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Lists for Couples

The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center has compiled a series of Top 10 Lists to help couples understand and enhance their relationships. We asked relationship experts, authors and the general public various relationship questions and here are the results! These lists are not based on a comprehensive survey. Inclusion on a list does not constitute an endorsement by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

Top 10 Most Appreciated Spousal Affirmations

"I can live for two months on a good compliment." ~Mark Twain

Words are, indeed, powerful. Why are compliments, or affirmations, so important and how can they benefit your relationship? In Gary Chapman's (1995) best-selling book, The Five Love Languages, he explains that people express and receive love in different ways. Dr. Chapman identifies these as the five languages of love: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. For people who have "words of affirmation" as their primary love language, verbal compliments and appreciation are particularly meaningful. Unfortunately, some partners forget or don't realize the significance of simple expressions of praise, kindness, and understanding that help nurture and sustain our relationships and help those we love feel loved. Here are some popular comments:

  1. "I love you."
  2. "I really admire you for... (Something specific)."
  3. "You know, you might be right."
  4. "What do you need from me, or what can I do for you right now?"
  5. "Thank you; I appreciate you."
  6. "I'm sorry; forgive me."
  7. "You are the most beautiful woman/handsome man in the world."
  8. "You are my best friend."
  9. "Have I told you recently how much I love the way you...(be specific)."
  10. "You rock my world."

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Top 10 Acts of Service for Your Mate

Here is another Chapman-inspired question from The Five Love Languages.  For people who have "acts of service" as their primary love language, helpful or altruistic acts are seen as very powerful expressions of love and devotion. Actions like cooking a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, vacuuming, taking out the garbage, mowing the grass, changing the cat's litter, etc. are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit and without expecting something in return, they are indeed expressions of love.

Within every language, there are many dialects. If you have a significant other with Acts of Service as his or her primary love language, find out the specific things she/he would like by asking. If you are the person with that specific love language, make a list for your spouse with the things that would mean the most to you. Here are the top ten responses: 

  1. During cold months while I am showering, my spouse sometimes throws a towel in the dryer so it's all fluffy and warm when I come out.
  2. Domestic and household chores (e.g., cleaning the bathroom and kitchen are big winners).
  3. When you're walking on the side of the road with her, be a gentleman and move over to the dangerous side of the road so she feels protected.
  4. Fixing things that the other can't fix.
  5. Buy or make him or her lunch and bring it to her/him at work, even if (especially if) it's out of your way.
  6. Cooking a special meal that you know he/she likes.
  7. When your spouse fills up your gas tank without being asked.
  8. When you are out and your spouse drops you at the door because it's raining.
  9. When husbands open car doors.
  10. Going to the grocery store and being sure to get items you know he/she loves-without being asked.

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Top 10 Appreciated Expressions of Love through Touch

For our next Gary Chapman-inspired question from The Five Love Languages, we focused on "touch." We know some of your thoughts went immediately to sex. A healthy sex life is an important part of a healthy marriage, but that isn't the only way to express love through touch (but it is a good one!). For people who have "touch" as their primary love language, a hug or just being held goes a long way.

We asked people what forms of touch they value or are most valued by a spouse (we tried to keep it clean):


  1. A supportive hug.
  2. A massage or back rub.
  3. Rubbing your spouse's feet--the true test of love.
  4. Holding hands in public and private.
  5. A kiss on the forehead or nose.
  6. Spooning.
  7. Sex with lots of foreplay.
  8. Playing with her hair.
  9. Making out like you did when you were in high school.
  10. Snuggling on the couch.


  1. A supportive hug.
  2. A massage or back rub.
  3. Rubbing his chest.
  4. Sitting on his lap.
  5. Spontaneous sex she initiates.
  6. Running your fingers through his hair.
  7. Nibbling his ear.
  8. Holding his forearm when you walk into a party.
  9. Snuggling against his chest or back in bed.
  10. A kiss on the cheek.

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Top 10 Appreciated Gifts from a Spouse

Gary Chapman coined the term "love language" and identified five particular areas in which people show and receive love. For some people, receiving a gift is the ultimate expression of love. If your spouse or partner has gifts as his or her primary love language, consider the following lists, which contain respondents’ 10 most valued gifts from a significant other:


  1. A romantic dinner.
  2. Fresh flowers.
  3. Jewelry (especially with a personal engraving).
  4. Tickets to a show.
  5. Perfume.
  6. Day at the spa or beauty parlor.
  7. A framed picture of the two of you.
  8. Anything that isn't an appliance.
  9. Coffee and chocolate.
  10. Comfy pajamas.


  1. Watch.
  2. Wallet.
  3. Ties.
  4. Sporting goods.
  5. Tickets to an event.
  6. Car detail.
  7. Lingerie (for her).
  8. A CD with all of "your" special songs on it.
  9. Cologne.
  10. Leather recliner.

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Top 10 Ways to Spend Quality Time

The fifth love language Dr. Gary Chapman writes about is "quality time." If your spouse or partner's love language is quality time, he or she feels most loved when you have meaningful experiences and conversations with one another.

Of all of the love languages, many spouses feel this one is hardest to fulfill--not just because we live in a busy, hectic world with multiple demands on our time, but because quality time is more than just being together in close proximity--it includes focused attention and energy. It involves active listening and validating feedback so your partner knows you've been listening. And, for your partner, it requires awareness and insight into his or her own emotions and internal state--something not always easily achieved. Nonetheless, quality time and energy devoted to one's partner is often cited as one of the biggest indicators of happy, healthy and enduring marriages, so it is definitely worth the effort! Here are our top 10 suggested vehicles for couples to experience quality time together:

  1. Weekend getaway at a B&B.
  2. Date night on a recurring basis.
  3. Coffee together before work or before the kids wake up.
  4. Taking a stroll or exercising together.
  5. Praying together.
  6. Seeing a good movie and talking about it after.
  7. Completing a house project together.
  8. Finding a sport or hobby you can enjoy together (e.g., golf, dance classes, refinishing furniture).
  9. Working together professionally.
  10. Reading to each other.

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Top 10 Pieces of Advice for a Long and Healthy Marriage

  1. Commitment is crucial:
    • Have a long-term view: "It's like investing in the stock market, you can't pull your money out as soon as it dips." ~Marlene Pearson, marriage preparation curriculum developer.
    • Your partner is a package deal: You have to take the good with the not so good.
    • Be willing to put time and effort into sustaining and enhancing your relationship.
    • Recognize that marriage is a journey that ebbs and flows; passion will wane, but reignite over time.
    • The success of your marriage is not measured by how you celebrate the good times, but by how you support each other through the challenges.
  2. Share quality time:
    • Never stop being friends.
    • Talk about more than just family logistics like soccer games and grocery shopping.
    • Make time to connect with quality conversations - even if the time has to be scheduled. That doesn't mean a romantic date necessarily, but just setting aside some time.
    • Always take time to laugh and play together inside and outside the home.
    • Continue to date.
    • "Build a comfortable, fulfilling couple sexual style and deal with sexual problems and conflicts early on." ~Barry McCarthy, PhD bestselling author of Getting It Right the First Time.
  3. Keep a sense of humor:
    • Be willing to laugh at yourself.
    • "Humorous responses (to be used gently and often) and the ability to develop and select light-hearted interpretations of life's inevitable awkwardnesses are of great value in aborting downward emotional spirals (interpretations where blaming the other person can cause great harm)."~ Roger Harms, Wichita Community Marriage Policy.
  4. Master healthy communication:
    • Speak to each other lovingly and respectfully; do not criticize, belittle, ridicule or reject your partner.
    • Have patience.
    • Be gentle.
    • Be willing to listen.
    • Be willing to talk.
    • Be willing to validate what your partner is expressing, even if you do not agree with it.
  5. Do "little" things that make a big difference:
    • Affirm your partner and relationship daily by saying things like, "I love you," "thank you," "I'm sorry."
    • Do things for your partner without being asked.
    • Pray for your partner if you pray: "Our research shows that praying for your partner can bring you back to the common goals...When people pray, they become one with their spouse. A subtle shift occurs. Praying regulates your emotion and it never leads to anger. 'Knee-mail' is social support available 24/7. We know that couples who have access to social support tend to negotiate their relationships better than anyone else." ~Dr. Frank Fincham, Eminent Scholar and Director of the FSU Family Institute.
  6. Choose your battles:
    • Be quick to forgive and slow to anger.
    • The worst possible advice you can give a newlywed couple is to express your feelings about everything. Far better advice is to choose your battles, so when you make a request of your spouse, and your spouse doesn¹t comply, step back for a moment and ask, “how important is this? Is this one of those issues I go to war over, or do I focus instead on what my spouse does for me, and let this one slide by?” Be creative about differences and find a compromise. If you talk to people in long-term, happy marriages, they¹ll tell you acceptance is one of the key components to making it last. ~Michelle Weiner Davis, author of bestseller Divorce Busting.
  7. Do your part:
    • " Successful marriage is not so much a matter of finding the right person, but being the right person." ~Scott Stanley, PhD, a research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver.
    • Be the best person you can be in your relationship-physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
    • "If you want a happy marriage, invest time and energy in it like you did when you were dating and take an annual checkup." ~ David H. Olson, PhD, Founder and CEO of Life Innovations, is Professor Emeritus, Family Social Sciences, University of Minnesota
    • Look independently at your issues: it is often easier to point to your partner's issues than it is to examine your own.
  8. Foster trust and security:
    • Learn to trust and be trustworthy.
    • Avoid temptation.
    • "Build boundaries, like a fortress, around your marriage to protect it" (for example, strong boundaries with the opposite sex, in-laws, use of alcohol, etc.) ~Glen and Joan Mears, a 38-years-married couple and military marriage counselors.
  9. "Work with your partner or spouse to create a shared vision for your relationship." ~Harville Hendrix, PhD and author of the bestselling book Getting the Love You Want.
    • Agree on what you want your relationship to look and feel like.
    • Develop goals for your relationship.
    • Decide on what types of things you need to be doing to move toward making your vision a reality.
  10. Don't be afraid or ashamed to ask for help:
    "Healthy relationships are created, not found." ~Martha Miller, L.C.S.W.-C.
    • Marriage and relationship education is helpful and preventive.
    • Therapy is not admitting defeat; it can help.
    • "I now think of long-term marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we've hit a rough spot in a marriage that's actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now-with this person, in this season? That's the moral, existential question we face when our marriage is in trouble." ~ William Doherty, PhD, professor and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota and co-founder of the National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists.

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Top 10 Reasons Marriages End in Divorce

  1. Unrealistic expectations about marriage in the first place and a lack of normative understandings about the nature of marriage and the challenges of life that couples and families face.
  2. Differing basic life values.
  3. Lack of full commitment to making the marriage work. "Commitment is the glue that holds a couple together while they work through their differences." ~Susan Vogt, Author, Speaker, Coach
  4. The marriage becoming non-sexual.
  5. An extra-relational affair.
  6. Conflict over fertility issues-either an unwanted pregnancy or infertility. "It is crucial that sex issues-both building a comfortable, functional couple sexual style and dealing with sexual problems and conflicts be addressed in pre-marital programs and marriage enhancement programs." ~Barry McCarthy, PhD, Author
  7. There may appear to be several reasons that contribute to a couple's decision to separate, but typically the common thread is the inability to effectively communication and a lack of conflict resolution skills. "When conflict arises, the approach to handling it is often "Me against you", versus "Us against the issue". This creates a division in their partnership causing them to begin working less as a team and more as individuals. If communication is already difficult, then the differences over finances, child rearing, where to live, or even what to eat for dinner, cause the couple to feel their problems are even more insurmountable. Without help, they will often see divorce as the only option." ~Robert Bell, Beech Acres Parenting Center.
  8. Inadequate and inappropriate public information about the nature of marriage and the importance of Marriage Education and Relationship Education for all couples.
  9. "People are hungry for love and affection but don't know how to give love or receive love." ~Brooke Arnold & Ted N. Strader, COPES, Inc.
  10. There are too few good examples of healthy marriages in which the children are raised.

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Top 10 Myths about Marriage

The way marriages are portrayed through media and popular culture can cloud our expectations of marriage and set the stage for disappointment during marriage. Do your own reality check by reading this top 10 list of myths.

  1. Myth: Marriage will solve all of your problems.
    Reality: Any unaddressed problems you had prior to your marriage, you still have when you get married (and you could carry into future marriages). Marriage isn't a magic wand that can take a person's troubles away (even if it feels like that's what happening in the beginning). Take inventory of the issues you "bring to the marriage table" and address them with the love and support of your spouse.
  2. Myth: Good, healthy marriages come naturally--couples don't have to work at it--romance will always be alive in a good marriage.
    Reality: All relationships experience peaks and valleys. The everyday problems and challenges of married life can often cloud over romantic feelings. This is when making commitment is crucial. When you are in a valley, try compiling a list of your spouse's virtues to remind yourself of why you love him/her.
  3. Myth: Living together before marriage is a good way to test if the marriage will be successful.
    Reality: Cohabitation is not a good "test" for marriage. In fact, we now know that cohabitation prior to marriage in many circumstances is associated with negative marital outcomes.
  4. Myth: Your love life is neutral.
    Reality: Your love life has spillover effects into friendships, other familial relationships, co-workers, etc. It also affects your physical and mental health.
  5. Myth: "Never go to bed angry."
    Reality: This maxim can become counterproductive "if an argument drags on and you're only getting less agreeable with each other. It's OK to call a time out, set a time to reconnect the next day when you're fresher and have had time to cool off." ~Susan Vogt, Author, Speaker, Coach
  6. Myth: Healthy marriages are conflict free.
    Reality: In actuality, all couples experience conflict, but healthy couples can communicate and resolve conflict effectively.
  7. Myth: Your spouse completes you.
    Reality: You were always a complete individual. A spouse can complement you, but not complete you, nor is it reasonable to expect your spouse to fulfill all of your emotional needs.
  8. Myth: Married people have less satisfying sex lives than single people.
    Reality: According to a large-scale survey of Americans, married people report having sex more often and enjoying it more than their single counterparts.
  9. Myth: Marriage is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.
    Reality: Successful marriages aren't generally the result of luck or chance. Couples with enduring, healthy marriages typically share similar values and life goals and have both a strong commitment and friendship in their relationship with one another.
  10. Myth: Marriage conflicts only stem from the behavior of the spouses.
    Reality: It is amazing how much outside people, situations and events can impact your marriage. Strong boundaries around your marital relationship will help you and your spouse weather the storms of outside interference, such as nosey in-laws, demanding children and extra-marital temptations.

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Top 10 Most Romantic Destinations or Getaways

  1. Niagara Falls
  2. Hawaii
  3. Paris
  4. Greece
  5. Venice, Italy
  6. Tuscany, Italy
  7. Martha's Vineyard
  8. Skyline Drive, Virginia
  9. Maltese Islands
  10. The Caribbean

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Top 10 Health Benefits of Marriage

There are many benefits associated with being in a healthy marriage, such as higher income, but researchers are also finding that healthy marriages are also associated with the better physical and mental health and well-being of family members. For adults, the top ten benefits of healthy marriage are:

  1. Men and women live longer.
  2. Better mental health, like reduced symptoms of depression.
  3. More likely to survive long-term illnesses, such as cancer.
  4. Satisfaction and happiness.
  5. Less risk-taking behaviors, such as substance abuse and engaging in illegal activities.
  6. Less chronic medical conditions.
  7. Married men and women are less likely to die from heart attacks.
  8. Having a spouse in old age reduces nursing home, hospital admissions and protects against loss of activities of daily living.
  9. Support from a spouse, such as hand holding, reduces physical pain and lowers stress response.
  10. "Warm partner support" in stressful situations lowers blood pressure and heart rate, and increases oxytocin; this protects the cardiovascular and immune system.

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Top 10 Reasons Why Marriage Benefits Children

Children who grown up with both of their biological parents in the home are:

  1. More likely to attend college.
  2. More likely to succeed academically.
  3. More likely to experience good health and safety.
  4. More likely to be emotionally healthier.
  5. Less likely to attempt or commit suicide.
  6. Less likely to demonstrate less behavioral problems in school.
  7. Less likely to be a victim of physical or sexual abuse.
  8. Less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
  9. Less likely to commit delinquent behaviors.
  10. Less likely to become pregnant as a teenager, or impregnate someone.

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Top 10 Challenges Couples Face in Forming and Sustaining Healthy Relationships and Marriages

  1. Lack of role models: Many couples have never seen what a healthy relationship looks like due to not having any role models growing up. This often distorts their views so they have a hard time forming and sustaining a relationship.
  2. Stress of multiple obligations: Parenting, work, education, legal obligations, etc. often take priority over having a healthy relationship.
  3. Lack of communication skills: "Learning how to validate each other's thoughts and feelings - even when different from one another, how to fight fair, and how to be compassionate to their partner and/or children are very helpful skills to have in relationships. Unfortunately, many people don't know how helpful and useful it can be to focus on building these skills. So getting people motivated to learn these relationship skills before they have hurt each other (and others) so deeply that they don't even want to try is the challenge." ~ Brooke Arnold & Ted N. Strader, COPES, Inc., Louisville, KY
  4. Ghosts of past relationships: Couples have to "unlearn" old patterns and learn new models for smart dating, marriage and fertility decisions.
  5. Media influence on participants’ perception of healthy relationships, what they look like and how to achieve them.
  6. Addictive behaviors.
  7. Lack of introspection or willingness to look at individual issues that need to change: Individuals have difficulty sorting out what is their own part in unhealthy relationships and relationship failure. It is difficult for people to identify a target for personal behavior change.
  8. Trust issues: Dealing with the hurt and pain of past and current relationships. Many couples need more intensive therapy or couples therapy to address issues of infidelity, domestic violence, childhood trauma and abuse, etc.
  9. Finances:
    • Poor credit.
    • Lack of money management knowledge.
    • Using money as a power differential.
    • Debt.
    • Child support and financial obligations for children from past relationships.
    • Fear of committing to a relationship without having everything "together" financially.
    • No clear plan for getting things "together" financially.
  10. Lack of a support system, such as married friends, and a lack of ongoing community support. "Stepcouples, especially, need longer term help and support." ~ Jennifer L Baker, PsyD, LMFT, Center for Professional Solutions, The School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute, Springfield, MO.

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Top 10 Marriage Proposal Ideas

  1. A treasure hunt. Provide clues. When your partner comes to the last place be there waiting holding the ring out in your hand ready to propose.
  2. Lay out rose petals or other flowers on your front lawn spelling out "Will You Marry Me?"
  3. Sky write it: Have a plane spell your proposal in the air for you.
  4. Go where the two of you first met.
  5. Create a memory book. Take a note book and make it like a diary of your time together. Towards the end cut out the center of enough pages to fit a ring in and as you turn to that page ask her to marry you.
  6. Place an ad in a local newspaper.
  7. Propose at a sporting event. Either arrange to have your proposal broadcast over the public address system or displayed on the large screen. If you are really adventurous, you could also contact the team's public relations department and try to make arrangements to make your proposal on the field at halftime. They might be willing to help you stage a scenario where you are either chosen to win a prize or participate in a contest and while you are on the field, they would hand over the microphone to allow you to make your proposal.
  8. Hide the ring in an unexpected location. For example you could pretend to have a clogged sink and while you are working to fix it, you could reach into the sink and pull out the engagement ring.
  9. Many women anxiously await the day that the man in their life will propose but why not add your own creative twist by proposing to him instead? The woman is free to propose in any way that she finds truly romantic and can ensure that the proposal is creative.
  10. Put your proposal up with the ads before a movie and take your sweetie early to see the show. You can contact your local theater for advertising information or contact a large theater for advertising information.

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