According to Kristin Canning, Marriage isn’t an exact science, but some people study it for a living. These psychologists, therapists and counsellors get paid to watch and analyse couples—and at the end of the day, they use what they’ve observed in the field to help their own unions stick at home. Searching for some solid matrimony advice? Steal these proven secrets:
1. Make it your top priority: “The marriage is number one, the children are number two, and work is number three. If you make marriage number one, your children will do better and you won’t have to spend that much time managing them—and you’ll be more productive at work. But if you reverse those priorities, nothing works. Make it first. Make it top.” – Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., co-author (with his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt) of Making Marriage Simple, married 32 years.
2. Reassess your needs: “The 7-year itch is real. The problem is that whatever you needed at year one, you don’t need any more, primarily because the other person’s done a good job at filling that hole. When your needs change, ask each other what three things you could be doing differently. It’s not 30 things—it’s three things, and they are concrete as heck. Like, I want sex at least twice a week. I want you to help out with the kids more. And then I’m going to work on your three things and you’re going to work on mine.” – Robert Taibbi, L.C.S.W., author of Doing Couple Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Work with Intimate Partners, married 8 years.
3. Play with your partner: “See your relationship as an adventure that’s constantly unfolding, rather than something you’ve achieved. It’s something you continue to invest in over time. Lasting couples often have rituals—things they do on repeat, sometimes on a weekly or yearly basis—that remind them of the importance of their relationship. Part of that is play, and having a playful sexual relationship. Those positive emotions bring you resources.” – James Furrow, Ph.D., professor of marital and family therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary, married 32 years.
4. But don’t keep score: “People often evaluate their relationships with a bookkeeping or justice model, and that really says, ‘I don’t need to do something for my partner unless my partner is doing stuff for me.’ Well, it turns out this works just fine as long as nobody makes a mistake. I try to use a grace model: I want to give my partner grace or mercy when they make a mistake, and I don’t want to keep score; I want to bless my partner regardless. Those blessings come back—not in a reciprocal way, but just because you’ve created an environment where both people are out to really elevate the other person.” – Everett Worthington, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, married 44 years.
5. And don’t zip your lips: “What’s done is done. Talking about it isn’t going to change what happened—but it can relieve the person of some of the suffering. By expressing it, it’s not being withheld and turning into some kind of physical or somatic problem.” – Charlie Bloom, M.S.W., co-author (with his wife, Linda Bloom) of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married, married 42 years
6. Remember why you got married: “What was it that you liked to do when you first met that you liked about each other? Traveling, going on a picnic, going for a bike ride together? Do more of that.” – Mark E. Young, Ph.D., professor of counsellor education, University of Central Florida Marriage and Family Institute, married 43 years.
7. Forget ifs and buts: “You have to be tolerant and you have to be accepting. People have expectations of who they want their partner to be rather than allowing them to be themselves. To accept them for who they are is to love them for who they are. You can’t have conditions under which you will love your partner.” – Allan Pleaner, M.F.T., married 26 years.
8. Cash in compliments: “My wife and I often tell each other how thankful we are for the things we do for one another, and when you’re appreciated and acknowledged for things, it only makes you want to do it more. That’s sustained our relationship, even when there are rough times. Every couple goes through rough times, and you have to have emotional money in the bank to get through them.” – John W. Jacobs, M.D., author of All You Need is Love and Other Lies about Marriage, married 30 years.