My wife and I recently celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary and we dated for three years before we were married. Also, for context, we have two young boys ages 6 and 4 and she doesn’t work outside of the home. While we have fights from time to time, we are generally a very happy couple. Here are the things we’ve put in place to make sure it stays that way:
1. We constantly communicate about anything remotely important to us as individuals or a family.
When I was growing up my mom used to drill into me that “99% of marriage is communication. If you can communicate, you can get through anything.” At this point in marriage, I would say that’s completely true. We talk about our hopes for the future, where we want to be individually, as a couple and as a family. If there is a disagreement or a fight, we never just “let it go” — we talk about it until each of us understands the other’s point of view and we come to an understanding, apologies are said, etc. We talk about how we’re raising our sons, we talk about how we spend our time, we talk about our schedules to make sure we aren’t too busy. On anything remotely important, we make sure we stay on the same page and come to an agreement before moving forward.
2. We tell the f’ing truth.
I don’t know where this idiotic idea came that you have to lie to your significant other. An early rule was established in our house… “Don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer to.” If she asks if she looks fat in an outfit, I will say “yes” if it’s the truth. But you know what? When I tell her “no”, she believes me. This goes for everything. I’ve been on a diet for a bit now and lost some weight. I asked her the other day if she could tell and she said “no”. The truth. Sometimes it hurts, but I appreciate it and know she’s telling me the truth when she says good stuff.
3. We continue in our choice and commitment to love each other.
Contrary to how I see the word “love” used in most contexts, it is a choice as much, or more, than it is a feeling. My definition of love is “to look out for the other person’s good as more important than my own.” Nobody has made me feel more angry or feel more love than my wife, however, through it all my choice to love her (seek her good above my own) is unquestioned and she does the same for me. This alone provides an extreme level of security. Divorce or separation is never an option because we both made a choice to love each other and never leave each other and to treat each other as more important than the other. While this obviously falls down from time to time when either of us want to be selfish or are going through a rough spot, etc. But day in and day out, we choose to love and care for each other no matter how idiotic or selfish the other is being.
4. We treat each other like grown ups.
One of the things we always say when we joke around is “I’m a grown-ass man”. Or “woman”, of course. But this is true. Inside the parameters we’ve agreed to in #1, we let each other do pretty much whatever we want. I watch whatever, dress however, go out whenever, etc. We have our own hobbies that we don’t feel like the other has to be a part of. She doesn’t nag me and I don’t nag her (usually we don’t have to; see #3). We have freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want. Since our #1 commitment is to each other and to our family, we can trust each other to make good decisions outside of that. For instance, I like to go out with friends to movies, drinks, etc. Since I don’t overdo it because she comes first, she never says ‘no’ or even questions it when I do.
5. Constantly inject your creativity to make things easier and better.
Some of the other things I’ve seen in these answers like keep separate bank accounts, play together, have lots of sex, exercise together, laugh together, surprise with gifts, etc. are all just tactics that may or may not work for you. When you have young kids that need cared for, it’s hard to exercise together or go throw the frisbee; does that mean your relationship is doomed? Of course not. We’ve all had friends that brag about all the sex they have but you wouldn’t want their relationship. The point in all these things is to constantly look for ways to grow your love, maintain your commitment and make sure life doesn’t squeeze the joy out of your relationship and/or drive a wedge between you. My co-worker and good friend has a great relationship with his wife and she calls him throughout the day to talk. It drives me nuts when my wife calls me (unless it’s important) because I’m trying to work. To each their own, as long as you’re putting work and creativity into making your relationship easier (don’t be too busy, spend time together, etc.) and better (puzzles, movies or whatever), then it’s going to work. Don’t be lazy and put the other’s good above your own.