Marriage gets a bum rap these days. Nothing scares people more than giving their full heart to someone, only to have it broken. But marriage isn’t all that difficult, really. Sure, there are ups and downs. And there are definitely situations in which it is best to throw in the towel and file for divorce. However, in my experience, those “throw in the towel” situations don’t happen as often as you’d think. And they would happen a lot less if people would follow these four simple rules.
1. Choose well.
I have been happily married for over twenty years. Occasionally, I run into someone who asks me how I have managed it. The first thing I always say is, “I chose well.” Choosing well is the most important start of any relationship that you hope will to lead to marriage. I met a man who became my best friend, and who makes me want to be a better person. He is kind, honest, and generous. He is not perfect, but he is a good person. If you can’t say the same about your partner, think twice about that wedding dress.
2. Laugh. A lot. About everything.
The value of laughter in relationships has been often researched and has been found to relieve stress and make us feel closer to others. People who laugh together and laugh often don’t just relieve each other’s stress. They laugh because life is absurd at times and it is good to know that someone else realizes it, too. If you are too serious, it’s indicative that you fear something. When you are afraid, the intimacy required to deeply connect with your partner may overwhelm you. So lighten up.
3. Choose togetherness over withdrawal.
Being happy over the long term does not mean constant euphoria. You will have dark days for any number of reasons – that’s just life. On those dark days, you will want to withdraw from your spouse. Time apart is good, you will think. But you will be wrong. Instead of withdrawing, choose togetherness instead. Talking your problems over with a supportive spouse will instantly make the problem shrink. Don’t deny yourself this easy fix. Over time, withdrawing can lead to the belief that your spouse can’t help you feel better. This false thought may lead you to make other marriage-wrecking choices, in your attempts to feel better.
4. Practice love.
According to Brené Brown, social work researcher and author of The Gifts of Imperfection (brenebrown.com) you can profess love, but if you don’t actively practice love through your behavior and actions, it is meaningless. A strong marriage requires that both people practice love. Practicing love means behaving in a way that makes your spouse feel loved and cared for. Don’t just expect your spouse to do kind, thoughtful things for you – make an effort to go out of you way to do kind things for him, too. Remember the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
These four rules are the building blocks of a loving relationship. There’s more complicated, comprehensive, and convoluted advice out there, of course. But my advice is to keep it simple. Before you know it, it’ll be your twentieth anniversary, too.