All you need is love, right? Well, not quite. While undying love is essential to a happy, healthy marriage, every strong relationship also requires some hard work. Because life isn’t always easy—in fact, it can get pretty messy. That being said, there are proactive measures couples can take to keep their marriage alive, even despite potential threats, obstacles, and difficulties that may arise. Simply follow the the advice of Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Bina Bird:
1) Plan fun outings.
Bird’s first tip is to simply continue doing fun things together. Many times, married couples stop prioritizing time with each other or get caught up in busy schedules that center around work and other family obligations. But it’s incredibly important to make time for your partner, and to better yet, make that time fun. “Continue to go on dates,” says Bird. “Taking turns to plan a date night each week or each month can help keep things fresh and new. In planning the date night, set some guidelines such as it has to be a new place or a new activity.”
2) Have couple meetings.
Another key to maintaining a happy, healthy marriage, according to Bird, is allotting time to talk about your relationship: “We’ve all heard of family meetings, but I encourage my clients to have couple meetings. This can be a set time each week for couples to take time to really talk to each other about how each of them feels about how the relationship is going. It is a time to talk about what is going well in the relationship, but also a time to safely bring up any concerns or issues that they need to discuss. This helps set a culture in the relationship where it is safe and okay to bring up issues so they can be addressed, rather than a culture of avoidance, which can lead to resentment.”
3) Set ground rules for handling conflict.
Bird says it’s incredibly important to handle conflict effectively: “Name-calling, walking out, and belittling your partner are all major no-no’s, and if they become a pattern, can be harmful to a relationship. Talk to each other about how you will signal to each other that a discussion is escalating and that it is time to take a break or a time-out to avoid hurtful things being said. Some couples will have a code word or phrase. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just that you both know what it is and respect what it means. By being able to take breaks before conflicts escalate, you’ll be in a better position to not do damage to the relationship by saying hurtful things. During conflicts, when people get escalated, they are no longer able to use their thinking brain, but instead go into fight or flight mode, which means that the conflict can’t be resolved anyway. So, it is better to take a break and calm down and then come back to the issue later.
4) Look for the good in each other.
Bird’s final tip is to make the conscious effort to see the good in your partner and to even communicate those positives to them. “Unfortunately our brains are wired to notice negative much more than positive, so it is easy to notice negative behaviors in our partners,” she explains. “One thing you can do to counteract this is to try and intentionally notice a positive action or personality trait of your partner each day. And then, one step further would be to tell your partner what you notice and appreciate about them. For example, that you appreciate them taking the time out of their day to surprise you at work with lunch”