You say you are looking for or have found “The One.” Perhaps you are setting the wedding date and do not want to become a divorce statistic. You want your relationship to last. I am not an expert, but I can share with you what I have learned from 22 years of marriage and having midwifed hundreds of divorces over the past dozen years. Here are my top ten tips:
1. Know Yourself.
Before you marry, figure out what you value and what matters to you and pursue your goals and interests. Consider what qualities matter most to you in a life partner. Love yourself as a complete person and be content on your own until you meet the right person. Go to therapy to resolve any childhood issues or trauma that might inhibit your ability to maintain a healthy relationship. Statistics show that people who wait to get married until after they have completed college, started their careers, and lived on their own for a while tend to stay married. If you are young, ask yourself, what is the rush?
2. Choose Wisely.
People believe they will be married forever, but almost 40% of them will not. Think about how your Mr. or Mrs. Right handled past relationships and break ups? Were they honorable and conciliatory or spiteful and vindictive? Marry someone who fights fair and will talk things out without resorting to name-calling, threats or violence. To disagree is normal and even healthy. When done correctly, a couple can emerge from an argument feeling closer than before. Choose someone you respect and who respects you.
3. Share Values.
Although it is convenient to have a life partner whose strengths and talents complement yours, it is equally important that you share common values and interests. How do you both feel about religion, politics, children, financial matters, gender roles, sex? Are you dog people or cat people? Do you want the same things out of life? How do you feel about renting versus owning, exercise, travel, alcohol consumption? Are any of these or other issues deal breakers for either of you?
4. The Golden Rule.
Treat your significant other the way you would want to be treated. Be the person you would want to be married to. Keep in mind how your actions or inaction may impact your spouse.
5. Be Grateful.
Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Practice saying, “Thank you for making dinner,” “Thank you for mowing the lawn,” “Thank you for doing the laundry,” “Thank you for being my rock,” “Thank you for marrying me,” “Thank you for being you.” It might seem silly, but letting your partner know that you appreciate them makes for a pleasant home life.
According to Emily Tonn, licensed mental health counselor at Pamper Your Mind in Satellite Beach, “Couples need to know that they cannot read each other’s minds, no matter how much they love each other, or how long they have been together. They must learn how to effectively exchange information, clarify and validate what their partner is trying 9 to tell them.” If a couple needs help communicating, help is available through books, courses and counseling.
6. Be Tolerant.
My mother used to say that what we love most about a person can also be what annoys us the most about a person. You and your loved one will annoy each other. Remember to be gentle. Try not to sweat the small stuff. Nobody is perfect.
At some point, your loved one will disappoint you. We all make mistakes, what matters is how we handle them. Sometimes the hardest words to say are, “I’m sorry.” If you have messed up, ask for forgiveness. If your partner offers heartfelt apology, accept it and move on.
9. Have Interests.
Make time for each other and find activities you can do together, but do not do everything together. Encourage one another to pursue individual hobbies and passions and maintain friend and family relationships. Get together with the girls or hang with the guys. Happy and fulfilled people are more fun to live with.
10. Understand People Change.
However old you are, you are still evolving. Keep learning and growing in healthy and productive ways. You might realize that you like new things. By not trying to control your spouse, you are more likely to grow old together. That being said, sometimes people do decide that a relationship no longer serves them. Do the best you can to work it out with the help of a competent therapist or counselor. If you do decide that your highest and best interest would be served by moving on, do it in a way that honors the marriage divorce happens, but leaving a marriage does not have to be a destructive or messy tribulation. A non-adversarial uncoupling with the help of a neutral mediator can help couples transition out of marriage in a way that honors the relationship and allows the parties to get on with life.
A healthy union requires continuous nurturing, compassion, patience, a sense of humor, and teamwork. As Stephanie Byrd, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Ascend Counseling and Wellness in Melbourne puts it: “Relationships are the longest, most important career we will ever embark on with the least amount of training. The best gift a couple can give each other is a commitment to ongoing individual and relational growth.”