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Recipe for a Healthy Marriage Relationship for Parents

Settling down is just step one. Real wedded bliss takes hard work, time and attention – especially with kids in the mix. Here are key ingredients.

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Jill Mozdzen-Kathan of Livonia believes that body language plays an important role in whether a conversation stays calm or becomes heated. She says crossed or folded arms are a no-no because they tend to communicate the notion that you're angry or upset.

Keeping her voice soft is key, too. "I'm just a loud person. I was a teacher and having a big voice was a good thing, but when it comes to talking through something, I always try to be quieter with my voice and not be so loud." She also avoids letting a nasty or sarcastic tone creep into her voice.

2 cups listening skills

That's not to say that a great marriage is free from conflicts or misunderstandings. But both partners should be committed to meeting the needs of the other in spite of differences. When Alisa Bowman gets in disagreements with her husband, she reminds herself as the conversation escalates: "I need to listen to his point of view."

While she doesn't practice reflexive listening – where one person repeats back to the other what he or she has just heard – she does try to keep the principle in mind. "When you're angry and you're both yelling, you're not listening. I know when I'm angry, I'm thinking, 'I'm going to prove you wrong,' instead of trying to hear what my husband is trying to say. That just doesn't get you to a resolution."

But Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After, Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters (which is based on her popular blog), knows that there are times when "you're just going to screw up, that's part of being human; you're a communicator-in-training, not an expert."

After disagreements with her husband, she often reviews what went wrong and what she could have said differently or done differently to make the conversation stay calm instead of becoming a full-blown argument.

1/2 cup memories

To temper your thoughts of an ideal marriage with the realities of a day-to-day relationship, remembering why you got married in the first place may bridge the gap. When Bowman's marriage began to fall apart and she contemplated divorce in 2007, recalling the early days of her courtship reminded her why her relationship was worth holding on to.

"I think of my husband as the only person on the planet who always pushes me to be a better person." That realization didn't come all at once. Bowman leafed through a stack of 12 marriage self-help books trying every worthwhile – and outlandish – tip to help keep her marriage intact. Bowman and her husband have since renewed their vows.

"Those things that made you fall in love in the first place, unless you married for superficial reasons, they don't change over the years," says Bowman. "He may not be as polite, he may just fart right in front of you – but the basic personality doesn't change."

1/2 cup positivity

Working on listening skills and trying to be better at communication may sound like couples in great marriages spend all their time talking – that is, when they're not dissecting a recent fight.

Not so, says Orbuch: "When we look at happy couples, we see that really great marriages are not the result of long hours of tedious hard work. In fact, it's actually small changes in behavior and attitude that create happiness over time."

In other words, toss the idea that a stronger marriage equals long hours of complex, heart-wrenching discussions. Orbuch notes that strong marriages begin with a positive foundation that the couples build on over the years.

Going further, Orbuch suggests that when couples are experiencing troubles, instead of immediately jumping to "what's wrong," perhaps the better approach to take is "what's right" with your relationship.

3 tablespoons levity

"You need to be able to laugh at yourself and laugh with your spouse," notes Jacqueline Odom, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist at Beaumont Hospital. She connects laughter with having fun with your spouse and enjoying activities with one another.

"Couples tend to grow apart when they don't have any activities that they can do together that they both enjoy."

For my husband and me, it's M*A*S*H reruns. Sure, we also like to go out on dates or cook together – but when we've had a long day, we reconnect watching Hawkeye play practical jokes on his buddies.

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