by Gideon

November 20, 2018

To make your marriage last is a lot like baking a good cake: the outcome is 70% the quality of the ingredients, 25% the skill of the baker, and 5% luck. Looking at it like that, you realise that most of the requirements for a long and happy marriage are within your control. In fact, YOU and your partner are the only ones that determine how your marriage turns out. It, therefore, pays to work at keeping your relationship healthy.

But, how do you do that?

What are the best ways to make your marriage last?

I’ll share with you a few ideas that I’ve come across in my relationship coaching work with clients that you need to pay attention to.

These focus specifically on helping you and your spouse manage relationship conflicts, financial issues, and family dynamics as they tend to be at the heart of most marital issues or unhappiness.

Let’s briefly look at each of them to help you make your marriage last.

Nurture Your Relationship 

Maintain realistic expectations.

Having unrealistic expectations of your spouse is one of the most unhelpful and destructive things in any marriage.

Why is that?

Because it sets YOU up as the expected standard our partner has to live up to in order to be OK.

I’ve seen it so many times – unrealistic expectations of one spouse for another, are usually a reflection of the standards or expectations they hold themselves accountable to.

So, for example, if being super fit is an expectation I have of myself, I can very easily turn it into an unrealistic expectation I have of my spouse as well – whether it’s important to them or not.

When we have unrealistic expectations of our spouse, it usually comes across as me being superior to you, and I demand you living up to the standards I prescribe for right living and being.

Living with that yoke will eventually rob a marriage of its joy, happiness and love.

It will essentially, eventually, become a relationship where one has to constantly prove to the other that they are somehow worthy of love, acceptance, and affection.

Unrealistic expectations of your partner is a sure recipe for disaster in marriage.

You are setting yourself up as superior to your spouse – better than them – and most people won’t be OK with this long-term.

Your marriage will pay the price at some point and in some way.

Focus on the good qualities that your spouse possesses.

Let’s make something very clear – YOU are not perfect.

Neither am I.

Neither is your spouse.

So it’s time to get over yourself and accept your partner in life for who they are.

You chose to be with them – so stop trying to change them.

Moreover, start celebrating the good qualities they possess.

Look, your spouse will have habits that annoy you, but happy couples focus on the things they like about each other.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with that or not, it’s still true.

Happy couples consistently focus on the things they like about each other by focusing on the good qualities their spouses possess, rather than constantly pointing out or being disappointed with all the ways their partners fall short.

If you want to make your marriage last, you have to learn to overlook minor irritations, like leaving the cap off the toothpaste and pay attention to qualities that matter more, like integrity and kindness. 

There are some things that simply do not matter.

The sooner you learn the difference between the things that don’t in the things that do, the bigger the chance you have to be happy.

Express your appreciation for your spouse.

This one follows on from the previous – be generous and specific about praising your spouse.

For example, let your husband know if he made a busy week less stressful by volunteering to do the grocery shopping without you.

Tell your wife when you really appreciated something specific they did or said that made you feel or deal with something better.

They need to hear it as much as you need to express it.

Show your affection.

This one goes beyond just expressing (verbally) your appreciation for your spouse.

This is about showing your affection.

Sometimes our words are not enough – and we need to show our love and affection through our actions specifically.

It’s important if you want to make a marriage last to keep connected through frequent gestures of affection.

Especially the longer you are married.

Get in the routine of using gestures of affection as a common way to express affection.

For example, greet each other with a kiss or a hug before you leave and after you get back home.

Or, always kiss each other good night when you go to bed.

Or, while cooking dinner together, put some music on and dance in the kitchen.

Frequent gestures of affection are food for your marriage.

When you don’t have this anymore, your marriage becomes stale and it’s also very evident.

Be supportive.

This particular idea deserves its own article or book.

Feeling validated and supported is one of the most important benefits of marriage for many people.

Because even though you can’t always solve each other’s problems, you can ALWAYS be a good listener and reassure your spouse that you care. 

One of the most common complaints we hear from couples (especially women) is that they are lonely even though they are married.

Married but lonely.

It’s such an easy thing to fix, yet so many are struggling with it.

In fact, I wrote a whole article on this a while back which you can read here.

In that article, I point out that there are more than 1000 searches per month on Google for the phrase “loneliness in marriage.”

If you want to make your marriage last, you need to make sure your spouse feels supported by YOU at all times.

The moment they start feeling that you are the one they need to prove themselves to you, earn your love and respect or they are scared shitless to fail you, you’ve lost.

Your marriage is most like already paying the price.

So ask yourself,

What can I do for my partner to feel my unconditional love and support at all times?

Now, before some of you write to me saying, “but what if I don’t support some of the things my partner does?” let me just make it very clear –

Supporting your partner does NOT mean you support everything they do or say.

It does mean, however, they always feel you are their biggest fan.

And even when you disagree with them, you do it in such a way that they still feel your support, love, and respect (as a person and as your spouse).

You don’t break them down.

Address conflicts constructively.

So many couples I work with struggle to create healthy relationships because they have very poor conflict resolution strategies.

Conflict is part of life.

It is part of relationships.

But, the issue is not whether we have conflict or not, but rather how we have conflict.

It’s about HOW we fight, not that we fight.

People will always disagree because we are different from one another.

But if you want to make your marriage last, you will have to learn how to address conflicts constructively.

If every issue or disagreement turns into a potential spark that sets the massive conflict in motion, you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long run.

So how can we deal with conflict more constructively?

The first and simplest thing to do, in my opinion, is to learn how to practice patience with one another.

Now, this isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely always necessary.

And part of learning how to practice patience with one another is realising our own flaws and fallibility.

We are more inclined to treat others with some leniency when we realise our own potential for messing up.

And when we do that it makes us much more open to look for constructive solutions together, rather than break our spouse down for failing us in some way or another.

Practising patience with one another also requires that you have to find ways to defuse your anger so that it doesn’t sabotage your relationship. 

One of the simplest and easiest ways to do that is using timeouts.

It is virtually impossible to have a rational and constructive conversation when emotions are loaded.

And the only thing that seems to work in those moments is to take a break, calm down, and come back to the table when both are ready to listen and resolve the issue.

Maintain your own identity.

Just because you are married doesn’t mean you’ve become the same person.

You are still a unique individual.

It is therefore important to maintain your uniqueness by celebrating and feeding it.

How do you do that?

For a start, maintain your own friends and interests.

Doing this will help you feel more interesting and actually make your marriage last by making it stronger in the long run.

Manage Your Finances 

One of the topics many couples fight about constantly is finances.

It seems that money brings out the best and worst in us all.

If you’re someone who is already charitable, it gives you the means to give even more.

Conversely, if you’re a prick, it gives you the meaning to be an even bigger one.

In the context of relationships, however, it tends to become a real source of conflict between spouses, especially if they have different values around money.

I’ve worked with couples where one spouse had one set of beliefs around saving while the other leaned towards spending.

Naturally, this led to quite a few disagreements and distress in the relationship.

To make your marriage last, the topic of finances will most likely come up at some point or another.

So, what is a helpful way to think about finances as a couple and in marriage?

I think there are three main things to consider.

Firstly,

Find your comfort level with merging your finances.

My wife and I have various accounts, but our main one is a joint account.

And we are very comfortable with this.

We both know what comes in and what goes out.

On the one level, it makes it easy to track our income and outgoings, but on another level, it provides a sense of unity.

And this sense of unity where one doesn’t have to look in the other’s eyes for an income, should not be overestimated.

If you’re the one with income and you lord it over your spouse, trust me when I say that you’re spouse does not feel good about it.

But, in saying that, even though joint accounts make sense for many couples, it really comes down to finding the arrangement that suits you best.

You may want to share your primary accounts and keep some funds separate to spend on your own.

It’s really up to you and should be something you negotiate as a couple.

As long as your arrangement is one that both of you buy into and support.

Otherwise, it will become a source of conflict over time.

Secondly,

Keep your debt under control.

Debt can become more than just a financial burden – it can also become an emotional one.

Whenever you live under the constant shadow of excessive debt, it can very easily start putting a massive strain on your relationship and happiness.

The easiest way to deal with this, if possible, is to try and live within your means.

As people, we are easily sucked into spending more than we can afford as well as truly need.

Here in New Zealand, we are constantly bombarded with sales and discounts.

But as one of our friends used to say, even discounts cost money.

However, if your partner has substantial pre-existing debts, you will probably need a little bit more than just living within your means.

In that instance, you may want to make a formal plan to pay back the debt or even sign a prenuptial agreement to keep things safe and tidy.

Thirdly,

Stick to a budget.

This one leads on from the previous point of keeping your debt under control.

Debt is usually the consequence of living beyond your means, or in some cases, bad (unlucky) financial decisions at some point.

This goes especially for the major expenses we sometimes undergo in life, like buying a house or a new car.

So, as a couple, it is important to approach these major decisions about spending, saving, and investing together, before rather than after.

Now, I appreciate that we all have different priorities, but to make your marriage last it is important to be respectful of each other’s preferences for expensive electronics or weekly manicures.

If you cannot afford it right now, or there is no room for it in your current plan, it is probably best left in the interim.

Deal With Family Issues 

The third major source of conflict for many couples I’ve worked with within relationship coaching is one of family (immediate and extended).

And again, there are three common areas of conflict when it comes to families.

Firstly,

Chores: share the responsibility for parenting and housework.

A major source of conflict for many couples is what is called the “division of chores.”

Couples oftentimes disagree on who supposed to do what, and how much.

We tend to come into our marriages with preset ideas around gender and spousal roles.

When those ideas and are clashing, we are left with many potential triggers for conflict and unhappiness.

If you want to make your marriage last it is extremely important to go through a process with your spouse where you clarify the division of chores and responsibilities – especially around parenting and housework.

However, if this is not clarified and never discussed, there is a very big likelihood that someone in your marriage will feel done by the current arrangement.

They will most likely feel that they are doing the majority of the work while the other is slacking.

This then leads to frustration, irritability, anger, and eventual outbursts.

In the end, pitching in with the household chores will bring you closer together than the occasional candlelight dinner, but you will have to plan for this to happen rather than hope it’ll work out that way.

Both partners have a contribution to make when it comes to children and housekeeping, but it’s your job to clarify what those are.

Secondly,

Agree on your expectations and discipline for your children.

As a parent of two, I can tell you that children learn very quickly the game of divide and conquer.

If you and your partner are not functioning as a unit, and agree on your expectations and discipline for your children, they will exploit that.

It is much better for your children’s well-being if both parents provide consistent guidance, but that’s only possible when you’re on the same page as parents.

And that however requires (and implies) a healthy relationship between you and your spouse.

The issue isn’t whether you always get it right, or whether your rules are correct are not – you can always make exceptions or changes later on – what is important, however, is that you act together. 

Thirdly,

Work at getting along with your in-laws.

This is a big one for many couples.

The unfortunate truth for most married couples is that you do actually marry the family of your spouse.

It comes as part of the package.

And if you want to make a marriage last you will have to find a way to put your long-term harmony above short-term, relatively petty disputes.

Again, I’ve worked with couples where the in-laws played a major role in upsetting the harmony of a couple’s marriage.

And some families don’t do this in very obvious ways, but more often, use subtle means to poison relationships over time.

And unless you put healthy boundaries in place to manage these relationships with extended family, they can end up becoming a major disruption in your marriage.

So, if there is a serious matter that affects your children’s welfare or your own peace of mind, it’s usually most effective for your spouse to approach their own parents directly – and you yours.

Do not expect your spouse to deal with your parents – that is your responsibility.

And yes, I appreciate that you might not have had this type of relationship with your parents in the past where you said “no” or disobeyed them, but the happiness of your marriage depends on it.

If your mother is constantly undermining your husband when it comes to the kids, for example, it is your responsibility to step up and say something to her.

It is also crucial that you side with your husband and not your mum in that instance – not doing so will hurt your relationship with your husband in ways you cannot imagine.

You can always have a conversation with him later on, but it’s vitally important for him to feel that you have his back and you are functioning as a unit – especially when it comes to your parents.

And vice versa of course.

Not doing so will make it very difficult for you to make your marriage last.

Take Away

It is a proven fact that a happy marriage adds so much to your happiness and quality of your life and makes all the time and effort you invest worthwhile.

However, it still requires some work on your part.

Getting married is easy, but to make your marriage last is hard work.

Granted, it is enjoyable work most of the time but still demands effort on your part.

If you want to make your marriage last, in my opinion, taking the time to nurture your relationship with your spouse, having clarity and strategies relating to finances, and having healthy and consistent boundaries in place when it comes to extended family, will give you a great headstart.

I’d love to hear from you.

Also, share this with someone!

Live and love fully my Friend!

About the author 

Gideon

Gideon is the Owner of The Relationship Guy, a top-100 marriage advice blog that helps married couples create happier relationships. He is a trained professional counsellor (DipProfCouns., DipMSHT.), has been happily married for over fifteen years and is a dad of two.​ He also holds Bachelor and Master degrees in the field of Theology and is currently studying Psychology at Massey University (New Zealand).

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