agreed to Stick to Screen Time Limits
“For the kids, and for us — and I admit that I was the biggest offender. I love video games. I’ve always been a big gamer, and I always thought that my wife just never ‘got it’. I thought it was enough for her to tolerate it as a hobby, and just let me do my thing. Then she told me how it seemed like I would rather spend time online with these people I didn’t even know than her. I thought she was overreacting, and sort of blew it off. Then I started noticing how the kids were glued to their phones almost all night. It dawned on me that my wife was lonely. She never said that outright, but we barely talked, and our relationship was sort of on auto-pilot for a while. More importantly, I realized I was setting a bad example for the kids by gaming so much. The conversation my wife and I had was much more important than how much I curbed my gaming afterward. She said she felt bad because she knew it was something I loved, but I told her I loved her and didn’t want to be the cause of this rift. So I agreed to limit the gaming to a few hours a week, and she acknowledged that it wasn’t because I didn’t want to be with her. As silly as it sounds, I think it was a real milestone for our marriage in terms of communicating and recognizing when things aren’t right.” – Jimmy, 36, Massachusetts
5. We Agreed to Schedule Sex
“Specifically, we started putting it on the calendar. I think we were both really insecure about doing that because we thought it meant that we had become unattractive to each other, and there was this unspoken tension because of it. I would accuse her of not making me feel wanted. She would do the same. But we realized that it wasn’t because we weren’t attracted to each other, it was because we had no free time. We have kids, jobs, and lives that just require planning. Adding sex to that list of priorities didn’t make it a chore. If anything, once we worked through those misconceptions, it gave us something to look forward to and anticipate for days and weeks at a time.” – Aaron, 39, Pennsylvania
6. We Agreed to Go to Therapy
“My wife and I had been having problems for almost a year. Just general stuff, really. The stress of work. The pandemic. The kids. It was all boiling over to the point where I didn’t think we could handle it alone. Well, she did. I’ve been going to therapy since I was in college, but she’s never even considered it. She comes from a family where that sort of thing is looked down upon, especially by her mother, and she just flat out refused to even entertain the idea of seeing a therapist together. So, I told her I was going to leave. It wasn’t an empty threat. I called my sister, and asked if I could stay there with the kids until I figured out what to do next. I think that’s when it became real for her. I couldn’t believe it, but she approached me and said, ‘Okay, what is therapy like?’ From there, we had a conversation — probably the most honest, open conversation we’ve ever had — and she agreed that our marriage was more important than her pride. So she agreed to give it a try, with the condition that if she didn’t feel comfortable, she wouldn’t have to go back. I thought that was fair. Luckily, it’s been almost six months and, while she doesn’t love therapy, we’re working together to make our relationship healthier.” – Evan, 32, Kentucky
7. We Agreed to Avoid Texting Serious Stuff.
“My wife and I have two very different styles of problem solving. She likes to figure things out as soon as possible. I like to think, and try to get the whole picture before moving forward. This became a problem as our work schedules became more crazy, and we had to text more often to stay in touch. Eventually, serious conversations — about sex, money, our relationship — were happening entirely over text, which was just a recipe for disaster. The times we would actually talk face-to-face were spent accusing each other of what we texted, how we read it, what we really meant, and all that bullshit. Since texting needed to happen in our relationship, we had to agree on a code word that each of us could use when the text conversation became too serious, or we were worried things were being misconstrued. If either of us texted ‘muskrat’ during a conversation, that was code for ‘I love you. We need to talk about this. But this isn’t the time, place, or way to do it.’ Now our face-to-face time is spent more constructively, even if we do have a disagreement, and our days apart aren’t spent trying to decode messages or staring at the screen and waiting for each other to throw more fuel on the fire.” – Rick, 38, Illinois.
8. We Agreed to Call Professionals to Fix Things
“We tried to be a fix-it couple, and we’re not. It became a real point of contention almost immediately after we bought our first house. It was a fixer-upper, and we overestimated our capabilities. My wife was willing to admit defeat, but I insisted that I was getting the hang of things, learning stuff on YouTube, and was perfectly capable of fixing whatever needed to be fixed. We both became resentful of each other. I accused her of not supporting me because she didn’t want me to try to fix everything, and she was getting irritated because the repairs I made were costing time, money, and stress. So, we compromised. I’m great with carpentry, drywall, and ‘building’ stuff like that. And she told me that she loves seeing me dive into a project like that and crush it. So I take care of that stuff. But stuff like plumbing, HVAC, and fixing cars we decided to leave to professionals. That’s out of my league. We both agreed that the time and money we would spend on those things would be worth not arguing for weeks at a time. And, so far, it has.” – Hannah, 37, Georgia
9. We Agreed on Our Definition of “Cheating”
“My wife is a very loyal, honest woman. She’s also very attractive, kind-hearted, and willing to help anyone with just about anything. So, when a male coworker of hers went through a breakup, he texted her for advice and support. That made me uncomfortable. She let me look at the texts and, while it was nothing salacious, I still felt like there were some emotional boundaries that had been crossed. She said she was just trying to help, and I believed her, but I was really hurt and we drifted apart for a little while. That was completely my fault. I do think I overreacted. She’s not dumb, or dense, but I realized that she genuinely didn’t know talking with a male coworker like that would upset me. We talked about why I thought it was inappropriate, and she did her best to empathize. I wouldn’t want to begrudge a friendly ear to anyone going through a rough time, and I certainly want her to have good relationships with coworkers. But I also know that constantly asking to look at her text messages would get old really fast. I feel like we’re more on the same page now regarding what we both think is appropriate in those types of situations, if they ever come up again.” – Marc, 38, Ohio
10. We Agreed to Create a Long-Term “To-Do” List
“One of the biggest rifts in our marriage came during a time when we were trying to update our house. We both wanted different things, and wanted to concentrate on different projects. She was focused on updating the inside of the house, and I wanted to work on the outside. We argued all the time about what was more important. I love being outside, so I wanted to devote time and money to landscaping. She likes having people over and entertaining, so she wanted to modernize the living room and the kitchen. What we eventually agreed upon, though, was that none of those projects had to be done ‘right now’. We realized that eliminating the pressure of these imaginary deadlines we’d placed on them was a huge relief, so we created a Google Doc – a to-do/wish list – that spanned the next five years, or so. Knowing that we each respected and valued what the other wanted to get done helped us stop arguing, and our list has actually served as a really helpful schedule to keep us on track.” – Coby, 39, Ohio
11. We Agreed to Go on More Dates
“We’ve been married for almost ten years, and there was a period after our first son was born that was a real struggle. When our son turned six, we – my wife and I – had no romantic connection at all. We’d become roommates, sharing the chores, paying the bills, and just sort of coexisting together. In terms of what we both wanted at that time, we were polar opposites. I wanted to be out enjoying life, taking advantage of grandma offering to babysit, and getting a break from parenting. She wanted to stay in, rest, and relax. It became so frustrating that we grew really resentful of each other. This was all before the pandemic, and I’d heard that her favorite band was playing a show nearby. So, I surprised her with two tickets, and we went to the show. It was honestly the first time we’d been out together in like a year. She had a great time, and so did I. And that started a conversation about making a point to go out more often together. I don’t think we’ll ever be completely on the same page about it, but she’s more willing to get out of the house, which is enough to make me look forward to those special occasions.” – Kevin, 37, California