Having a successful, fulfilling marriage takes something from each person in the relationship. Based on years doing this work and experience in my own marriage, I believe success comes down to essentially these five pieces of advice:
Marriage Tip #1: Make a Commitment
This is probably the most essential in any relationship you want to last for a lifetime. The truth is that over time, the intensity and passion soften and sometimes your marriage just isn't that fun or rewarding. This can be due to life stress or changes one or both of you are going through.
Many couples I see don't feel like they're "in love" anymore or feel disconnected. This is fairly normal in most long-term relationships. If you interview people who have been married for 40 years, most will say that things weren't always smooth. There's really no way around it: Making a marriage last really comes down to making an overarching commitment to the marriage as a whole and doing what it takes to make it work.
Marriage Tip #2: Work Toward Emotional Maturity and Personal Growth
This means each person in the relationship is willing to grow in their ability to give to the other and to recognize each other's needs. Each person is also willing to take on their own personal growth or develop a larger purpose for their life.
Growth can be done in small or big ways, but overall, it means each person strives toward making their own personal lives healthy and fulfilling. The healthier you are as an individual, the more you can contribute to your partnership.
Marriage Tip #3: Choose to Move Toward, Not Away From Each Other
This is marriage advice from researcher John Gottman in his work on what determines marital success. Moving towards each other, not away, during or after arguments (and in general) is key to repairing your relationship and solving problems. What I often see with couples is that they withdraw from each other when they're upset, develop patterns of not sharing inner thoughts and feelings, or start to lead separate lives when they feel disconnected.
Moving toward each other might be as simple as making sure you greet each other with a kiss or hug at the end of the day or laughing together at the end of an argument. It also means you are actively noticing times when you're disconnected and doing something about it. ("Hey, babe. It seems like we've had no time together and I'm feeling kind of distant. Can we spend time together this weekend?") It also means when you're upset with your partner, your mind is working on reconnecting or repairing, not building evidence against them!
Marriage Tip #4: Be 100% Responsible for Your Words, Actions, and Thoughts About Your Spouse and Marriage
There's a myth out there that marriage is 50/50, but the truth is, as anyone who's been married long enough can attest, it's rarely ever 50/50. Sometimes when one partner gets sick or is trying to advance their career or education, the other person picks up all the slack for childcare and running errands. This is what love and emotional maturity are all about.
Being 100% responsible means that you are fully responsible to your partner and responsible for how and who you are being in the marriage. It means that you are fully taking care of your marriage with your words said to your spouse or about your marriage to others. This means managing your negative thoughts when you're angry. It means that you actually have to stop blaming each other and start being willing to give up being "right" for the sake of the partnership. And it most certainly means being responsible for your actions by being faithful, loving, and a true friend to each other.
Marriage Tip #5: Recognize That You Both Have Valid Points of View That are Just Different
This piece of marriage advice might seem obvious, but most of the time, we operate like we speak and think the "truth" about things. We assume our point of view about the world is more valid or "true" than others.
Most of us would agree that arguments stem from differing points of view, but arguments persist because we don't acknowledge that the other person has an equally valid point of view. It's what some marriage researchers call, "binocular vision"-- holding your point of view and your partner's point of view at the same time. This takes emotional maturity and it sure isn't easy when we're feeling hurt or angry. Healthy, long-lasting couples learn to do this over time.
These tips are brought to you by Karen Holland.
Karen is a Colorado Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in marriage counseling, couples counseling, pre-marital counseling, and family counseling. She teaches couples how to get along, be good friends and lovers, and create a marriage for a lifetime.
You can learn more about Karen's services at ReinventingRelationships.com.
What relationship advice would you add to this list? We'd love to see them in the comments below!