Secrets of successful marriage
Don't leave the success of your marriage to fate; read Susan Quilliam's wise words on getting the balance right once and for all?
However happy you are before the ceremony, there's something about getting married that can rock the boat. Most couples wobble on honeymoon. Many find that once back home, things aren't going as well as they did before the ceremony. A staggering one in two marriages are also set to fail.
So whether you're a blushing bride or forty years down the road, how can you make your marriage work? The answer is to look at what effective couples do and apply their secrets to your relationship.
Secret 1: Successful Married Couples get their deal straight
Marriage is different from living together. It's not necessarily better, but it's different. Both of you will have different expectations of a 'spouse' than of a 'partner' - often basing those expectations on what you saw of your parents' married life. For example, you may have been happy for your man to live the student life before the wedding, but afterwards, you expect him to draw a regular salary.
Successful couples talk deeply before the wedding about their expectations of each other, and if there's serious disagreement - for example he wants kids, she doesn't - they think seriously about whether to marry. After the wedding, successful couples also talk regularly to check their expectations of married life. If those expectations clash, they keep communicating until they have understanding and agreement.
Secret 2: Successful Married Couples keep their individuality
However independent you were before, marriage has a habit of sucking you in to being a couple.
Particularly if the marriage involves children, your lives are increasingly tied up together day-to-day. The result is often feeling both dependent and depended on - as though you have someone constantly clinging to your ankles.
Successful couples know that, however much love there is, marriage can bring this trapped feeling. They encourage each other not to be always 'us', to take 'me' time, to have 'me' hobbies and even 'me' friends. This way, each partner brings individuality in to the marriage, keeping it fresh and alive.
Secret 3: Successful Married Couples keep each other centre stage
It's tempting, once married, to forget the little courtesies. When you were going out - and still trying - you remembered the little things, such as serving each other first, and remembered the big things like respectfully listening to each other.
Marriage can cause a sea of change and often you stop being courteous to each other, stop seeing each other as important and instead start putting other things - like work, hobbies or the children - first.
Successful couples always keep each other centre stage. They are interested in their partner's opinions. They take their partner seriously. They refer to their spouse in glowing terms when talking to other people. In short, they never take each other for granted and remember how lucky they are to be married.
Secret 4: Successful Married Couples learn to resolve conflicts
American psychologist John Gottman did a 20-year study of married couples and concluded that the main element that separated success from failure was whether they could resolve conflicts or not.
The bottom line is that unless the two of you are clones or doormats, there'll be times when you disagree and times when these disagreements cause pain. Sure, you shouldn't put up with addiction, violence or abuse. But if your partner simply wants something different from you or does something differently from you, you must resolve that.
Successful couples keep communicating, whatever the bad feeling between them. They negotiate differences and disagreements so that they both end up getting a fair deal. They smile and support each other rather than nag and whinge. They accept that sometimes, loving is more important than winning.
Secret 5: Successful Married Couples keep the lust alive
On your wedding night, you may rip each other's knickers off - but to be honest, in the years that follow, desire's going to dip. Plus, nowadays, marriage often coincides with the ultimate passion killer, the birth of your first baby.
Successful couples know that to keep lust alive, you need to actively prioritise lovemaking and make time and taking space for it. You need to make sure you're constantly updating your knowledge of each other's sexual needs, finding new ways to please each other.
Successful couples stay affectionate. If there's a sexual drought, they ride it out by flirting, touching, hugging, kissing and being romantic.
Secret 6: Successful Married Couples grow with each other
The bottom line is that the person you marry won't be the person you're still married to in ten years' time. You'll both change - particularly at crunch points in your lives such as starting a family, losing a parent or facing the empty nest.
Successful couples know that one or both partners will shift in personality at these times. It can feel as if the rules have changed; what it means is that you need to change in order to keep up with the changing relationship.
Successful couples anticipate shifts and ride with them. Rather than demanding they both stay the same forever, they welcome the natural developments of personality and partnership that happen with time.
Secret 7: Successful Married Couples keep working at it
The fact that you're married can make you rest on your laurels - as the years pass, you may feel that nothing can harm your bond.
But beware! Time and a false sense of security can erode even the strongest love. So successful couples take rain checks and keep having regular 'where are we at' conversations to make sure that they're both happy with the way things are going.
If one or both of you is discontented, then fix the problem. And don't fight shy of getting professional help. Successful couples don't wait until the divorce papers are signed before seeing a counsellor - they troubleshoot at the earliest possible moment.
Help for couples:
- Contact Relate on 0845 1 30 40 10 for a list of local counsellors.
- Or try Relate Direct, a new telephone counselling service on 0845 1 30 40 16.