We all know the standard "never go to bed angry" rule, but what else does it take? We asked Sophie Keller, life coach and author of How Happy Is Your Marriage? 50 Great Tips to Make Your Relationship Last Forever (Harlequin, 2011) for her relationship advice, which includes many personal reflections and examples from her own life. "I took it all from my marriage," she confirms. "I just wrote what I knew."
Here are some highlights from Keller's keys to achieving wedded bliss.
1. Invest your time
Make it a priority to incorporate small changes into your own behaviour. Think of married life as a scenic road trip with many exciting detours and side trips along the way, rather than a race to the finish line. For example, when it comes to saying sorry, Keller recommends taking responsibility if you've upset your partner. "Apologize immediately and sincerely so you can both move happily on," she says.
Integrate this mantra over the course of several weeks or a month to seamlessly add it into your life together. Let your partner see you making these little efforts and improvements. If you lead by example you'll see how quickly the little things add up to hugely positive impacts on your marriage.
2. Eliminate the negative
Focus on what your marriage has going for it, rather than what it may be lacking. Do you and your spouse laugh together often? Do you have a strong track record of overcoming difficult times? Has your union resulted in happy, healthy children? "Keep in mind what you have," says Keller, "not what you don't have."
She also suggests eliminating certain phrases from your vocabulary, such as "I'm not good enough" or "Why would (they) want to stay with me." Phrases like these only hold us back. Not sure where to start? Emphasize the positive, as Keller does in her own day-to-day vocabulary: "I never use the word ‘failure'; I always use the word ‘feedback.' I don't believe in failure. It's all a process."
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3. Wise counsel
Although it is important to be emotionally close and to "share deeply" with your spouse, you should never allow yourself to fall into the role of therapist to your partner -- and conversely, never force them into playing that role for you. As Keller writes, "If you become your partner's shrink, the relationship can easily turn from one between lovers to a parent-child dynamic...hardly beneficial for your sex life!"
Lend your support by letting your spouse know that you love him unconditionally, but leave the in-depth psychoanalysis to a professional.
4. Work smarter, not harder
Just as our mothers and grandmothers did before us, many women still struggle with finding balance in their lives. "As women, our energy is always being spread thin. How do we have time for ourselves, time for work, time for our partners, time for our children? And the answer to that is to identify what is most important to us, and make that the priority." The fundamentals apply just as well in 1950 as they do today, avows Keller: "When I talk about happiness, I'm talking about a state of being. Happiness comes from within, now, a hundred years ago, or 300 years ago. Whatever you emanate, you draw back to you."
5. Communicate on the same level
Sometimes we fall into modes of communication that are counter-productive to actually being heard and understood. Keller advocates being constantly mindful of the way you speak to your partner, using the uncritical "You could" instead of the more critical "You should" when bringing up important issues or touchy subjects with your partner.
"If you say ‘You should,' you are going into parent mode and forcing them to go into child mode. If you stay adult, they'll stay adult." Communicating on the same level gives you a much better chance of actually resolving the issue rather than escalating it. And savour the power that comes with being a better communicator: "The person with the most flexibility runs the relationship system. So remember that you're in charge! You're going to make the communication great."
So whether you're concerned that your marriage has grown stale, you feel that you've temporarily grown apart from your significant other, or even if you've achieved a balanced state of evolving and growing together, it's important to seek and gather tips like those that Keller offers. Remember that marriage is a constant work in progress: building that bridge to long-lasting happiness.
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