By Marie Bradby

My friends and I attended several weddings across the country this summer. It was the stuff of dreams: misty-eyed fathers proudly ushering brides in confectionery gowns down the aisle; grooms playfully wearing Star Wars cufflinks; and sharply dressed guests tossing lavender buds and plumeria petals on the amorous couples as they head to their reception and honeymoon.

But instead of a toaster, I wanted my gift to be a guide for how to stay married after the fairy tale wears off. Because…well, because the honeymoon will wear off. And conflicts will ensue. It’s normal. However, to stay married, you have to work at it.

Sally and her husband John Turner suggests couples think of their marriage as a partnership.
Photos by Melissa Donald 

First, let’s take a look at the challenges young couples face today.

“From cell phones and computers in the bedroom and on dates, to reconnecting with old flames through social media…technology is a problem that drives couples apart and robs them of intimacy and connection,” says Sally Connolly, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in couples counseling. She and her husband, John Turner, also a therapist, run Couples Counseling of Louisville. “We go out to dinner and see whole families with their tablet or cell phone in front of them. They lose their connection with each other. And, when you are online all the time, people start winking at you and things grow into affairs.”

Couples also have trouble finding time to be together and focus on the relationship. “There are way too many distractions,” Sally says. “Too much time spent on work, buddies, the internet. They get busy with their sports, hobbies, jobs, old friends, and children from earlier marriages. They don’t mean to, but they slowly drift apart.”

Then there’s learning how to live together and share money, time, and space with another person.

“It’s hard for people who have lived on their own to learn to share and to make decisions about money together,” Sally says. “It’s something you have to learn to do. The first year of marriage is a real adjustment. The man might not know how to live with a woman. The woman might not know how to live with a man. Especially for young couples, learning how to be a couple can be a new experience, and sometimes that’s part of the problem.”

Newlyweds also need to learn to negotiate and compromise on daily living, from chores to shopping. “People still get in arguments about chores,” Sally says. “People have different styles of cleanliness and orderliness. Couples traditionally have the same things that they argue about over and over. These things are normal. But, they have to learn to argue respectfully and figure it out.”

Another big problem for young couples: “Holding on to the idea that they can continue to have friends of the opposite sex and that there is no potential to cause problems in their marriage. Having friends of the opposite sex can be a good thing in the relationship, but it has the potential to lead to affairs. You have to be very open about these friendships, because they can be dangerous. Couples need to talk about what’s OK to do and say with these friends.”

Not making the effort to learn how to disagree effectively also is a stumbling block. “These communication skills can be learned,” Sally says. For example, “If you start to get upset, take time out to calm yourself down. Otherwise, you can’t be productive. You will say or do things that aren’t healthy or helpful.”

“For women, especially, find ways to start a complaint in a soft manner. Say, ‘I love you and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but we need to talk about this.’”

Sally recommends reading, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by relationship expert John M. Gottman, Ph.D.

Here are Sally’s five survival tips for staying married:

  1. Focus on the good in your partner and in your marriage. While you will certainly need to address complaints or differences, you will get much farther and be much happier if you think about the positives. Each day, think about what you love about your partner and your marriage. The more you focus on what’s good, the more you’re going to see what’s good. Some couples keep a gratitude journal.
  2. In his book, Dr. Gottman notes that in healthy marriages, there are five positive events or affirmations for every one negative. When couples have that balance, the emotional bank account can handle the negatives that come with disagreement and conflict.
  3. Celebrate successes. One research study finds that celebrating your partner is even more important than being there during tough times. Let your partner know you admire him and relish his accomplishments.
  4. Have a ‘together we will figure this one out’ attitude. Couples who see themselves as a team and their future as growing old together are much more likely to hang in there and get through the tougher times than individuals who contemplate ending the marriage or have the belief that divorce is always an option. In healthy marriages, they will not complain about their spouses. They say, ‘I know we will work it out.’ They believe in the marriage and their partner to work it through.
  5. Develop rituals that tie you together as a couple: Go for a run and breakfast every Saturday morning; attend church together every Sunday and then head out to brunch; close each evening with sharing one good thing about your day; celebrate your anniversary every month; and, have a Friday date night.

Try new things together on a regular basis: Check out new restaurants, movies, sports, or volunteering, and take day trips to new places.

Is your marriage strong or could you use some advice on how to get it back on track? Here’s a tip that might work for you.