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How to be Happily Married in a World of Naysayers

05/13/2015 05:41 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2016

We've all heard the jokes:

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.

I married Ms. Right. I just didn't know that her first name was Always.

Marriage is talked about as if it's a jail sentence, a ball and chain, the mistake of a lifetime.

Some have said that marriage is irrelevant and outdated. Others have called it a failed experiment.

Failed? Really?

I'll be the first to admit that marriage can be difficult. Marriage asks us to grow and to stretch; it calls for flexibility and fortitude and a capacity to love -- even (and especially) during really hard times. And anyone who's been married for more than a month knows that hard times do come.

But there are also sweet times and easy times, times of deep love and affection, times when we're glad that we're married to the wonderful and annoying person we picked.

The "marriage is broken" folks seem to be saying this -- because some marriages are truly miserable, and because, even under the best of circumstances, marriage can be hard, we need to change the rules.

They say we need to stop expecting marriage to last a lifetime, to meet our needs for intimacy, to bring satisfaction and joy.

The trouble with the naysayers is that they talk about marriage as if it's an entity -- as if marriage is some sort of troublemaker, as if there's something inherent in marriage that sets us up to fail.

To further bolster their argument, they trot out the inaccurate, "bad news" statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.

Here's the good news: When it comes to first marriages, 60-70 percent of them will be marriages that last. And yes, a lasting marriage isn't necessarily a happy one, but the happiness part -- that's in our hands.

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If you're looking to prove the naysayers wrong:

1. Accept that marriage takes effort if you want to do it well. Many things in life are difficult, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth doing. Why should marriage be any different?

2. Relationships don't just happen. They don't succeed by magic and they don't fail on their own. Marriage is something we build from the ground up. It requires care and attention. The more creative and committed we are, the better our marriage will be.

3. The best marriages are based on generosity. No, I'm not talking about over-giving and sacrifice. True generosity is a wholehearted desire to offer the best of what we have. Love, affection, not believing we need to have everything our way in order to be happy.

4. Some of the worst marriages I've seen have gotten as bad as they are because neither partner is willing to risk: to apologize, to reach out, to be vulnerable, to name what needs to be addressed. Remember, you have to step out of your comfort zone if you want your marriage to grow.

5. Pay less attention to what your partner is doing that gets in the way of having a satisfying relationship, and pay more attention to what you're doing, which is the only thing you can control anyway.

6. Accept that sometimes you're going to be disappointed by your partner, just as your partner will, at times, be disappointed by you. Disappointment is not a sign that something's gone wrong. It's simply a challenging fact of life that we, as partners, must learn to handle as gracefully as possible. Freaking out about your inevitable disappointments will make you unnecessarily unhappy, or discouraged, or both.

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7. Don't expect your spouse to be a mind reader. If something is important to you, it's your job to speak up.

8. Accept that your partner won't be thrilled about everything you do. Relationships are about being a twosome and about being two separate people who want different things. I don't advocate behaving in ways that are hurtful or inconsiderate, but there are times when we have to act alone -- to confront something difficult, to make a bold move, to challenge the rules.

9. Don't underestimate the importance of quality time. Show up. Make eye contact. Open your heart. And, for goodness sake, turn off your phone.

10. Never believe you've tried everything. Most of us do the same ineffective things over and over, and think we've given it our all. Yes, some relationship problems are complex and overwhelming, and we have no idea what to do to solve them. But before you think you're out of options, ask yourself this: What one thing can I do that would make a significant, positive difference in my relationship? Before you give up, go ahead. Go all out.

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This post first appeared on Speaking of Marriage.