When we were growing up, we learned that couples in fairy tales always lived "happily ever after." But we never discussed what happened after "happily ever after." It turns out that this is when the real work begins. Marriage is not easy. We are taking two people who have come from different households and maybe different backgrounds and expecting them to just get along. In this country, we do not teach people how to be married, and this is one of the failings of our system. Here is a list of seven suggested tips for preserving a marriage for the long-term:
1) The first thing you should learn in a marriage is how to communicate with each other. That means that if you want to request a change in someone's behavior, you have to use "I" stems rather than "you" stems, which are by nature accusatory. Remember that all communication should be based on how you feel about your partner's behavior and what changes you would like to see take place.
2) Always remember to stay on topic. If you are having a discussion about something that bothers you, you should stick to that discussion and not bring in outside issues, aka "the kitchen sink." For example, if your partner comes home late for dinner, the fact that he or she forgot your birthday last year should not be part of the discussion. Focus, focus, focus. Tell him or her how you feel. Use "I" words rather than belittling and personal attacks.
3) Listen to what the other person is saying. Just because someone says something does not mean you have to respond immediately. Try listening -- if your mouth is working, your ears probably are not. The most important thing to remember about an argument is that it is just a blip in the relationship and not a volcano that you allow to explode and end the relationship.
4) Make a date with your spouse. Life goes on. Children grow and have needs. Business and your career may seem very important, but if you do not give priority to your spouse, there is likelihood that someday you will not have one. In other words, make a date and keep it. If Wednesday is date night, nothing changes date night unless someone has been hit by a car. This is the night that you prioritize and you let your spouse know he or she is so important that nothing will interfere: business, children or anything else.
5) Learn how to have a fight. Every couple will have fights during the course of their marriage, and this is not the end of the world. If fighting is done properly, it can actually build the relationship. All fights should be brief and -- if possible -- scheduled. It's okay to be really angry, it's okay to blow your top, but you should schedule a time for it and limit it. You should not drag up old business, but instead focus on the issue and say, "I'm really angry and here is why." Screaming at someone does not really move the ball. If you are trying to blow off steam and get a point across, make your point, and move on.
6) Make a point of saying something nice to your spouse every day. It can be as simple as "thanks for doing the dishes," or "I like your new haircut." People listen better when you start a conversation by saying something positive.
7) Stay in touch with your spouse. We tend to talk more to the people we work with versus the person we live with. Marriage does not give anyone the ability to read minds. Taking time at the end of each day to share your experiences is important to keeping in touch with each other. If you want changes in your career, to go back to school, or to redecorate the living room, share it. Many divorcing couples have just "grown apart." Don't let that happen to you.
None of these suggestions are easy, but they are designed to make a better marriage. Twenty years with the same person is a long time. If you want to make it 20, or 40, or 60 years, you need to learn the meaning of communicating in a positive way, fighting appropriately, and putting your spouse first. These suggestions are designed to ensure the strength of your bond. And while getting along with someone that was raised differently than you were is a difficult process for the long haul, these tips should help make it easier and, ultimately, more rewarding.