It's common for me to hear from people who are dealing with an unhappy spouse or an unhappy marriage. Rebuilding contentment in your marriage is challenging enough, but the challenge can feel insurmountable when your spouse expresses doubt about your ability to be a happy couple going forward. Often, we promise counseling, marital changes, or personal improvement. But our spouse is still unconvinced that happiness is possible in our marriage.

Someone may say, "I think my husband is going to pursue a separation. He hasn't taken any action yet. But last night, we were talking about our marriage, and I told my husband that I just wanted to be happy like we used to be. His response to me was that he isn't sure that we can be happy. I asked him why he would make that comment. And he said that he believes that we are two different people and that our marriage has deteriorated too much. I do not buy this, and I told him so. We have been happy before. We can be again. He just looked and me and shook his head when I tried to convince him of this. I suspect he doesn't want to believe me so that he can pursue his midlife crisis. What does it take for a struggling couple to be happy in their marriage?"

I believe that the best answer to this question is two-fold. Many attributes make a marriage happy. Male or female, most people obtain contentment from similar things. I will discuss them below. I also will explain the extra steps you may need to take if you are separated (or about to be.) Because you will have more to overcome to reach happiness again. Don't worry. It's not impossible.

What Most Contributes To Happiness In Any Marriage?: When I was trying to save my own marriage (which thankfully, I eventually did - more on that here.) I heavily researched this topic. I also discussed it with therapists and couples who'd been happily married for decades. Experts and regular people seemed to have similar answers.

First, they all stressed that no couple is happy all of the time. Life brings challenges to all us. And all marriages have ebbs and flows. However, truly content couples are confident that better days are ahead because they know that they are in this for the long haul.

As a general rule, couples can be happy even when they have very different personalities, lifestyles, and outlooks. Their commitment to their relationship and their love for their partner matter more to them than their differences, so they work around them. In some cases, their differences spice things up. Happy couples respect one another, work as a team, and make their relationship a priority regardless of what is happening around them.

This doesn't mean that there aren't struggles or conflict. There certainly can be. But they try to navigate them with flexibility and respect. They know that love is a verb. Sometimes, it is something you do, not something you feel. Sometimes, you have to doggedly pursue it rather than expecting it to come to you.

Two Key Skills For Rebuilding Happiness: I can only speak for myself. But during my research, I came to believe (and I later confirmed this hypothesis in my own separation,) that intimacy and listening were the two most impactful improvements for struggling marriages. I theorized that couples who are madly in love but in a new marriage tend to work out their problems without much fanfare. Why? Because they have strong intimacy. They haven't yet developed resentment and disappointment. They are so focused on the bond between them that they can overlook the rest.

Sure, you can't return to the beginning of your relationship, but if you can boost intimacy and closeness, you are halfway home. When you are more focused on the positives of your relationship than on its problems, then the sailing feels much more smooth.

Second, if you can become a better listener, I can nearly guarantee that your partner will feel happier. People pay others to listen to them. People cheat on their spouse when they feel someone else is listening to them. People seek out friends who are good listeners. Do everything in your power to actively listen without judgment. Become your spouse's place to unload.

Good listeners are also better negotiators because they deeply understand what the other person wants and needs. This is important in positively handling conflict and will pay huge marital benefits.

I did many things to save (and keep) my marriage. But these two improvements yielded the largest improvements in happiness by far.

Key Behaviors: As I alluded to earlier, when you are separated (or could be) you'll have a few more steps to happiness. Try very hard to focus on what still works between you and your spouse and build upon that.

Be open, approachable, and flexible. If your separated spouse is uncomfortable around you, this is a huge issue to overcome. The first step is to increase comfort. The second step is to increase intimacy. You may have to do this slowly and gradually as your spouse becomes more and more receptive.

Don't Get Discouraged: I know how difficult it is to hear your spouse say he doesn't foresee a happy future. But, he isn't psychic. He can't predict the future. Once you put a few changes into place, he may see that contentment and true happiness are possible.

Many of the couples I spoke with had difficult times. They are no less happy today because of them. You only shut down the possibility for happiness when you stop trying.  I'm so glad I never stopped trying.  You can read about how I got my marriage back here.

Author's Bio: 

There are links to more articles about saving your marriage at in my