No doubt about it, marriage can be an incredibly stressful thing and it almost always requires a great deal of patience and compromise to make it work long term.  But, if you and your partner are willing to put in the work, it can prove to be the most rewarding relationship in your life!

Here are some pointers to get you started on a long, happy and (relatively) stress -free marriage.

Communicate

This is a biggie.  I know it’s easier said than done, maybe you feel like you just can’t open up to your partner anymore, that the intimacy has gone, well that may be so, but you can get it back if you’re both willing to try, here are a few strategies to help:

First off, let go of any past resentments or feelings of anger that you may have. You can’t even begin to work on the present if you’re still stuck in the past, and raising old issues and arguments will likely make your partner more defensive and closed to communication from the get-go.  If your partner is having trouble letting go of past issues, choose a time when you think he/she is most receptive and gently raise the topic, it may not go smoothly at first but letting go of the past is key to making a future together.

Address any current hurt feelings and anger from the perspective of how it has affected you, not from how you think it reflects on your partner’s character.  For example, you can say something like, ‘that thing you said really hurt my feelings and made me sad’, instead of, ‘you’re a hurtful, cruel b*st*rd!’ You’ll be surprised at just how effective this strategy is at keeping the lid on potential conflict.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Set aside a regular time to talk each week about whatever is bothering you both, be it money troubles, the kids, or work issues.  Try to solve the issues together and listen to your partner’s perspective on things even if you don’t agree. Most importantly try not to blame each other for any problems you may be facing.  realize that facing your problems as a team is so much more effective than playing the blame game.

This time is not to be confused with date time.

Have a time out rule

I know this is supposed to be for kids but we adults can use it to great effect too.  If you and your partner fight frequently pre-arranged time outs are a great way to get things under control.  Raise the idea during your regular talk time (see above) and pre-arrange verbal cues for a time out the next time either of you feel like an argument is getting out of hand.   For example: Either one of you can say ‘I need a break’ or, ‘I’m too upset right now. Let’s talk about this later’ and be allowed to walk away from the conflict until things become calmer.  As long as you have an agreement upfront, you can legitimately remind your partner should he or she forget in the heat of the moment.

Eat dinner together

This is a big one for me.  It is a really simple thing that any couple can do to help bring them closer together.  I know it isn’t always easy but try to plan at least 3 dinners a week together. If you have kids, cook for them first a couple of times a week and have dinner later when they are playing in their rooms or asleep.  It helps if you can prepare dinner together too, but if you’re both frazzled and the only option is take-out, so be it.

Schedule date time

Dinner together at home does count but if you can swing it, it’s often better to go out of the house for a date, particularly if you have young kids.  Try to make a date with each other at least once a month, more if possible, and take turns deciding what to do.

Schedule time apart

Just as spending time together is crucial to help a relationship stay intimate, so ironically, is spending time apart.  We all get fed up of seeing the same person day in, day out, but if we arrange to spend time with friends, alone, or doing a hobby at least once every couple of weeks, we can give each other some breathing space and prevent possible feelings of being trapped in a marriage.

Seek counseling, if necessary

If you feel like your marriage has reached a point where the two of you can’t fix it without outside help, there is nothing wrong with seeking counseling, either alone or as a couple.  I would suggest individual counseling for one or both partners as the first option. Quite often that is all that’s needed. Ask at community centers, churches, non-profit medical centers or community groups if your health insurance doesn’t provide coverage.

I hope this helps.

Jennifer