1. Pay Attention! More marriages die of neglect than of irreconcilable difference. Relationships require on-going maintenance in order to thrive. If your relationship isn’t thriving, it’s dying; there’s no middle ground. Many people go months without saying “I love you,” going on a romantic getaway or simply taking a few hours to be alone together. Relationships thrive when given adequate attention, but they wilt like a dying flower when neglected.
2. Don’t wait: Address issues when they come up; don’t wait. Waiting until you feel like dealing with problems isn’t a good idea. Problems don’t disappear or get easier to deal with over time; they get harder. While disappointments are inevitable, they don’t necessarily lead to trouble. Addressing difficulties early can make a world of difference. Pain denied is pain prolonged.
3. Self-care. The best gift you can give your partner is your own well-being. The more fulfilled you are, the more you have to offer. Taking care of yourself involves more than what you eat and how much you exercise, it includes knowing what nourishes your soul and giving it to yourself. Even long-standing patterns of self-sacrifice can dissolve when we honor a commitment to our own self-care.
4. Learn to appreciate differences. Differences are inevitable; conflict is optional. Opposites attract because they each offer something the other is lacking. We seek out others, not despite our differences, but because of them. Differences devolve into conflict when we try to coerce others to agree, rather than appreciating the value of the unique perspectives we each bring. The French have a phrase for it. “Vive la difference!”
5. Make time for love. One of the first symptoms of distress can be a reduction in the frequency of sexual activity. Couples that once thrived on passionate lovemaking are often willing to tolerate a desert of physical intimacy. Great sex is more than just sensual pleasure. It’s a means through which we delight in each other’s bodies, show our love, and share the joy of losing ourselves in bliss. If the flame of sexuality is neglected for too long, the spark may go out. Don’t wait until the embers are cold; talk about what you want and keep playing!
6. Don’t take your relationship for granted. There’s no such thing as a divorce-proof marriage. If you think your marriage is so perfect that divorce isn’t a possibility, think again. This belief can lead to complacency. While this may not always end in divorce, it can lead to something equally dangerous: a stagnant marriage. Staying together isn’t the goal of a great marriage, thriving is. Thriving means continually expanding our capacity for joy, love, and growth. It’s a lifetime process, and the more you do it the easier it gets!
7. Don’t let disappointments turn into resentments. In an effort to avoid conflict many of us try to ‘get over’ feelings of anger. There is no problem with doing this when we can genuinely let these feelings go. If we can’t, they will turn into resentment, and become toxic. Telling the truth in a non-blaming way can bring about understanding.
8. Don’t wait too long to get help. The average couple that enters marriage counseling has been troubled for six years. By this time workable difficulties have disintegrated into entrenched patterns. Do everything that you can to handle challenges on your own, but recognize when your best efforts aren’t doing the trick, bring in professional help.
9. Learn to forgive. Nothing erodes the foundation of a marriage faster than grudge-holding. It’s poison, that over time, is highly destructive. Although feelings of disappointment, hurt, or irritation are inevitable in all close relationships, they dissolve when there is a willingness to let go of resentment. Forgiveness isn’t a one-time event; it’s a process that occurs over time. It isn’t easy, but with an intention to heal, steps can be taken even in the most strained of circumstances. Don’t wait too long to learn to forgive. Do it now!
10. Remember to Play. When work and play get out of balance, a correction is needed. The times that we think that we don’t have time to relax, are when we most need to. It doesn’t require a tropical vacation to reinvigorate a relationship. A short break can be enough to remind us of why we wanted to be together in the first place. Grabbing a few minutes of downtime together after the kids go to sleep to enjoy each other’s company is one of the best forms of marriage insurance that there is!