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Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

A student approached me this past Valentines’ Day to tell me that she had decided to get married. She wanted some advice. After forty years of marriage and thirty years helping couples, I’ve come up with a few rules that seem to work. No one person can guarantee a successful marriage, but two people with the right mindset can work wonders. Marital satisfaction is all about your attitude. Here are ten key concepts that can bolster a proper attitude and help you form a mindset that best ensures a successful marriage.

1. Problems Are Opportunities

When two people build their lives together, they remain two people. As a couple you will always have differences and disagreements. However, differences do not make problems, it is the attitude towards the differences that creates problems. When one person’s issues become problematic in the relationship it can be an opportunity to learn about and understand the depths of that partner’s emotions and history. The best way to bond in a relationship is by helping your partner deal with his or her issues through understanding and compassion.

2. Caring for Yourself Isn't Selfish

A strong relationship can survive even serious illness, but it might not survive self-neglect. As you care for yourself physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally you become more mature and you can contribute to a more mature and fully bloomed intimate relationship. Strive to become a more interesting person, and if you need any convincing about this - imagine how it would feel if you cared for somebody who neglected him or herself; that would ruin the relationship over time.

3. Infatuation Is Good but It's Not What You See in the Movies

Let’s face it; falling in love is fun, but you can't build a really good relationship on infatuation alone.

Marriage is about life, and life also includes all those things that we don’t really like. Yes, it is important to keep the spark alive, but you cannot expect it to remain a burning fire for life. Strive for a mature love that's based on shared experiences, meeting challenges together and appreciating the full range of each other’s qualities.

4. Intimacy Is the Key - Not Sex

When I ask my students to define intimacy, at least a third of them think sex. I tell them that although I have been happily married for over 40 years, as a therapist, hundreds of women have been intimate with me - you should see their faces.

I then define intimacy: It is the ability to open up your soft spots without the fear of getting hurt, and it can be intellectual, emotional or physical.

  • With a good teacher, you are not afraid to show that you do not understand something because she will be supportive and won’t insult you – intellectual intimacy.
  • With a good therapist, you can share your fears, embarrassments, anxieties, etc. and expect to be supported and understood – emotional intimacy.

A marriage needs work in all three areas. When your partner shares a difficulty or a fault, it is important to view it as his or her struggle to overcome and that your job is to support that struggle.

5. Relationships Have a Life of Their Own

One of the toughest things for young couples to imagine is what marriage will be like after many years. This should not be surprising; can an eight year old imagine what it is like to be 18?

In fact, you should not want your marriage to be static and unchanging, since nothing in life ever stays the same.

  • If you have children, they grow and present new challenges.
  • If you have grandchildren, sharing those pleasures and problems has its own special effects on your marriage.
  • When your spouse decides to take on a new job, career, or hobby, your relationship will grow and mature.

A mature relationship looks and feels different than a young relationship - and achieving one is very satisfying.

6. You Can’t Change Your Spouse

You have probably heard this a million times but one more reminder won't hurt - nothing you can do can force your spouse to become your dream partner. It takes enough effort to change and better yourself; that is all you can do. Unfortunately, any efforts to change your spouse will almost certainly backfire. Even if he or she does change because of your cajoling, resentment is likely to creep in and poison the relationship.

7. Make Marriage a Priority

Your “to do” list can get very long, and projects may take on a life of their own. Your work and career may be important, but they should exist to serve your significant relationship. Keep your marriage on the top of the priority list. Making money, children, extended family and social relationships can take up so much time that there’s little room for the marriage. When marriage gets pushed back, you need to redouble your commitment to the marriage and dedicate time for that special date or fun excursion.

This is true even when you are working on a project together. While working on projects and meeting challenges together is essential for a good marriage, it must be balanced with fun, excitement and romance.

8. Forgiveness and Gratitude Makes for a Happier Marriage

In the past 15 years there has been a huge amount of psychological research into the benefits of forgiving and expressing gratitude. The acts of forgiving and expressing gratitude are 2 foundations for a person’s sense of well-being. In other words, when you make it a habit to forgive your spouse and thank her or him on a regular basis, it does wonders for your own health and creates an upward cycle of positivity that will permeate your marital relationship.

9. Work on the Sanctity of Your Marriage

Sanctity means that outside influences will not damage your marriage. A good spouse is hard to find, and being a good person increases the possibility that someone else will be desirous. It takes effort to protect your marriage from the outside world. There is currently a debate on whether men and women can actually remain “just friends.” While it might be possible, it is dangerous to have a heterosexual friendship, even platonic, that is not part of the marriage.

In addition, it is important to not let family dictate the atmosphere of your marriage. Relatives might want to “help” by telling you how to behave in your marriage. You need to set healthy boundaries with friends and family members.

Try to continue learning about relationships - in a recent study, it was shown that couples who watch romantic movies together and discuss them afterwards have healthier marriages.

10. Focus on What You Have

People tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side. Even if sometimes it is greener, in marriage, the pursuit of the greener will wilt your side.

Consider the pitfalls - that gorgeous, sweet, compassionate, passionate person that does not belong to you can only mess things up.

  1. If he or she belongs to someone else; you can’t have a successful relationship with somebody who cheats.
  2. If he or she does not, do you really think you can have a successful relationship with somebody who will go with a cheater?

It is not much better if you think about wealth that is in somebody else’s hands. Thinking about what you do not have is a prescription for misery. When you focus on what you have, savor the good in what you have and contemplate how it will get even better, you will find happiness and satisfaction.

About the author Ari Hahn:
I am a professional helper since 1976 and an LCSW since 1991. I have specialized in survivors of trauma. Presently I also have an on-line therapy and coaching practice where I also specialize in helping families and loved ones of ex-abused people. I also am a professor at TCI College in NYC.
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Page last updated Mar 03, 2014

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