I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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I’m about to share with you our personal secrets behind a real, happy and healthy marriage. But before I do that, I want to put out a disclaimer: Alex and I are not perfect. We are not marriage experts by any means, but we’ve found that after 5 years together and nearly 2 years of being happily married, we have discovered some things that truly work!

Here are just a few things I wish someone would have shared with me before taking the plunge into marriage

Behind our happy and healthy marriage | Helena Woods Blog

First things first, it’s important to know up front that our relationship is naturally easy. There is never any drama. There are no games or manipulative tactics or threats. We bicker, sure! In fact, we bicker like an old married couple that have had enough of each other after so many years. We make fun of each other. We tease each other constantly because we are so opposite each other in personality and temperament. But we don’t fight. And there’s a big difference between the two, which I’ll share in secret #2. 

Our partnership was built on a solid, sturdy foundation – friendship. He took months to finally make his first move, and we took things slow the entire 3 years leading up to our marriage vows. I recognize how young we both were when we got married: I had just turned 24 and he was going through his monumental “Saturn Return” at 28. 

We chat often about how easy and natural our marriage is, how lucky we both feel that we never experience any drama, no fuss. While he had a very normal and happy childhood, I can definitely say I have some family-baggage and my own personal childhood issues, but even still, I am proud to say I never take it out on him. We genuinely appreciate one other, are constantly affectionate and making time for silliness and play. I mean, just earlier this year, I found myself crying to my mother-in-law about how much I adore him and how good of a person he is! As I always say to Alex, “you are Jesus incarnate.” It’s true.

Our 6 Secrets to a Happy Marriage

After some chatting together, we’ve come up with a few rules though that we truly believe are important in a marriage and things that have helped us stay in love and happy these 5 years together.

And keep in mind, these things can be applied to any relationship, so I hope they are in any way helpful!

5 Most Underrated Small Cities in Spain You Must Visit! Salamanca, Caceres, Cordoba, Granada, Aranjez - Photographer / blogger Helena Woods

1. Be Genuinely Interested

There will always be things about our partner that we don’t truly get. Like, why does he have to put ketchup on his spaghetti? Ew. And why is he obsessed with The Matrix? My husband has a lot of odd interests, hobbies and quirks. Like his zeal for the cyberpunk genre. But he also says the same thing about me! While we don’t share many of the same hobbies and interests as we do values,  what matters is that we are interested in the joy, peace and well-being of the other. I may not understand his fascination with cyberpunk, but I am absolutely LOVING the joy that he gets from it. By being genuinely interested in each other’s happiness, by actively listening to each other when we talk passionately about our individual interests and encouraging each other to deliberately pursue the playful joys that this life’s playground offers us, we are being interested in the other person. 

2. Don’t Hit Below the Belt

In other words: fight clean. Many couples actually don’t do this: they whip out their partner’s biggest fear, insecurity and worry and direct it right at them! It’s supposed to hurt them. It’s supposed to be the perfect end to an argument. But in actuality, it’s super petty and just plain mean. And it can be extremely detrimental in the long run. Keep that one thing off-limits always; it’s not worth damaging a relationship over. When Alex and I argue we keep it clean and we never take it to that place where we intentionally try to hurt the other person. We watch our words.

And Don’t Generalize.

Alex would like to chime in here! One of the secrets that he has learned from his perspective over the years is that it’s important not to generalize actions into personality. For example, it’s better to call someone out and say they are acting “lazy” instead of calling them a “lazy person.” It’s a little word fix but it does wonders in the argument! Instead of targeting the person’s action to their overall character, simply labeling the action itself, in the present moment, is more helpful. 

For example, don’t say:

“You Never ___”

“You Always ___”

Instead, say:

“I Don’t Like When You ____”

Also, always makeup before going to sleep or heading off to work. Human life is delicate and fragile; always kiss and makeup. 

 

3. Go to Sleep Together

This might seem weird, but Alex and I always go to sleep together. Even if I’m not tired yet (hello, I’m a night owl), I’ll bring a stack of books and read for an hour after he falls asleep.  There is something about putting everything away, getting into your pajamas and having long discussions before slumber: playfully teasing each other, cuddling and sharing secrets, swapping stories before falling asleep, that really elevate and secure the bonds between two people. It’s our time to connect. And it has absolutely solidified us. Sometimes we read aloud to each other, other nights we debate philosophical quandaries – which I don’t recommend doing because you’ll wind up talking up all night – but the point is, that’s our time. And oddly enough, falling asleep together is a vital part for us to a real, happy partnership.

4. Make Time to be Vulnerable 

Open communication is the number one key to our happy marriage. It is how we’ve lasted this long, and I’m 1000000% confident it is why we will last forever until we die. We are two best friends that can talk about it all. And we don’t hide anything. Nada, zip, nothing! Some might say we have no mystery in our relationship, and that may be true. We are 100% open, honest and communicative about it all. And because of that, we bicker often. If one of us is annoyed with the other, we tell the other person. We don’t hold things back. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s so healthy! We bring up the hard stuff, even the embarrassing confessions. Personality-wise, I’m just an open book that can’t hide anything from anyone and Alex is so healthy and normal, it clicks for us.

We’ve found that confessing secrets, sharing our fears and our demons and trusting that we have each other’s backs, even during the painfully difficult moments, is the key to lasting forever. Being open and vulnerable, and leaving nothing off the table, makes for a deeper trust.

5. Understand Each Other’s Love Language 

If you haven’t read the 5 love languages book and taken the quiz with your partner, you definitely should! We all show and receive love for people in different ways. For example, Alex and I have very different love languages. And it was important that we learned about and practiced our differing “languages” because it’s easy to feel unappreciated, unloved if you’re not receiving the love you internally desire. For my relationships, I need positive “words of affirmation.” Communication. Words. I need to be verbally told genuine, appreciative sentiments to know that I am loved in my relationships with people. Alex, on the other hand, needs “Acts of Service” (which can be very hard for me!) as doing helpful tasks is the way he shows and receives love. Affirming one another and being deliberate about showing your partner’s individual love language is one of the best things you can do. And do it daily!

6. Focus on What is Already Present

Lastly but one of the most important aspects behind a really healthy and happy marriage is focusing on what you have, as opposed to what you lack. This is pivotal to our happy marriage. Alex and I naturally are optimists, but not everyone is! One of the easy ways to have a consistently happy partnership, the kind where you are repeatedly thanking the heavens that be for gifting you such a person, the kind of love that still gives you butterflies and rosy cheeks years later – is to intentionally focus on gratitude. Placing our focus on what we have now, in the present, and expressing our appreciation for it helps us lead a life of constant gratitude.

One of the many ways we do this is by asking each other what the “highlight of the day” was. We’ve been asking each other this at dinner since our first month dating. It’s become such an ingrained habit that if we’re ever silent while eating, it naturally flows out of our mouths every time. We’ve also developed a nightly routine of saying three things we are thankful for before falling asleep. 

The key is to acknowledge the good in your lives…and share it with one another!

I hope these 6 little secrets behind our very real and happy marriage inspires you in some way. If you’d like to binge on and read the 5 lessons I learned from moving in and living with my partner, click here!

Behind our happy and healthy marriage | Helena Woods Blog

The 6 Secrets Behind Our REAL & Happy Marriage

January 19, 2020

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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