Commitment – True commitment means much more than simply committing to staying married. Here’s one of my favorite quotes about marriage: “When you marry, you don’t marry one person, you marry three: The person you think he is; the person he really is; and the person he is going to become as a result of marrying you.”

Key strategy: Genuine commitment involves being committed to the growth and best interest of your partner.

Teamwork – There was once a couple who went by the name of Mr. Neat and Ms. Clean. Mr. Neat could bathe in a shower full of soap scum and not mind at all as long as the towels and soap were neat and in their place. Ms. Clean could have piles and piles of stuff scattered everywhere, as long as the piles were clean. This couple can have either a very neat and clean home or a real mess on their hands, depending on their ability to work together as a team.

Key strategy: Use the five most important words in marriage: “Let’s try it your way.”

Communication – Every couple struggles with effective communication. Part of the reason is that two people with the exact same communication style rarely marry each other. We oftentimes misunderstand what the other person is saying and then react to what we think we have heard.

Key strategy: Try saying “Let me see if I understand what you are saying.”

Meeting emotional needs – Spouses rarely have the same emotional needs. What happens is that each of us give what we would most like to get, but the other person may not want that at all.

Key strategy: Discover and then meet the emotional needs of your partner. How? Simple. Just ask!

Resolving conflict – Conflict in marriage is inevitable. Fighting is optional. Many times you have a choice: You can be right or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.

Key strategy: Stay away from “my way” or “your way” battles. Focus on “our way” solutions.

Apology and forgiveness – After a conflict, or a fight, a sincere apology will go a long way toward finding the will for forgiveness.

Key strategy: On a regular basis, apologize for something from the past, appreciate something in the present and anticipate something in the future.

Creating a relationship vision – Most couples spend more time planning a three-day getaway than they do planning what kind of marriage they would like to have. Vision has been defined as “the ability to see beyond the probable by envisioning the possible…”

Key strategy: Ask yourself and each other this question: “If we knew we couldn’t fail, and we could design our relationship any way that we wanted it, how would we like it to be?”

Jeff Herring, MS, LMFT, is a marriage and family therapist.

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