While chatting with my brother last night, he reminded me that I haven’t written anything based on what makes a marriage work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any surefire answers, or maybe it’s because I’ve been busy. Or maybe it’s both. In any case, I promised him that I’d tackle that question this morning so here goes. Most of the post is based on an informal poll taken during a recent wedding weekend.

 When you see a couple preparing to love each other till death do they part and so on, it makes you think about what it’s all about. What does “in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer” really mean?  Most of the time the bride and groom are still so starry eyed and in good health that they can’t imagine the beloved dead broke, sick as a dog, or rude and dismissive.

So here are some of the tidbits I gleaned from toasts, polling, and personal observation. While intended for Ben and Jessica, these tips apply to any and all. Just what are some of the most important things to remember in making it last?

Having fun together. I think it’s important for a couple to do things outside of the house. They need to actually have a date night and/or to do things that keep them out of the rut.

Being willing to compromise. You can’t always have your way. Maybe it’s time to have Thanksgiving with his (or her) family.

Going for a win/win. Stephen Covey addresses this point in his Seven Habits book. Try to think of a solution that is mutually beneficial for both partners. While this sounds like compromise, it’s deeper and involves more thought.

Making deposits in the emotional bank account. Another of Covey’s ideas, this is a #1 activity in our household. Making regular deposits will come in handy when you make a withdrawal. I have a high school friend whose husband often stops by Wal-Mart after work and buys flowers for his wife. He’s not the kind of guy who does this sort of thing in a keeping score sort of way. He does it because she loves flowers, and he likes to make her happy. At the same time, at some  point in their life together, he might be forgetful  rude, moody, sullen, or distant, and I have a feeling that his wife won’t hold it against him. She’ll remember all of the many deposits (and not just in the flower purchasing department) that he’s made and will cut him some slack.

Putting the other person first. Getting rid of selfishness. This is a hard one for me and one I’d like to elaborate on. One day I came home from church, and my husband asked what I’d learned. When I told him that I’d been advised to put him first and to think of his happiness, he asked, “You had to go to church to learn that? I always think of things that might make you happy.” I was taken aback for a few moments because I realized that often, very often, I think of Jaynie and what she wants.

Having space. Giving each other space. When my sister-in-law Becky suggested this one, I immediately thought of Kahil Gibran’s poem entitled “On Marriage” in which he advises couples to let there be “space in your togetherness.” He mentions the pillars of a temple and how they’re far apart in order to uphold the structure. If they’re too close to each other, the structure would tumble and fall.

Communicating. Hmmm. Easier said than done. Men and women are so different from the get-go. Psychologists say our differences begin in the early stages of life, even before we’re born. When that little male embryo is flooded with testosterone, well, that’s just the beginning. Books have been written on this very topic so I’m recommending that you seek knowledge there. I just have to say,however,that learning how to speak up for yourself in the right manner and at the right time are crucial. No yelling and no snarky, hateful comments.

Respecting and loving the partner. As my sister-in-law Lisa reminded me, men need respect, and women need love. So true. We want to be cherished, and men want to be honored.

Being able to handle conflict. You have to learn when to keep things to yourself and when and how to bring up troubling issues. Interestingly, John Gottman who’s written extensively about marriage and what makes it work, says that sometimes it’s okay to sweep things under the rug.He adds that sometimes you just have to let things go too. For instance, I could yell and pout and whine about my husband’s obsession with hunting and sports, but why???? It’s not going to do any good, and it only poisons the atmosphere. Just find hobbies and interests of your own. That’s what I did, and it’s worked marvelously.

Having a purpose. I can see the value of this. I feel like if I went around and asked, “What’s your purpose for being married?” I’d get a lot of blank stares.

Time to bring this to an end and get to my next project. I just want to reiterate that I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I’d still be in my first marriage. All I know is that a successful marriage doesn’t just happen. It takes work, and it takes two to tango. Enough said.

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