Marriage isn’t all bliss and riding off into the night after you say your I do’s. While your love for your partner may feel as strong as ever post-nuptials, marriages take effort and a continual choice to honor your vows every day. Make no mistake, this is no easy feat. That’s why there’s no shame in seeking out relationship advice that could aid in keeping your union as strong and healthy as ever.
In order to get straight to the best of the best, we spoke with a marriage therapist of over 30 years to discuss her best pieces of advice to help married couples thrive. Read on for the top three.
You must be willing to put in the work. “You have to know that love is more than an emotion,” notes Mary Kay Cocharo, licensed marriage and family therapist. By that she means to say that being in a relationship, especially a marriage, needs more than your fondness for one-another to last. “People fall in love, and so they decide they should be partners and get married,” she says. “And while love is great and propels you into that commitment, it’s just the beginning. It’s not enough. A really good partnership takes commitment and kindness and generosity, and it requires tools like good communication,” she adds.
Without a doubt, every healthy marriage is going to hit a rough spot, be it internal or external. When that happens, your love for each other will be the thing that makes you want to get through it, but it alone can’t do all of the heavy lifting. That’s when you have to be able to have productive conversations, understand your partner’s perspective, and decide how to move forward.
“When couples get married, those early hormones that happen towards the beginning of a relationship—the hormones and chemicals that launch us into commitment—start to wear off. Neuroscientists tell us this happens after about two years,” Cocharo explains. What she’s referring to is a study done by a team from the University of Pisa in Italy, which found that the bodily chemistry which makes people sexually attracted to a new partner lasts, at most, for two years. “They wear off and now you’re looking at [your partner] and realize, oh, we have differences,” she continues.
“If you don’t start to get to work at about that time, or you don’t know that a relationship takes work, you’ll start to think you made a mistake. You might even think, I’m not actually in love with this person anymore.” Rest assured that that’s not typically the case. What most people refer to as “the honeymoon phase” is simply over and some of that excitement—both mentally and biologically—has worn off. That being said, the love you have for each other is very much still there. Expecting this and knowing that it’s inevitable (and completely normal) softens the initial blow tremendously. If you recognize this before it happens, you can even work to make sure that you have the tools to get through future married life difficulties (more on that below.)
“If you can make sure [that] you’re marrying someone that you not only have chemicals with, but someone you share interests and core values with, then you just have to know that love is more than an emotion and takes true commitment,” Cocharo adds.
So, what exactly do we mean by ‘work’? In large part we mean learning and using relationship tools such as good communication, healthy boundaries, and actively showing your partner love. These marriage work tools heavily aid in resolving disagreements and getting through those inevitable tough times. “Sometimes couples will hit something difficult and use that to mean they’ve chosen the wrong person or that it’s over. That’s just not true,” Cocharo says.
“It’s hard, and sometimes you don’t have the proper tools. Maybe you didn’t grow up in a situation that taught you about love and respect or being a married partner. In that case, you just need to get the help. You don’t just give up.”
Luckily, there are plenty of sources available to us. If you and your spouse keep arguing and seem to have hit a wall, Cocharo highly suggests first consulting a marriage therapist. This is because repeated issues typically mean that you don’t have the ability or proper tools to get yourself out of the tough times, whereas a professional can help you to do that. “If you’re struggling and you don’t have the tools, go get the tools,” Cocharo emphasizes.
On the other hand, there are also tons of helpful books, workbooks, workshops, and even phone apps that you can use to do couples’ exercises and prompt conversations with your partner. So long as you’re willing to seek out help (and you have an internet connection), you have the ability to learn and use the tools that will take your marriage the distance.
An often overlooked, and key, part in having a successful marriage is actually focusing on and taking care of yourself. Singular. “When some people get married they think it’s their partner’s job to take care of them. In reality, everyone is busy and has a lot on their plate—you really do need to put your own oxygen mask on first,” says Cocharo. This isn’t to say that you can’t lean on your partner and vice-versa, but rather that when you get married you should continue to treat your well-being and self-care as a priority. Don’t expect that responsibility to be handed off to your loved one. Doing so yourself assures that you’re happy and healthy and bringing your best self to the relationship.
“Make sure [that] you’re doing the things that make you a happy, healthy, whole person. Simple things like making sure that you’re eating right, exercising, and getting out in nature. Maybe praying or meditating, reading, or whatever calms you down. Also, going to see friends and visiting family,” Cocharo suggests.
We recognize that some of these things may be difficult to act on, due to COVID-19. We’re all doing our best at this time to make our well-being a priority, as you should at any point in your happy marriage.