CONGRATULATIONS! You made it through the maze of wedding planning and are now starting your new life together. Do you know how lucky you are? You’ve found someone who loves you and wants to spend the rest of his or her life beside you, supporting you through all the ups and downs that life throws your way. You have a friend, a lover, a companion, and a soul mate. You’ve found love. Now, how do you make it last?
At the core of every good marriage is the willingness to be fully present in the relationship—to make it your first priority. Happy couples are also honest about feelings and needs and are able to communicate them with kindness. This may not be something that we learn in our family of origin. Many of us came from homes that had a lot of hidden agendas that can be very damaging to a healthy relationship. Within a marriage, our past wounds often come to the surface, and this can be frightening at first. The challenge is to be conscious of how our past programming may be playing out with our present partner. Over time, it can only get better if you make a commitment to having a great relationship early on.
For starters, some simple actions can make all the difference. Here are a few suggestions from couples who have been happily married for a long time.
Be kind. Simple, right? But this includes times when you are tired, frustrated, or out of sorts. Commit yourself to never saying anything which you might regret later on. Research has proven that couples who treat each other with disdain are the most likely to separate. So be kind. Treat your mate as you would wish to be treated. Whatever you need to communicate can be said in a respectful manner.
Don’t take each other for granted. Say “I love you” often. A kiss hello or good-bye also does wonders to keep the connection between couples strong. A text during the day with a kind word is another nice gesture.
Be generous with compliments. Tell your partner what you love about them, or how proud you are of their accomplishments, or how much it means when they do something thoughtful. Don’t assume that they know. Focus on the positive aspects in your relationship and those areas will continue to grow.
Be honest about your needs. People are not mind readers. Unmet needs can grow into resentments over time, but it is your responsibility to speak up. Begin with “I,” as in “I feel left out when you spend so much time with the guys and we don’t seem to have a date night any more.” That way you are taking responsibility for your feelings and not coming across as blaming.
Take time for fun. It’s all too easy to get into a routine with work and other obligations and forget to have that date night. Most happy couples will tell you that, whether going out or just staying in and snuggling while watching a movie, time together really keeps the heart open and partners connected.
Allow for alone time. This is sometimes more important for one partner than the other, but all people need time to themselves or with their pals.
Cut any unhealthy ties to your parents. Being enmeshed with a parent makes it impossible to bond with your own spouse. Family ties are important, but in order to begin your married life as adults, couples must end any unhealthy emotional ties or financial dependence on their parents.
Open up to deeper conversations. Sharing more than just daily concerns might mean bringing up deeper thoughts, goals, fears, and feelings. Some people, men in particular, are not comfortable talking about anything that makes them feel vulnerable. Learning how to share deep feelings can be extremely rewarding, and marriage is the perfect place to practice.
Learn how to handle conflict. This is where our family programming and life experiences really start to become obvious. We follow the scripts we have learned, whether we are dominate and controlling or passive and conciliatory. These traits served us well as survival mechanisms when we were children and are often difficult to perceive or give up when we become adults. If the same issues keep coming up and don’t seem to have a resolution, it may be time to seek counseling in order to learn where the true roots of the issue lie. Most couples who commit to counseling do not need in-depth analysis, just an impartial observer to point out the blind spots and make suggestions to help foster better communications and ease the tension. Often, with new understanding there is a huge increase in a feeling of connection and love for your partner that was being stifled by fear, resentment, or confusion.
Continue to grow. Life is about growth, and that means change. Do not be afraid of change, but rather look for ways to support each other in moving towards maturity, wisdom, and fulfillment, both as individuals and as a couple. Career goals, spiritual beliefs, political persuasions, and emotional needs can all change over time. These conversations can be met with an open mind and greeted as another opportunity for growth. Learn to say, “I’m curious, can you tell me more?” before you reject your partner’s new point of view.
You married because of love, and love includes a willingness to withstand the stress of change. As partners, you are the lucky ones who have each other to lean on throughout the wonderful journey called life.
The Marriage Is More Important Than the Wedding
Marriage is a long-term commitment to another person, but most of us have never had any instruction on how to do this! For all of the education we get, precious little time is ever spent learning how to be in a marriage. Thankfully, there are many good sources for self education on the Internet and in books.
Kyle Benson is a relationship coach and a wonderful writer. He has a way of presenting concepts and suggestions in a warm and compassionate way that most of us can relate to. Find his blog here:
Books We Love:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman and Nan Silver
Hold Me Tight: The Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Sue Johnson
The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, by Gary Chapman
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller