I’m writing this for my favorite couple who share my life. In Pittsburgh tonight, we celebrate their year and a half old marriage that took place in New Zealand. After years of working with and thinking about couples I’ve got some ideas about what helps marriages last. Marriage is a work in progress and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Here are 8 guidelines to encourage longevity –
1. Talk about the hard stuff with each other many, many times. Most couples end up in my office because they’ve given up honestly talking to each other. Things get swept under the rug and the pile gets too big to manage and develops a life of its own.
2. Respect is more important than love. Respect has room for differences. Pay attention to keeping respect alive. Squash disdain and contempt. Find ways to disagree that are respectful.
3. Often in years 6 – 10, when it is ordinary for illusions to wear off, you may find yourself sick of the differences that attracted you in the first place. Get help to talk with each other, or return to embracing the differences through hours of honest conversation.
4. Try to think long-term for yourselves. We live in a world of short-term thinking and it’s easy to get buried in buying stuff. Money would be better spent on education, experiences, and creating memories. We spent $50 on hay rides in the fall at a local park to create memories for our children and I’ve never regreted it. Long term thinking never goes out of style.
5. In-laws can be a tricky business. They are not relationships you choose. The best thing a mother-in-law or son-in-law can do is to be willing to get to know each other. Consider going to a meal just the two of you to learn who the other is. A group of people is always stronger when each dyad, each pair, has developed more of a connection. Don’t filter all interactions through your partner.
6. Never stop taking risks. Try life out because it has so much to offer. Don’t get so stuck in deadening routine that you age without vitality. Do things that make you uncomfortable. “Sometimes you have to drop a bomb on your life.” as performance artist David Cale said at the Warhol.
7. Examine your expectations and work at being more realistic. You will never find anyone who meets all your needs or who will make up for your childhood losses. It’s ridiculous to imagine that you shouldn’t have to ask for what you want because someone truly loves you. Your partner is not psychic.
8. Remember that happiness is not an end goal. It is a byproduct of choices that you make. You learn a tremendous amount from bad choices, don’t underestimate their value.