1. Take your time
Marriage is one of the biggest commitments that you will make in life. There is no need to rush into a lifelong commitment with someone until you are absolutely sure that you are ready. They key to a divorce-proof marriage is a strong foundation at the beginning, and the only way to ensure a strong-foundation is to spend a significant amount of time in the dating and engagement stages. Some research shows that marriages are most successful if the couple dates three year prior tying the knot. There is no magic formula for deciding when it’s the right time to settle down. And there’s no way to know if you’re truly ready until you do the damn thing. But establishing a shared vision for the future and understanding what it will take to make it happen as a team, is an important start.
2. Don’t worry about the diamond
It’s easy to get carried away with spending a huge amount of money on wedding rings or on the wedding itself as you get caught up in the excitement of the decision to commit your life to someone. But, some studies suggest that spending a significant amount of money on these things can lead to higher rates of divorce. This is not necessarily a guaranteed cause and effect relationship, but it makes sense that a huge financial investment of that sort could put unnecessary pressure on a new marriage. Additionally, no one wants to start their marriage in a mound of avoidable debt (most of us still have college to pay off after all...), save your money for the nonnegotiable life expenses. Or for the honeymoon! Money spent on experiences is better than money spent on things. At the end of the day, your commitment to one another is more important than the rings on your fingers, so remember that when picking out the bling!
A good marriage requires good communication, and communication can be really hard, but it is ultimately necessary to survive as a couple. You will face major life events with this person; moving, renting/buying houses, possibly having children, losing jobs, losing parents....and through these life events you will need to be able to express your emotions and your needs. Communication is also related to listening. Make sure that when your partner shares something with you that you listen and really ask questions if you do not understand. We wish people could read our minds, but that is just not the case. In a marriage, it is important to hear and be heard. The only way to do that is through good communication. Establishing a marriage with open communication will allow you to work through problems in a safe, supportive environment before the problems become untenable.
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4. Learn how to argue properly
Even if you and your partner are effectively communicating, arguments are bound to arise. Before starting an argument or picking a fight with your partner, take some time to reflect on the situation at hand. Is this something that will blow over if you take some time to cool off? Or is it something that needs to be addressed? Evaluating what is worth discussing is an important part of good communication. If it is necessary to discuss something with your partner, make sure that you take time to listen to their side of the story. Even if you think the situation at hand is their fault, try not to accuse them or use “you” statements that put them on the defensive.
Instead, try to solve the problem at hand in a measured manner. Take responsibility for the part you played in the situation. It is also important to consider what you want the result of the argument to be. Do you want your partner to change a certain behavior? Do you think you are owed an apology? Articulating this can help you find a resolution. But remember: not all arguments have a resolution. It is important to recognize this, and move on once you have said your piece. An essential part of a productive argument is practicing forgiveness after the fact and moving on.
5. Expect and accept change
Change is a fact of life as well as an important part of every relationship. Even if you have been with your partner for years, you should still expect your relationship to continue to change. After all, we as individuals change often, so why wouldn’t our relationships? Life events, stress levels, the economy, world pandemics; the list of external, uncontrollable factors could go on forever, and all of these factors in addition to intrinsic factors can cause change in your relationship. The key is to acknowledge the change, accept it, and continue to move forward. Moving forward might require you and your partner to adapt, but instead of looking at this as a burden, you can consider it as an opportunity to grow together. Accepting change as a positive prospect can also help you improve aspects you don’t like about your relationship, together. Does their cologne make you nauseous? Help find a new scent together. Do your morning routines clash? Change your wake up times, or find a way to coordinate. Somethings in relationships do need to change in order to make things work. Identify ways to make positive change, and accept unexpected change when it arises.
6. Aim for equity
Marriage is a partnership of equals, and thus you and your partner should aim for equity in all aspects of your marriage. I say equity here and not equality, because you and your partner bring different skills to the table and often fill very different roles in the relationship. A foundation of strong marriages are partners with complementary skill sets and personalities. This means that most of the time you won’t be sharing burdens exactly equally. If you work full-time while your partner stays home, it’s not fair for you to do the same amount of household chores. But you should still make sure that you communicate with your spouse, so that you can help them in a meaningful way. It’s not helpful to keep score about who unloaded the dishwasher more times, but it is important that your spouse feels like you are taking on part of the burden of household chores. Your marriage will benefit from both partners feeling that they’re doing a fair share of work, even if the work isn’t necessarily equal. Remember to check in with your partner about your work loads, things differ day to day, week to week and with different stages in life. Prioritizing fairness in your marriage will ensure that both partners feel equally valued.
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Everyone wants to feel supported when they make decisions, do an activity or try something new, including your spouse! It can often be hard to feel confident when you are unsure if you are doing the right thing, and when you are constantly comparing yourself to others in this age of social media inundation. If you’re feeling insecure, your partner is mostly likely feeling insecure as well, that’s just the age we live in. An easy solution is to engage with what they’re doing, offer words and encouragement, and show that you are proud of them. Being a cheerleader for your partner is an important part of marriage, because it shows that you support them no matter what. It also creates a safe space in which your spouse can try new things without the fear of ridicule that they may face in their workplace, among friends or within their families. Showing that you are a reliable support system by encouraging their endeavors will create a healthy environment where your marriage can flourish.
8. Laugh together
It is important to seek joy as a couple. It’s easy to get caught up in the monotony of everyday life, so finding moments to seek out joy is important to break things up. Think of why you got married in the first place. You two like each other! And you want to spend time together! Like the rest of your lives together! Make that time enjoyable by finding daily activities you like to do together. Carve out time to watch a funny TV show, or go on a walk, or do anything that you both like. Maintaining a joyful and playful banter will keep your marriage fun despite the craziness that surrounds it.
9. Go beyond saying ‘I love you’
First things first, you should always express the love you have for your partner out-loud. Saying and hearing ‘I love you’ never gets old. But, that should not be the extent of expressing your love. Acts of kindness, proving to your partner that you love them, can often go further in showing your dedication then saying the words. Know how they like their coffee? Make it for them if they’re having a frantic morning. Offer a back rub out of the blue. Schedule a date night. Show that you want to spend time with them and that you care about their well-being. Demonstrative love is just as important, if not more important than saying ‘I love you’.
10. Have sex! h
Maintaining physical and emotional intimacy is an important part of every relationship, especially in a relationship as long-term as ‘til death do us part’. It’s true that as you age your libido often decreases, but that doesn’t mean sex is suddenly out of the picture. Additionally, just because you have had sex in the past, does not mean that you can stop having sex if you want your relationship to continue. Sex might become less exciting than it was at the beginning of a relationship, but it is still an important part of any romantic relationship. You want to feel desired by your partner and they want to feel desired by you. The dirty details of your sex life will likely change over the years, but wanting to be desired won’t change, so learn to adapt as your bodies and sexual needs change over the years. Adapting will require clear communication, which can be hard, but will pay off in physical and emotional intimacy.
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11. Talk about divorce
This is perhaps a counterintuitive point, but it is important to recognize that divorce is an option, and even if it isn’t on your mind (think: “Me? I’m not the type of person to get a divorce!”), your partner might be considering it. Acknowledging that divorce is possible means acknowledging the fact that marriage is fragile, and requires attention and care to maintain. It can be easy to take your spouse and your relationship for granted, especially if you are under personal stress, but it is not acceptable for this to become habitual. Checking-in with your spouse about the status of your relationship, especially when times are tough, can help address problems before they manifest into divorceable offenses.
12. Seek out other strong relationships
Make friends as a couple! As much as you love your partner, there is almost NO way you can spend all your social time with them. And while it’s important to maintain the friendships you had prior to your marriage, it’s also important to become friends with other couples. Creating a strong network with another happy couple or a group of couples can often help improve your marriage. Surrounding yourselves with love and commitment will inspire the same in your own relationship.
13. Be intentional
Most people don’t start a marriage with the intention of getting divorced. Committing your life to another person is a huge and deliberate decision. Divorce happens when things slowly slip into a state unrecognizable from the outset. Your goal is to prevent the marriage from ever getting to that point! Be intentional with your relationship. Focus on the goals you have set together. Support your partner. Prioritize your partner and the state of your relationship above other things. Approach the duration of your relationship like you did on the day you set your wedding vows. Not everyday can be perfect and intentional, and sure there will be slumps, but the majority of your days can be intentionally and deliberately dedicated to making the marriage work.
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