I have a new catchphrase: To make your marriage last, make your marriage first. I’m pretty sure I invented it, and Google seems to agree. (So does Bing!) So you heard it here first, folks.
Although the line is new, the idea is certainly not. We therapists and marriage counselors have been saying it for a long time. You can’t maintain a fulfilling long-term marriage if you don’t make it a priority in your life. And yes, I’m aware of how hard that is – there’s kids, work, bills, friends, parents, and on and on. Life moves at a breakneck pace these days and it sure is hard to find time for ourselves. But if you want your marriage to last, then you have to.
All relationships take work. It’s simply a fact of life. Romances that are perfectly problem-free and simple are something you find on a movie screen only. Real-life relationships are complex – because people are complex – and a relationship involves two of them. To bridge the gulf between those two people, it takes time and effort. Marriages that get put on the backburner tend to go up in flames. (Ha! There’s another great line I just came up with.)
If caring for your spouse and your marriage is not a priority for you, don’t expect to see it through to the long term. If you don’t water a plant regularly, it dies. You have to nourish your marriage no less if you want it to thrive. And I don’t just mean at the beginning. People change over time. If you’re not working on changing and moving along with your spouse, you will likely find yourself in different places not too far down the road.
What this all means is that you have to carve out time and energy to spend on your marriage. Date night once a week is considered de rigueur by many, and I am in agreement, if that’s your kind of thing. (I myself don’t do a weekly date night, because neither my wife nor I really likes going out. Instead, we spend quiet time at home at frequent intervals.) That may mean getting a babysitter and spending some extra money (although there are plenty of nice date ideas that don’t cost a dime). Yes, maintaining a relationship will cost money too.
Prioritizing your marriage also means putting in the time and effort to really listen to each other and not assume you already know what the other person wants or needs. It is very easy to grow apart without noticing it if you never stop to find out what’s going on inside your partner. It means putting your spouse’s needs above the needs of everyone else, most of the time. Obviously you need to take care of your kids, help with homework, etc. But your children are actually better off if you take a night off from them and spend time with your spouse than if you never do (see this post for more on this point). Your parents may also need your help, but if you run to help mom with a leaky sink every time she calls, at the expense of the day out with your wife, you will certainly lose out in the long run.
Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making a marriage last. Every person, and every couple, is different. Every situation has its own demands – special needs children, a recently widowed parent, a mentally ill sibling – these are situations that naturally demand more from a person than is typical. But the bottom line remains: to make your marriage last, make your marriage first. If you don’t keep this central relationship a real priority, you are likely to have a hard time keeping it as a positive and fulfilling part of your life.