The #1 Thing You Can Do To Guarantee A Successful Marriage

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The #1 BEST thing you can do to guarantee a successful marriage


OK, I know I’m going out on a limb here, daring to name just one key action to ensure a happy marriage.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find "The 3 most important elements of…", "Ten secrets of …", "8 Essentials for…", "5 Fundamentals for..." and so many more.

Yes, all of those elements, secrets, essentials, and fundamentals are definitely necessary to maintain a successful long-term relationship. But, I firmly believe — after 35+ years of marriage and 15 years of coaching couples — that there’s one basic ingredient needed to make all the rest of the advice truly relevant and sustainable.

Here it is: you and your partner need to make the life-long commitment to do your own, individual, personal growth and self-discovery work.

"Wait!" I hear you sputtering. "What about good communication? Fidelity? Patience? Forgiveness?"

What’s your personal favorite?

It’s not that I don’t embrace them all, but rather acknowledge that they evolve naturally from a certain amount of "belly button gazing", as my parents liked to call it.

From them, I grew up hearing that the 3 "C’s" of a happy marriage are "communication, communication, communication". It was part of my dad’s toast at my wedding and clearly sustained his 45-year marriage with my mom, up until he died.

But I also remember my mom telling me that her father used to roll his eyes and tell her "your idea of an exciting Saturday night is to sit around psycho-analyzing each other." He definitely didn’t mean it as a compliment, but my parents took it as one and passed it on to me!

So, what exactly does that kind of "analysis" look like? The most literal choice (but by no means the only one) would be to find a good therapist/analyst. If you had a less-than-ideal childhood, that kind of self-examination can be particularly revealing and ultimately healing.

And when it comes to relationships, it allows you to identify patterns, triggers and deeply-held beliefs that may be preventing you from attracting or sustaining a healthy partnership.

I live in New York City (which I like to call the therapy capital of the world), so I have a great list of therapists I recommend to people. But if you’ve already done years of one-on-one counseling or it’s just not your thing, there are many other powerful ways to do some deep soul diving.

And I’ve been reassured by many therapist friends that they can be equally insightful, as long as you’re honest with yourself and not afraid to really do the work.

Whatever you want to call this exploration— self-help, personal development, you name it — it’s probably safe to say that, in this day and age, there are thousands of directions you can go, depending on your intent.

I only offer a handful of ideas here for you to check out on how to have a happy marriage, and you’ll notice that many of them are conveniently woven into relationship books and programs since that’s ultimately what you’re working on, right?

1. Take the Myers-Briggs, DiSC, and other assessments.

These are two of the most established personality/behavioral inventories. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) takes C.G Jung’s theory of psychological types and applies them to everyday life.

DiSC offers 4 "behavioral expressions of emotion" (dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance) based on the work of physiological psychologist William Moulton Marston.

Once you have a clearer understanding of your basic personality profile — and your partner’s — you can approach your relationship with more compassion and acceptance, instead of blaming each other for being exactly who you are!

2. Examine Astrology and the Human Design System.

A month after I met him, my husband Peter took me to an astrologer for the first time and I was blown away. I remember feeling like I had 5 years of therapy wrapped up into 2 hours of learning about my natal chart.

Fast forward many years later, I’m now a certified Counseling Astrologer and Peter is a Human Design analyst. I call Human Design "astrology on steroids" because it works with the wisdom of the planetary positions on your birth date to create a chakra template (body graph) based on the hexagrams of the I-Ching, the ancient Chinese divination text.

The insights we’ve gained from knowing our own charts and each other’s — both Astrology and Human Design — have been invaluable in navigating the inevitable bumps on the path of our marriage — not as an excuse for bad behavior (as in "it’s not my fault, it’s my Saturn in the 1st house!"), but as a reminder that we each have our own baggage and "issues", and to be gentle with each other during those tough times.

3. Go on Sterling Women’s and Men’s Weekends, Landmark Education, and other personal development workshops.

This is definitely an area with endless possibilities. I’m highlighting these two because I’ve had positive experiences with both of them.

My brother and sister-in-law attended separate Sterling weekends before they were married 20 years ago and still meet with their respective "men’s group" and "women’s group" from the weekend — a pretty strong testimony to the impact Sterling has had on their lives.

The weekends are designed to support participants in "locating the source of their personal power" and to bring those insights to their relationships as well.

The Landmark Forum is based on the work of Werner Erhard and was created to "bring about positive, permanent shifts in the quality of your life."

Both Peter and I did the Forum many years ago, and have many friends who continue to work through Landmark’s array of courses, including several that focus on improving your relationships. It’s not for everyone, but with more than 2.8 million people having participated in their courses in 22 countries worldwide, they must be doing something right.

4. Read the works of John Gottman, Harville Hendrix, and other relationship authors and experts.

One of the fun things I get to do as an Interfaith Minister is officiate weddings.

I don’t require my couples to do pre-marital coaching (though I gently nudge them), but I do send them a terrific Pre-Marital Relationship Assessment designed by the place where I did my training (the Relationship Coaching Institute (RCI)) and as a wedding present, I give them a copy of my all-time favorite "marriage success" book, John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

You might have heard of Gottman's "love lab" in California where he’s conducted research on marriage for over 40 years and offers workshops for couples and professionals on the Gottman Method.

Likewise, Harville Hendrix’s Getting The Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, was published in the late 80’s and initiated another powerful option for couples: Imago Therapy.

The Imago is described as "an idealized concept of love developed during childhood" so you know you’re going to be embarking on a deep, personal examination of your relationship with your parents and their relationship to each other before you even look at your current relationship.

Like so many of the other resources I’ve offered here, these experts are only two of the terrific ones out there and I encourage you to do your own research and see what resonates with you.

Have I convinced you yet that doing your own personal self-discovery work is the best launching pad for all those skills and techniques you want to bring to your marriage? I hope so, even though I’ve only been able to scratch the surface of all the ways you can do that.

It’s not an easy road, this long-term marriage thing. On my website, I describe my relationship with Peter as "dynamic and growth-producing" because it truly is ever-evolving and always pushing me to be a better partner and a better person.

There’s no magic formula or quick fix, but what a journey we’ve been on together and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Deborah Roth is a certified Relationship Coach and Interfaith Minister who loves supporting couples in navigating the ebbs and flows of maintaining and nurturing successful, long-term relationships. To learn more about her work, you can visit Spirited Living or email her at Deborah@SpiritedLiving.com to schedule an introductory couples coaching session or to get a list of her favorite relationship books.