I am frequently asked, "Is there such a thing as a happy marriage these days?" Clients often come in to see me, cite celebrity couples who are breaking up and then let that impact their decision on whether or not to marry. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are but just a few of the couples who are often mentioned to me. Clients are fearful of marriage as a result. Peoples' attitudes seem to be, "Every marriage fails eventually, so what's the point, anyhow?" Or, "So many of my friends are separated, divorced, or fighting, it's really hard to remain optimistic about marriage."
The comments above are based in fear -- more specifically, fear of the unknown. People don't know exactly how marriage will turn out when they enter it, and for the fearful, anxiety ensues. The fact is, as long as there are marriages there will be those that work and those that don't. Hollywood is not immune from such phenomena, so don't look towards celebrities as role models. There are things you can do to ensure a healthy relationship, even through differences and difficulties. These are my tried-and-tested tips that have helped countless couples in my practice become fearlessly married.
- Define a healthy marriage. If you wanted to open a coffee shop, would you model it after the dingy one on the corner, or the thriving Starbucks? Rather than focusing on others' botched relationships, look at what works.
- Enter the marriage 100 percent committed, without the divorce option. In relationships that stand the test of time, couples are entirely focused on keeping it and doing what's necessary to maintain it.
- Disagreements are normal and don't mean the end of a relationship. Look at the big picture and ask yourself: Is it worth it to win the battle but lose the war? Accept certain things about your partner. Sure, it may annoy you that he burns the toast, but in the end, does it really matter?
- Focus on what binds you, not on what separates you. You originally got together because of commonalities, not differences. Keep that focus while maintaining a sense of autonomy. The best relationships are those where he does his thing, she does hers, and then they come together and enjoy.
- Take time out when there are arguments or fights. Rarely are issues resolved in the heat of battle, so walk away and agree to come together when things calm down. Examine your intent. Is it to hurt the other person or work towards a compromise? Avoid absolute words such as "always" or "never," as they seldom lead to a constructive conversation.
- Plan a date night, e.g. movies, dinner. Have it in place early in the week so you can look forward to it.
- At bedtime, think of three positive things from your day, and three things you look forward to the next day.... Share them with your partner and go to sleep with a smile.
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