Have you ever been given a piece of advice that just stuck to you like glue and changed the way you thought, the way you lived?
We polled our friends and family here at iMOM.com to share the most important advice they’ve ever received or discovered on their own for a long and happy marriage. Here are some highlights from their shared wisdom and experience:
1. “Never, EVER throw around the D-word.” Some people use the mention or threat of divorce as leverage to try to shock their spouse into agreement or submission during conflict. The problem? Sometimes just the mention of divorce plants a seed that eventually leads to the real deal. So decide early on that this is an option that is completely off the table, and not even to be mentioned.
2. “Forget that 50-50 stuff. Try to out-serve your spouse.” Couples who get stuck in the bean-counting of trying to split all responsibility and work straight down the middle stay in some sort of angst that they’re going to be taken advantage of, or that things aren’t really “fair.” But lots of our friends with decades of coupledom behind them say that a great marriage looks more like 75-75—with both partners trying to go above and beyond to serve one another without counting the cost.
3. “Leave the past in the past.” You can’t change yesterday’s mistakes and conflicts. All you can do is try your best to deal with what’s on your plate as a couple today. So avoid the temptation to drag out the “Book of Blame” when you’re angry and begin reciting past transgressions. It heals nothing, and it drives a deeper wedge between you.
4. “Speak well of your spouse to others.” This seems to be especially important to men who have a need to feel respect from their wives and others, but it’s really important for both parties. When you bash your spouse to others—even in a joking way—you hurt feelings and lessen the respect others have for him…and you. Leave your problems at home, and seek opportunities to celebrate what he or she gets right. That positive reinforcement may encourage even greater displays of the good stuff!
5. “Be loyal, and know whose team you’re on.” One friend shared how early in his marriage an older, wiser man instructed him to always side with his wife over his parents. The older, wiser man? It was his father. Conflicts will arise in extended families, but the two of you have a relationship that is more important than any other. Stick together, advocate for one another—be a team.
6. “Keep dating…forever.” Countless couples who wind up in divorce court after 20-25 years of marriage speak of waking up one day to find that the kids—the thing that they’d both been focused on for years—left, leaving them to realize they had no common interests and no real relationship as a couple. Parenting is important, but it’s not more important than your marriage. Find ways to spend time alone together, even when the kids are small, so that when they leave you (and they will), your best friend will still be there.
7. “Adjust and adjust and adjust.” Life is a moving target. New challenges and opportunities walk into every couple’s life, and it will force you to make little changes along the way to meet one another’s needs. Rather than feeling upset or inconvenienced by these, anticipate them. You’ll be less overwhelmed when it’s time to tweak things to work well today.
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.