9 Golden Rules For A Lasting Marriage

12/29/2011 01:58 pm ET | Updated Feb 28, 2012

As a newlywed, it's hard to imagine that your marriage could ever end as another statistic fueling our country's high divorce rate.

After all, when you first met "The One," you were head-over-heels-giddy-in-love (I know I was), and that magical feeling lasts for a while. But eventually, real life starts happening. You get really busy with your career, kids, a parent's illness, and all the activity and stress that come with raising a family. Before you know it, your marriage gets pushed to the back burner.

However, when you let your relationship with your spouse "sit" for too long, it deteriorates (much like a car or home that's not maintained).

Eventually you wake up one day and realize that you no longer have anything in common with the person you once promised to love, cherish, and honor forever.

In my opinion, this pattern is a real shame. I don't believe that so many promising partnerships have to end in frustration, grief, or even animosity. And I think that what makes all the difference in a marriage is how you choose to prioritize it.

In over 20 years of being a husband to a woman I adore, I have learned that a highly prioritized, happy marriage is the cornerstone of a great life. When you have the friendship, support, and love of your spouse, everything else in your life -- your career, your hobbies, and your other relationships -- is much easier to navigate. To achieve this state, though, you must put more effort each and every day into your marriage than you do into taking care of your garden, your car, and your house.

The great news is, as a newlywed you're in a wonderful position to put some preventative maintenance steps in place so that your marriage stays strong.

If you take one thing to heart as you embark on this phase of your life with your chosen partner, let it be this: You do have to work on your marriage every day if you want your relationship with your spouse to remain strong. Here are nine ways to prioritize and continually strengthen the most important relationship in your life:

Recommit yourself to your marriage every single day. If you want to cultivate a strong and happy marriage, start each morning by making a renewed personal commitment to keeping your relationship healthy and rewarding. Start by remembering what you said you'd do in your wedding vows: Love your spouse. Honor her (or him!) Cherish her. Comfort her. Remain faithful to her. Do these things in good times and bad, in sickness and in health -- every day of your marriage.

Evaluate where your self-worth comes from. I believe that the happiest couples draw a lot of their self-worth from their relationships with each other. Ask yourself whether or not you're consistently relying on something other than your marriage, like your job, to make you feel good about yourself. Yes, it's okay to proudly say, "I'm the manager of my division at work," but you should also be able to say, "I am the world's luckiest man to be married to my wife," with the same sense of accomplishment.

Consistently verbalize to your spouse the things you love and appreciate about him or her. Complimenting your partner will make her feel great in the moment, and doing so consistently is the single greatest long-term vitamin you can give your marriage. Start by reminding yourself of all of the reasons why you fell in love with him or her in the first place, and then list how much more wonderful your partner has gotten since then. Also, tell her (or him!) how much she means to you, how much you love her, and how beautiful she is ten times a day. We can't count on hearing compliments from our kids, our coworkers, or even our friends, and we're harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be. Over time, this lack of positive reinforcement makes us feel small and unhappy. Make it your personal mission to ensure that your spouse feels as valued and appreciated as possible.

Acknowledge the little things your spouse does and return the favor. In addition to complimenting your spouse, perform small but meaningful acts of kindness. For example, if your wife hates unloading the dishwasher, make a point to get into the kitchen and put away the dishes first. Acts like this don't take much time or energy, but they show your spouse that you are paying attention and that you care -- and that is truly priceless! And when you're on the receiving end, be sure to say thank you. You'll perpetuate a positive cycle of giving and getting in which neither party feels ignored or taken for granted.

Learn -- and then do -- what makes your spouse feel most loved. While any expression of love is, of course, a good thing, we all feel loved in different ways. Even if you feel most valued when your husband gives you a hug, the same might not be true for him. It's important to ask your spouse, "What have I done in the past that made you feel the most special?" Some people might want a date night. Others might need to be told verbally that they are the greatest. Whatever your spouse's response is, be sure to include those actions or words into your regular repertoire.

Don't let resentment build. When you live in fairly close quarters with another human being, it's inevitable that sooner or later you're going to annoy and anger each other. While it's not a good idea to nit-pick, don't let negative feelings build up and fester. Even if you have to go for a walk to clear your head first, be sure to express your frustrations in a calm, constructive way -- preferably before you go to bed angry. Also, remember that this is a two-way street. When your spouse is upset with you, make every effort not to fly off the handle and to fairly consider what you're hearing. Marriage does involve compromising and modifying your behavior for another's well-being -- and believe me, your mutual happiness is worth it. If you and your spouse reach a point where you're unable to address problems without raised voices and heated emotions, marriage counseling may be a good option because each person has the opportunity to voice dissatisfactions without being interrupted. Remember, seeking out help does not mean that you are weak or that you have failed -- it means that you are acting wisely and responsibly for the good of your marriage and your future.

Take responsibility and stop trying to fix your partner. It's always best to look at how your own behavior could improve before you try to change your spouse's. When you begin to take responsibility for areas in which you may have been dropping the ball, the dynamic of your marriage will change. Perhaps your spouse has been trapped in a cycle of negativity that has been fed by your own less-than-helpful attitude. Plus, when you begin to behave more positively, there's a good chance your partner will begin to mirror your behavior. If, for example, you want your husband to send you love letters, start by sending love letters to him first. If you want your wife to say, "I love you" more often, start assuring her of the same thing more frequently.

Figure out what your strengths are and play to them. You and your spouse should each play to your strengths within your marriage and back away from your weaknesses. If, for example, you're great with words but don't have much of a math brain, don't take on the task of making sure the bills are paid and the accounts are balanced each month. Instead, take the lead in dealing with teachers, repairmen, etc. When you force yourself to do something for which you have little aptitude, you only frustrate yourself and, by extension, the people with whom you live.

Date your spouse again. After a few years of marriage, many couples find that they're going weeks at a time without having any serious conversations that don't revolve around work, money, or kids. That's why it's imperative to set aside time to date your spouse and invest in the romantic part of your relationship. Without that so-called "spark," the other parts of your life, like work and kids, will suffer too. Try to act like you did when you were both in the infatuation period of your relationship: Bring home flowers or other small gifts. Plan a special date night (maybe involving a babysitter this time around!). Get tickets to the reunion tour of a band you and your spouse loved when you first began dating. Basically, get back to the essence of how you fell in love in the first place!

If you're in the beginning stages of your marriage, remember that the behaviors, attitudes, and habits that you engage in now will set the tone for your life--and your spouse's life--for decades to come. Don't underestimate the importance of celebrating, respecting, loving, and prioritizing your spouse each and every day.