There’s nothing wrong with you if you reach the age called “marriage o’clock,” and you’re still not married. It’s complex finding someone and getting that relationship to the altar and beyond. I’m no marriage expert, but I’m in a happy marriage with our seventh anniversary around the corner. My parents are in one, too: their 43rd anniversary just passed. The effort to make it work and the problems we have and those we’ve worked through have led me to a few thoughts on what you can do to make your relationship a little more weather-proof. In order to make a couple survive, you must put it ahead of self. Love or destiny or fate simply won’t carry you. If a relationship is a nation, then it’s patriotic to do selfless things that will help the relationship, such as:
1. Know that the grass ain’t greener
Don’t look at other couples and think they have it all together while you and your mate don’t. That’ll just make you feel bad about your relationship and drag you down. Those smiling people who look like they have it all do have it all — including problems. You just have no idea what they are. And don’t look at individuals you’re not with and think you could have a better relationship with them. It’s easy to fantasize that the sexy acquaintance with whom you have a buzzy rapport with would make a hot, fun, trouble-free girlfriend, but she’s just someone whose problems you don’t know yet. Love the one you’re with, and work through the problems you know.
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2. Fight fair!
Every relationship will run into potholes, but the difference between a lasting one and one that runs aground can be the nature of how you fight. Are you using those heavy conversations to work on resolving problems or dumping negative emotion and resentment onto your partner? Fighting fair means those difficult conversations can be more productive and probably last less time. How can you do that? Many thoughts. First, constrain yourself to the specific disagreement and the particular moment you’re disagreeing about. Don’t make it into a referendum on your entire relationship and start linking to other issues you have. Don’t bring up old fights or points of disagreement. Avoid words like always and never which make the problem impossible to address. The more you can segregate each conflict, the more productive the conversation can be.
Every good couple knows how to push each other’s buttons and when your partner makes you mad you mash their buttons to get them back. Work hard at not doing this. It’s easy to agree to when you’re happy and easy to give in to the temptation of when you’re mad. Restrain yourself. It’s horrible for the couple.
Avoid with all your might escalating the conflict. A couple will be discussing something at one tone and then someone will say something — a curse word or a diss or a nasty generalization or an aggressive, leading string of words like “What’s your problem?” or anything said in a tone that raises the anger and the stakes. Any of that elevates the interaction to another level of acrimony. Don’t be an escalator. When couples fight there’s no possibility of an individual winner. Either the couple grows stronger or it doesn’t.
Also, grudges are like relationship tumors so develop couples’ amnesia, i.e., after you address the problem try to forget about it. I was out to dinner with my parents a few weeks ago and my dad said something that really annoyed my mom but within two minutes she had forgotten it and was laughing with him about something else. I’ve seen him do that for her before. Their relationship amnesia helps make sure their good times are not ruined by one wrong note. That’s healthier than holding on to grievances or keeping a running tab of them.
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3. Be good, giving and game
That’s what Dan Savage says each member of a couple owes the other in the bedroom. Be good — talented at sexual techniques or at least enthusiastic and eager to learn. Be giving — selfless and looking to please. And be game — up for anything. A skilled partner who’s generous and willing to explore new ideas is worth their weight in gold. I have definitely had relationships where quality in the bedroom made me far more willing to deal with problems outside the bedroom. It’s not a get out if jail free card, but it can make it clearer what you’re fighting for.
4. Never stop flirting
You can never look at the relationship as settled — it’s something you have to always work at. Not just in terms of always trying to be a better partner but always flirting with your partner and chasing them and courting them as you did when you could count the number of dates you’d had on your fingers. Keep flirting. Keep winning them over.
5. Find mentors
Everyone knows the value of mentors in business but what about in romance? It’s extremely valuable having an older couple to talk to about the problems you’re having which they’ve probably already had. One thing you’ll find is that in some ways you’re pretty much going through the same relationship they went through. This is comforting because it lets you know most people aren’t any happier than you are. If you know that, then you might as well stay and fight for in the relationship you’re in.