"Divorce-proofing is a daily, ongoing task," says Sharon Y. Ramsay, a Toronto-based marriage and family therapist. "It takes real work to make it for the long haul." But do you know what to focus on? Here are eight ways to make your marriage work for good.
1. Talk, and listen
Make sure to share your thoughts with each other, daily, if possible, and to take interest in each other's lives. "I am yet to consult with a couple who has not pointed to 'poor communication' as the source of their relationship woes," says Ramsay. Also, she adds, make sure to check in with your spouse to ensure that they're truly hearing what you're saying -- and that you're receiving and understanding right back. "This is a responsibility that both people share," Ramsay says.
2. Kiss goodbye and hello
"Hugs, kisses, quick squeezes, even holding one another's gaze are ways in which the couple can affirm their connection and commitment to one another," says Ramsay. Pausing for a hug and a kiss before you leave for work in the morning may seem like a small thing, but the warm glow it gives you is something to look back on all day.
3. Do fun activities together
Find a shared outside activity: Ballroom dancing, jogging, foreign films and gardening are some examples Ramsay suggests. They can help you both keep learning about each other, she says. "While these hobbies can seem frivolous, they can actually serve to remind the couple of what they have in common and encourage them to relate to one another as a real people."
4. Have independent lives
Don't live life glued together. Make sure to have your own hobbies, interests and friends on top of your shared activities; you'll maintain a sense of your own individual identity and have lots to talk about with your partner to boot. "Before we ever knew our spouse existed on the planet," says Ramsay, "we had dreams, ambitions and interests that probably contributed to us making that love connection." She suggests that both partners continue to pursue at least one independent hobby or activity in order to nourish both themselves and their relationship.
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5. Plan ahead
From parenting philosophies to thoughts on money to prioritizing goals and dreams, marriage means making plans together -- and the earlier, the better. Financial planning, for instance, says Ramsay, "can often be a deal-breaker in a marriage." Don't assume that your partner knows how you feel about important issues -- sit down and discuss them before they have the chance to become a problem.
6. Fight with a purpose
Handling conflict constructively is key. Ramsay recommends a three-point plan for making sure fights have a positive outcome. First, she says, acknowledge that every couple faces arguments, and that they're "not an indication that the relationship is doomed." Second, she says, "each person should examine their own contribution to the conflict and be prepared to own up to it." Finally, she adds, both partners have to be able to spell out what upset them and how they would like the problem to be resolved. "By having this level of clarity," Ramsay says, "the couple is then in a position to talk about what happened in a focused way."
7. Make time for intimacy
"Sex is really the culmination of all of the little things that are done throughout the day," Ramsay says, "a reminder of how much you enjoy your spouse." So, the more, the better, right? Well, it's not so simple. What is important is that you are meeting each other's needs for intimacy -- which means they need to be articulated, as well (see 1, above). And intimacy doesn't necessarily mean sex, per se. "The broader the couple's physical repertoire, the better," says Ramsay. This means that everything from kisses to cuddles to shared glances is game.
8. Focus on the positive
Sometimes, all it takes to brighten someone's mood is an honest compliment from someone he or she loves. One consequence of being part of a deeply committed relationship is trusting your partner's opinion, whether it's a compliment or a put-down. Don't take this power for granted. So if you think your partner looks cute in her new dress, say so -- and if you're not crazy about the shoes, keep your mouth shut. It's all about the greater good, after all.
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