Here are nine steps to a happy marriage (or non-married relationship):
1. Worry about your own relationship. Couples can make the mistake of paying too much attention to what’s going on in the relationships around them, and making comparisons to how other people’s relationships function. What works for their relationship may not work for yours, and vice versa. Stick to what works for you and your partner, even if it seems to go against the grain of others.
2. No mind-reading. It can feel really good to have your partner read your mind in just the right way. When it happens, it’s incredibly validating, and it can make everything in your relationship seem right. However, when it doesn’t go this way (most likely the majority of the time), it ends up being frustrating and disappointing. Often people watch their relationships slowly crumble as they sit around frustratingly waiting for the non-communicated fantasy to come true, which leads to the inevitable explosion of, “You never do [these things] for me!” If you have something in mind, don’t wait around waiting for magic. Communicate what you want. It may not feel as good as having your mind read, but it will put you and your partner on the same page about your needs and desires.
3. Your partner has flaws — leave them alone. If you’re in a relationship with your partner, hopefully it’s because you love him/her despite the flaws. If your hope is to change your partner, perfect them, or prevent them from doing things you don’t approve of, you’re in for a rough, unhappy ride. People have this way of doing what they want to do. The trick is to be with someone whose flaws you can handle. Unless they’re doing something destructive to themselves, you, or your relationship, leave them be and accept their flaws as part of them.
4. Identify rituals. Couples (and families) tend to experience more unity and positivity when they have rituals. Rituals can be anything meaningful to the couple. Examples: going skiing at a different location every winter; having dinner together (or as a family) every night; movie night out every Friday; surprise date to each other once per month; going for a walk after dinner every night; etc. The possibilities for relationship rituals are endless.
5. Identify values. Relationships become quite complicated when both partners are trying to follow different value systems. While some values are likely to not align, hopefully the foundational values of your relationship are. Understand what works for your relationship, and see if you can compromise on the areas where your values differ.
6. Follow the argument rule. Inevitably, you’re going to find yourself in an argument at some point during your relationship. Hopefully not often, but they do happen, and it doesn’t mean your relationship is breaking apart. People have different approaches to arguments, but some are more destructive to the relationship than others. The best way out of an argument is to follow this rule: Stop. Keep this in mind — once in an argument, neither side is listening to the other side anymore. That’s what separates an argument from a conversation. Both are trying to outdo the other, and are trying to prove their point above the other. The only way out of an argument is to realize you’re in one, and then to stop. This doesn’t mean to stonewall your partner, which is a passive-aggressive behavior. Let them know that you want to take a break, and give your partner the last word so it’s more likely they’ll give you that break. You can always return to the conversation later when the emotions have cooled.
7. Sex is important. The reality is, sex is as important to your relationship as it is to the partner who wants it most. It doesn’t mean that the less-sexual partner needs to perform every time the other is in the mood. However, unless the more sexual partner is willingly prepared to not have sex, he/she will likely either get it somewhere else, or your relationship will begin to be chiseled at by sexual frustration — and it takes only one partner’s sexual frustration for this to happen. What this says is that if both partners don’t experience a similar level of drive, there needs to be a compromise. And compromises can vary — it doesn’t just mean that if the more-driven partner is in the mood ten times that the less-driven has to perform five times; it can involve compromises on the type of sex, or involving fantasies of different types as part of this compromise. Compromises can be creative. For example: “Okay, we can have sex only twice this month, but I’d like to role play then as a compromise.” In the end, both partners need to be satisfied. The less-driven needs to be able to opt out at times, and the more-driven needs to have some satisfaction at times, too. (And if you find yourself not wanting intimacy with your partner on a regular basis, this could also be a sign of something else happening in your relationship that needs to be worked out).
8. Listen to your partner. People don’t like the things they say to fall on deaf ears. So when your partner speaks to you, listen. Often what’s being said in some way communicates a relationship want or need. If you’re busy or aren’t in the mood to listen at that moment, let your partner know when a better time will be.
9. Be open to help. Even the best relationships take work and have their rough patches. Don’t be afraid of help. Admitting to needing help at times doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong relationship or that you’re doomed to breakup. It means you could use an objective person outside of the action to assess how to best bring things back on the right track. This a proactive step for the good of your relationship, and it’s much more likely to help faster than waiting around hoping that troubles resolve themselves.
Of course there are other things than these nine particular steps that may help your relationship function as a whole. But if you have these steps down, you’re likely doing well already. And remember, enjoy each other — you chose each other for a reason!