Valentine’s Special:  How to Stay Married

Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Click here for part one

Love appears to require much less effort in the beginning of a relationship than it does as the relationship matures. Over time, it is so easy to become distant, disconnected or upset with each other—and that’s precisely what people frequently come into marriage counseling to repair. If you were to succeed in being a skillful spouse, here are some of the things you would need to do in order to have a wonderfully happy marriage.

Be physically affectionate every day. Affectionate (not necessarily sexual) touch is the aphrodisiac that keeps the fires burning. It’s one of the secret ingredients that keep the two of you close and connected.

Address problems or disagreements in a constructive way. Many people respond to a disagreement or to hurt feelings with anger, rage, name-calling, cold silent treatment, harsh words, threats or defensiveness. All of those responses poison the environment between the two of you and discourages open and honest communication. You cannot be angry a lot of the time, or disrespectful, and then expect a warm relationship. Ignore this advice at your own peril.

Act trustworthy/don’t violate trust. Don’t do anything to intentionally violate trust. If you ever wind up breaching trust, bend over backwards to repair it, and do so for the remainder of your relationship—which just might mean forever. Broken trust is extremely tricky to fix: often it takes years. But trust is a cornerstone of a happy relationship, so do everything you can to keep it strong and solid.

Choose peace rather than irritation. At any given moment, we have the ability to choose peace over being irritated with our spouse. Choose peace. You’ll be a lot happier.

Consistently offer emotional presence. Don’t permit yourself to be too tired or preoccupied when you’re around your partner, and take an active interest in his/her feelings, hopes, goals, hurts, angers and fears. Also, be very careful that you’re not accidentally communicating that other things are more important to you than spending time with your spouse, such as Facebook, sports, emails, the news cycle or your favorite TV programs.

Communicate effectively. That means I say what I need to as diplomatically as possible. Good communication also requires that I not interrupt, and that I not get defensive. (I quit listening when I interrupt or act defensive.) Good communicators are skilled in handling differences, conflicts and ruffled feathers, and they remove their criticisms and harsh judgements when talking with each other. And good communicators make sure that both people have a voice, and that their partner’s concerns and feelings are heard and treated with respect.

Let your partner know what he does right. You are no-doubt brilliant at letting him know what he does wrong. Likewise, tell her what you like, love, respect and appreciate about her, and do so at least once a week.

Find ways of having fun together, and keep romance alive. As couples settle into a routine with kids, careers, taking care of a home and paying bills, they often discover that they no longer remember how to be romantic with each other. This is a serious mistake. You don’t want to lose the sizzle, do you? Even when it’s effort—especially when it’s effort—make sure you behave like lovers instead of just husband and wife.

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