The honeymoon may be over, but there are ways to keep the good feelings and fun times rolling—and to weather the inevitable storms without totally sinking.
We talked to relationship experts who have tons of experience with counseling married couples to find out what causes the most trouble in paradise—and what they wish everyone knew before walking down the aisle…or at least before ending up in their office.
1. Stay True To Yourself
"Keep your identity, your goals, your dreams and your passions," says clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D. (not to be confused with the other John Mayer, who's decidedly not an expert on love).
After all, once you become someone's wife, you're still you! Yes, now your life involves a partner (and that's wonderful), but if you forget about your own identity, you will resent it eventually…and that is going to come back to haunt you later.
2. Make Your Sex Life Work for Your Marriage
"Don't expect the same breathlessness as you have early in a new relationship," says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. "Instead, make sex about enjoying each other, being close, and keeping each other happy."
One key to keeping that spark alive is novelty, says Lori Cluff Schade, Ph.D. She says that the "drug-like" effect of falling in love will eventually wear off, but you can recreate it.
"Part of the excitement in the initial stage of a relationship, brain chemically speaking, is the novelty—everything is new," she says. "I advise my couples to seek out new opportunities together."
Whether that's by trying out new sex tricks in the bedroom, or experimenting with fun ways to keep your relationship hot, it's all good, steamy fun that can benefit your bond.
3. Give Thanks
"Today's popular culture is cynical and cool—expressions of love are often looked on as embarrassing and awkward," says Tessina. "But keeping love alive and flowing in your relationship is essential to being happy with each other. Set aside your reluctance, and let each other know when you feel loved."
Show your gratitude verbally, with flowers and candy, with dinners out, with a hug or a kiss—whatever.
"Even if you feel awkward at first, you'll enjoy being in the loving atmosphere that results," says Tessina. There's a reason gratitude has been shown to be so important for a happy relationship!
4. One Word: Compromise
"You're going to find your partner has a lot of opinions you didn't expect them to have on things you wouldn't expect them to care about," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., New York-based marriage and sex therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
"For example, where you put the chairs during redecorating, what color towels go in the bathroom, etc. After you get married, being able to blend your way and their way often takes on a new meaning."
That being said...
5. Know What's Really Important to You
"The biggest cause of fights are differences in needs, from sexual to financial to family-related," says Greer. "For example, one person wants to spend more time with a family member, and the other person doesn't."
Arguments can be avoided by being as clear as possible about what things are really important to you: seeing your parents, saving up for vacations, etc.
"Have a sense of where you're willing to make compromises so your partner will reciprocate and meet your needs, as well," says Greer.
But no matter what...
6. Acknowledge That Fighting Is Going to Happen
"You are not going to fight less after you get married," says Schade. "Anything a couple is having conflict about before marriage is going to increase after marriage. Always. End of story."
So is everyone doomed? Definitely not.
Dana Royce Baerger, J.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says, "It's important to accept that some marital issues will never be resolved." That's right—never! "However, it's equally important to know that persistence, good will, and humor can go a long way toward buffering couples against resentment and hostility."
In other words: Don't freak out when you fight (because it's inevitable), but do try to fight fair—and always remember that this person you're fighting with is the love of your life. They can't be all that bad!
7. Look on the Bright Side—of Your Partner
"Couples who create happy, stable marriages evidence positive attitudes toward their spouses, says Baerger. "They actively scan the environment, and their partners, for things they can appreciate or respect. This is true even during conflict, when these partners are adept at de-escalating arguments before they become too destructive."
8. Be Honest with Yourself
"In my own work as a couples' therapist, I've found that one of the single best prognostic indicators for the long-term health of a marriage is the extent to which spouses are willing to look at their own contributions to perpetual marital issues," says Baerger.
In other words, instead of focusing only on your partner’s flaws, you should own up to your own, as well—and think about what you can do to create more marital bliss in your relationship.
"Some couples get into a game of marital 'chicken,' in which each waits for the other to change," says Baerger. "In the interim, the marriage can wither away because neither partner is willing to be the first to change."
9. Be Willing to Work to Make Your Relationship Thrive
You've probably heard this before, but that's because it's true: "Having a good marriage takes intentional effort," says Schade. "It doesn't just happen on its own. People who have great marriages work at it all the time."
Even just having some kind of ritual that shows you care about your bond—for example, making sure you kiss your spouse before you leave—can help. And, hey, it definitely beats shelling out thousands of dollars on marriage counseling.
This article was originally published at Women's Health. Reprinted with permission from the author.