11/04/2014 03:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Where the Greenest Grass Grows

When I got married, I was still very much a child. I had no idea what it meant to live with my significant other, day in, day out, and make it work. I had yet to learn that getting married and being married were two very different things.
Like most newlyweds, I had high expectations for the future. "Wedded bliss" became my personal mantra.

Marriage- hard work? Maybe for other people, but surely not for us. We were best friends! We were in love! Besides, we both came from intact, functional families, which I believed somehow exempted us from the normal struggles of learning to cohabit.

But of course, effortless marital harmony is a fairytale.... Differences of opinion surface, feelings are hurt, and the inevitable First Fight happens.

I don't recall what our first fight was about; I only know I was angry for days until I finally spoke my piece, my husband spoke his, we apologized... and it was over.

Since that first argument, I've wondered: how do we fight so civilly? What keeps us in a good place most of the time? And when we do argue, how do we come out of it still in love and respecting one another? I attribute it to six fundamental "ground rules" at play in our relationship:

1) Mutual respect is our number one guiding principle. We never name-call; no cheap cuts or low blows allowed. We come to every conversation believing that the other is both smart and good, even when we're on opposite sides of an issue. It's not always easy in the midst of strong emotion, but choosing to uphold our value of respect makes it easier. At the end of an argument, we're left with no regrets.

2) We see ourselves as a team. In Tai Chi, we're taught that by aligning ourselves with our opponent's energy, we end up on the same side, moving together in the same direction with little or no resistance. When you adopt this strategy in marriage, you seldom find yourself in opposition with your spouse. You also find yourself growing and moving through life together more easily. Whether parenting, making decisions at home, working, or socializing, we're each other's biggest fan and ally.

3) We take our complaints to the source. This is a big one.... We make a point of never griping about each other to other people. If I have a problem with him, I take it up with him, and he pays me the same courtesy. Knowing he's got my back and I have his continues to feed the trust and respect we have for one another.

4) We give each other room to be real. Everyone needs an outlet where they can speak their mind, uncensored. Some days are great, and some just plain stink. We give each other the space to vent, free of judgment, about our day, other people, or the world in general, knowing it won't be used against us in a moment of vulnerability. In our house, what's shared in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.

5) We're intentionally present for each other. When we're talking, we look each other in the eye and listen to what the other has to say. It's such a simple gesture, but it means so much. When someone looks at you while you're sharing how you feel and nods in response without trying to shame you for it, it's the most validating thing in the world. Most people don't know how to really listen... but it's a skill well worth developing.

6) We remind each other that our grass is the greenest. Kindness, respect, and putting each other first make it easy to feel warmly towards each other and see each other's best on a daily basis. There is no perfect, but we often tell each other how grateful we are for our life together. There's nothing like a dose of gratitude to put a challenging day in perspective.

We're not perfect, and there is no "right way"... this is just our way, and we've still got a lot to learn! How do you keep your relationships going strong?