Marriage 101: A Relationship Expert’s Guide to a Better Marriage

1. Think of marriage as a friendship

It is important to think of your marriage as a friendship, in addition to being a romantic relationship. All marriages will go through periods of romantic and physical distance. An important way to get through those periods is by maintaining your close bond as friends and companions. Being friends means enjoying each other’s company, sharing common interests and finding time to have fun together.

2. Prioritize the quality of your intimacy

While it’s important to see your spouse as a friend and ally, you also need to focus on the intimate part of your relationship. When it comes to intimacy (and most things, actually...), prioritize quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter how frequently you and your partner have sex, if the sex is not fulfilling or intimate for both of you. It is much more important to consider the quality of the sex. For many couples, doing research via sex advice columns in magazines or online is a good way to improve the quality of your sex. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Just make sure that you and your partner are on the same page about what you are trying, and how it is affecting the quality of your intimacy.

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3. Grow together, not apart

People and relationships change over time, it’s a fact of life! Don’t try and hold on to exactly what you had at the beginning of the relationship. Instead, acknowledge that change is natural, and try to find ways to change together. This could be finding new activities together, or learning to support your partner as they adapt. Embracing change will look different for every couple, but just remember that change is not an excuse to grow apart, but rather, an excuse to grow closer. Just because life is moving forward and you’re embracing change doesn’t mean that you can’t remember the good ol’ times. Laugh about your first date, or meeting the parents, or your first place together. Remembering your shared history is a great way to deepen your bond.

4. Don’t try to change your partner

Acknowledging that you, your partner, and your marriage will change over time is healthy, and very different from actively trying to change your partner, which… isn’t. Encouraging your spouse to make healthy changes in their life is a great way to be supportive. But again, that is different from trying to change aspects of your spouse’s personality. Do not try to change things about your partner that are essential to who they are as a person. You fell in love with this person, and while you may not like every little quirk, you should not try to change who they are. Remember: they’re doing you the same courtesy!

5. Leave your judgement at the door

A marriage is a long-term commitment, maybe the longest commitment out there... and you cannot expect your spouse to be perfect all the time, or even half the time in all honesty... You and your spouse will both make mistakes as you navigate life as a team. It is important that your spouse feels that they can come to you with questions or for advice without facing judgement or reproach. Additionally, it’s important that you foster a supportive environment that allows your spouse to try new things without fear of criticism.

6. Learn effective communication

Communication is key to any long-term, effective relationship. Being able to articulate your needs, feelings and frustrations is an important skill that will benefit your marriage down the line. Effective communication is a great tool to avoid huge, blow-out conflicts, because it allows you to address issues before they reach a boiling point. Effective communication also requires good listening skills, so that you hear what your partner is trying to say. It’s easy to kind of tune-out and multitask when your partner is talking (afterall, you can’t be tuned in 24/7...), but when your spouse is trying to express something important, make sure that you give them your undivided attention!

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7. Don’t try to ‘win’ the argument

Conflicts and disagreements are bound to arise during the course of your marriage. When it is necessary to have an argument (and knowing when it’s necessary is crucial) you should focus on trying to find a resolution, rather than trying to ‘win’ the argument. At the end of the day there really is no winning... you and your partner are a team. Tearing them down, or ignoring their point of view to make a point or get your way will only damage your relationship. Focusing on a resolution to the initial conflict or disagreement will lead to a more productive argument, and will allow you and your partner to move beyond the argument in a meaningful way.

8. Maintain your social life

As much as you love spending time with your spouse, it is important to maintain a social life outside of your marriage. Keep up with friends, and make time to do the things you enjoyed before you were married. Spending time apart is important for you two to not only reset, but to also look forward to when you’re together again. Along the same lines, it’s helpful to befriend other couples. In doing this you can socialize with other people, without totally ditching your spouse!

9. Acknowledge if it isn’t working

Let’s say it together, “Therapy is NOT a failure of your relationship.” For whatever reason, couple’s therapy has been heavily stigmatized in popular culture, but it absolutely does not deserve this reputation! Neither you nor your spouse hold all the answers to your relationship problems, and you shouldn’t have to! There are people who are trained to do so and who have dedicated their careers to helping couples out of rough patches. If you and your partner are having problems that you just can’t seem to work through on your own, consider seeking some outside guidance!

10. Find joy

Focus on prioritizing your happiness as a couple! Marriage is a lot of things, but at the end of the day it should be something that brings you joy. It’s fun to be a part of a team, and there are so many benefits to a lifelong partnership. Find joy in having someone to pick you up when you’re down, to bounce ideas off of, and to celebrate your accomplishments with.

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