When we’re kids, we all dream of meeting Mr./Ms. Right, having a perfect wedding day, and then living happily ever after. But be honest with yourself – how many couples do you know who have had a truly happy long-term marriage? I don’t know about you, but I can count the ones I know on one hand.
…And that’s sad, isn’t it?
Think about it – has anyone ever taught you how to have a happy, lasting marriage? No. Even if you were lucky enough to have happily married parents, they probably never sat you down and told you exactly what they were doing to keep each other happy. You just had to watch the behavior they modeled and hope you could emulate it someday. And hopefully you could learn by watching them, but many people can’t. As for the rest of us, we weren’t that lucky. Many of us have parents who are divorced, or simply stayed in a rotten marriage. Either way, that’s not a great role model, and it sure doesn’t teach us how to do it differently.
So what can you do to have a long, happy, and healthy marriage? As someone who has studied the components of happy relationships, I can give you some crucial things that you must do in order to survive long-term marriage.
It sounds simple, but so many people don’t communicate effectively. Sure, screaming and name-calling is communication, but it’s destructive. Some people hate conflict so much that they just keep things to themselves and bottle them up. Neither of these methods work. You have to learn how to talk calmly and rationally about your issues.
Have regular date nights.
When a couples have kids (and even if they don’t) they forget about romance. And you wonder why so many married people are plopped on the couch or on their bed with a TV remote in their hand day in and day out? You have to keep the romance alive, or it will simply die.
Put your spouse’s needs equal to – or before – your own.
In other words, you can’t be selfish. You have to genuinely care about making your partner happy. You can’t just take without giving back. But sometimes you have to ask your spouse what they need because they might not tell you, and you’re not a mind reader. So talk about what both of you need, and then do something about it.
Your words and actions affect your significant other. Period. If you haven’t come to the realization that they do, then you’re going to have a serious wake-up call. You need to know how what you say and do affects your partner. For better or for worse, we all affect the people around us. So become more self-aware and make changes when necessary.
Explain yourself and your behavior to your partner.
Once you are self-aware, then you can explain why you do what you do (or why you feel/think what you do) to your spouse. Sometimes a simple understanding of the other person helps you get along better. You don’t have to necessarily agree, but you need to understand.
Don’t get lazy.
So many people have the attitude of, “Ahhh … I’m finally married! Now I can relax, and I don’t have to work to impress anyone!” I’m here to tell you this: it’s after you get married that the real work starts. You can’t get lazy. That is, unless you want to get divorced or stay in a loveless marriage. Then by all means, kick your feet up and avoid the work.
Don’t blame, take personal responsibility.
People tend to think every problem in the relationship is the other person’s fault, but really, it takes two to tango. We all do things that are wrong or hurtful to our partners – hopefully unintentionally. But admitting when you are wrong is not a fault, it’s a strength. It takes a lot of emotional maturity to do it.
This one is crucial. It goes hand-in-hand with not being selfish. In order to have a lasting, happy relationship, you must have empathy for your partner. You have to seek to understand what it’s like to experience life from their perspective. You have to ask questions and lend a shoulder for them to cry on.
I love to use this metaphor: relationships are like plants. If you don’t water them, they will die. And just like a plant needs water, so does a marriage. It needs to be nurtured, paid attention to, and cared for. If it doesn’t, it will just simply die… just as a plant does. So if you remember nothing else, remember that metaphor. If you do, you’ll be able to say someday that you are one of the lucky few who really did live happily ever after.
Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. She also tries to imitate Oprah during her regular appearances on the TV show Living Dayton. Although not a world-famous author or speaker yet, she’s working on it. She’s also a single mom of two boys who think she’s a horrible cook. Follow her here on Twitter and Facebook.