My friend’s marriage celebration this weekend reminded me that I am a sucker for love. Blame it on the full time job as a licensed marriage and family therapist (or maybe the reason why I chose this career…). Marriages so often start on this beautiful, love soaked note with lofty promises of undying commitment. And then life happens, we face challenges, and the love sometimes fades. It doesn’t have to be this way. The “I Do” doesn’t have to morph into “I Don’t.”

In fact, my mission in life is to help people have more satisfying, life-long partnerships. So how do you have a marriage that lasts a lifetime? You avoid getting bogged down in what John Gottman calls the four housemen of the apocalypse. When they coming stomping in on a regular basis, your marriage becomes a ticking time bomb. Without professional help and a willingness to recommit and do things differently, it will end in divorce.

If Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and/or Stonewalling, are galloping into your relationship regularly, you’ll want to change that ASAP. This is a situation where I would recommend seeking out a qualified couples therapist. (I generally recommend seeking a MFT or LMFT due to extensive training and experience in couples counseling). If they clop through less regularly, then some preventive measures might be helpful.

Be Proactive in Your Marriage

One important preventative measure is responding to your partner’s attempt at connection. Unfortunately, those attempts at connection aren’t always made in ways that we’re ready to receive. For instance, my husband likes to tell me about articles that he’s reading when I’m engrossed in a book. Or he makes goofy Dad jokes (which I usually don’t find funny). But, because I know he’s making attempts at connection, I acknowledge these comments. I don’t criticize or ignore them. It’s one of the small ways that I invest in my marriage.

Another crucial component is having meaningful conversations. Sometimes we get stuck in the logistics—parenting, household tasks—and miss the important things. A good relationship is one with a solid friendship. Having conversations about each other’s day, employment and personal goals, dreams, and interests will keep you connected and your marriage strong.

Communication and conflict management are, of course, two big things. I hate to break it to you, but some things cannot be solved. One of you is an early bird, the other is chronically late. One is religious, the other is atheist. One is a neat freak, the other a slob. People don’t fundamentally change but we can learn to accept our partner for who they are and modify our own behavior and reactions to make this marriage salvageable.

That means that we don’t lay into our partner when we’re upset. We figure out what is bothering us, why it’s bother us, and take responsibility instead of place blame. We then communicate to our partner our wants and needs in a non-blaming way. It’s to figure out what are the underlying values that are at odds and to communicate those so that our partner has a chance to respond differently to us.

Avoid Going From “I Do” to “I Don’t”

You avoid going from “I do” to “I don’t” by committing to the relationship, your partner, and yourself on a daily basis. Marriage is an active commitment. That’s why people say that “marriage takes work.” You can’t just say “I do” and expect to “live happily ever after.” Life doesn’t work that way. But you can have an epic marriage that can last a lifetime. Keep tuning into the blog (and my facebook page) for help getting/staying on track.

Need more support? Feel free to reach out! I’d love to hear from you!