25 Experts Explain What Choices Make A Marriage Actually Work Long-Term

Photo: Eugenio Marongiu /
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For decades, researchers have tried to decode the secret of how to make a marriage last. 

We still don't quite seem to understand why some marriages flourish and other marriages fizzle.

Scientific theories and cold assessments like the Couples Satisfaction Index are fine for academic studies, medical breakthroughs, and fun new gadgets. But for matters of the heart, we should rely on human intuition and the knowledge of experienced, trained counselors and therapists.

We turned to our brilliant roster of YourTango Experts — psychologists, therapists, relationship coaches and many more — to seek an answer to that big, important question: How can married people actually make it work long-term?

RELATED: 11 Signs Your Relationship Is Healthy Enough To Last

25 experts explain how to make a marriage actually work long-term

1. Get out of your comfort zone

The trick to making a long-term marriage work is effort. At some point, your partner won’t excite you. They will be safe and familiar which can often lead to boredom.

You have to try to trick your brain and do new things together. Leave your comfort zone.

One of my favorite tricks is to create a list of sexy things you’d like to try. Take some of the approved items and put them in a jar. Every week you choose one item randomly and have to act it out or make it happen.

Sharpen a skill together, pursue a new hobby, or go skydiving. When the excitement ceases to happen organically you have to actively bring the excitement back.

- Erika Jordan, love coach

2. Talk it out — and listen well

Communication makes a marriage work long-term. The key is to communicate which includes articulation and listening. It's vital for the survival of a marriage.

Don't assume your partner is a mind reader. Articulate how you feel, ask for what you need, and listen to your partner's responses and needs even if you don't always agree.

Schedule uninterrupted time to talk about conflicts and don't argue in front of your children or others.

- Ellen Harriet KamarasICF Associate Certified Coach

3. Learn your partner's needs and values

It has been said many times, after 20 years of working with married couples, communication is what makes a marriage work long-term. We cannot love what we do not understand.

We understand by talking, listening and learning our spouse’s needs, wants, desires, likes, dislikes and values. Open, honest conversations increase emotional intimacy in the marriage that also enhance physical intimacy as well.

Dr. Susan Pazak, clinical psychologist and life coach

4. Always make new memories

Communicate, compromise and connect. Talking and listening lead to essential compromise on the changes that inevitably occur as the years go by.

Connect by doing things together, creating new memories, and you keep things fresh.

- Dr. Judith Tutin, psychologist and life coach

5. Be a peacemaker

First, understand the hierarchy of your own needs and priorities — passion, affection, financial security, family time, etc. Second, understand and accept your partner's needs without judging. Third, practice peacemaking communication daily.

- Susan Allan, founder of the Marriage Forum and certified mediator

RELATED: How 100,000 People Helped Save A Marriage

6. Stay willing to put in the work

Getting married in your 20s doesn’t mean you automatically have the right to keep the other person forever if you’ve stopped doing the work of being a good partner.

People who’ve stopped participating in their relationship often find themselves on the receiving end of a divorce.

Marriage is hard work, and successful marriages happen when a couple is growing, working hard on themselves, and building a future together.

- Holly Davis, founder of Kirker Davis LLP

7. Trust your partner

A marriage is a long-term investment of time, energy, and effort. In order for it to be successful over the years, both parties must have respect and trust for one another.

This means having an awareness of each partner's individual needs, striving to be honest and sincere in open communication, and reminding oneself that working together is the only way to maintain a loving bond.

Without this strong foundation of mutual understanding and support, any marriage will eventually find itself struggling against the test of time. Unfortunately, many couples do not manage to stay in tune with each other's feelings down the line, which can lead to a lack of satisfaction within their relationship.

It is essential for married couples to understand just how important respect and trust are if they want their marriage to work long-term.

- Claire WaismannM-RAS/ SUDCC II

8. Create a safe environment

Marriages that work long-term are fueled by each partner's ability to help the other feel truly safe. There's a commitment to see underneath one another's words and actions and remember that you're both constantly asking: "Am I safe? Am I loved? Are we good?"

- Dr. Amanda Savage BrownPh.D., LCSW

9. Connect creatively with your partner

Connection is the superglue of marriages.

The connection looks different for all of us and when we put effort into connecting with our spouse it is a direct investment in the relationship.

Ask about that important meeting that your spouse had today. Stare into each other's eyes for a few minutes. Read a book and discuss it. Cook a meal together. Walk a block and find three new things you've never noticed and then share them with each other.

Considering how to connect with our spouse is an act of creation for our brains. Enjoy the endless ways that you may create to connect with your spouse.

- Angela Bixby, founder of Energy Intuit

RELATED: The 12 'Golden Rules' Of Marriage That Couples Who Actually Stay Together Seem To Follow

10. Treat your partner with respect

A marriage, at its core, is a relationship between two people who always have the choice to be in the relationship — or not. So making it work long-term is about making any relationship, albeit a complex one, work and that begins with respect.

Respect for how each partner considers and treats the other is paramount to safety, trust and effective communication. Without respect, there is no relationship of value.

- Judith Pinto, meditation coach

11. Cultivate shared values with your partner

Psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan's definition of love is relevant: When the satisfaction of another person becomes as significant to one's own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists. I think the catalysts for sustaining this are trust, common values, and communication about the tough stuff.

- Ruth Schimel, PhD, career and life management consultant

12. Share a long-term vision with your partner

Many will claim chemistry, quality sexual intimacy, finances, children, good communication, a solid commitment, etc. are the key.

These are all very important. But nothing is more influential in the long-term success of a marriage than aligned values and a shared vision.

Most couples jump into marital commitments because they connect with their betrothed like no one else. I can't think of a single couple I've worked with that didn't start off like that.

Then when things get challenging they wonder why. The first thing we do is take a close look at what each partner values the most and how those core values are met.

The next is to create a powerful vision for their partnership and contributions beyond just them. 

- Larry Michel, founder of the Institute of Genetic Energetics

13. Always be kind to your partner

We have met with hundreds of couples and the one thing that thriving couples that have been married for a long time have in common is that they are kind to each other.

Those couples recognize that their spouse isn’t perfect and that they will be the cause of unmet expectations at times but they choose to be kind to them anyway.

Kindness in a relationship makes up for a lot of wrongs and brings new life to a relationship.

- Taylor Kovar, Certified Financial Planner and CEO of the Money Couple

14. Be mindful of the little things

My husband Marty and I celebrated our 34th Anniversary last September.

My Mom was amazing and gave me good advice on our wedding day. She said remember the little things. Through the years I began to see the importance of the little things as they become the bond that gets stronger over the years and helps you make it through the tough things that may show up along the way.

Little things such as a good morning hug, an "I love you" as you leave for work, support each other's dreams, show up when needed, don't go to bed angry, talk it out. Forgive and forget the small stuff, take walks, hold hands, say "I love you" and do that frequently.

You will add more little things as you go through the years. Make it special.

- Suzanne Geimer, RN, BSN

15. Embrace your partner's differences

Most people don't say yes to a second meet-up if they decide the other person is too different from them. They think that means the relationship won't work, but that is usually a false assumption.

I find the contrast created by my husband's and my differences add spice to our 40-year marriage. It's also what makes the relationship work well.

For example, he'd rather watch a game while I enjoy reading a book. I'm spontaneous and he's cautious. He keeps the finances straight and secure while I come up with innovative ideas for us to enjoy together.

It's not about being the same or different. It's about accepting that no matter who you're with, there will be differences, and loving them, not in spite of the differences, but through them, even because of them.

Growing into a union of unconditional acceptance and committed love. And sometimes melding your differences into similarities. Though I still won't sit all Sunday afternoon watching football.

- Kathryn Brown Ramsperger, relationship coach and author

RELATED: 11 Marriage Rules Kristen Bell & Dax Shepard Follow To Survive Addiction, Relapses & Arguments

16. Be available for your partner

A marriage won't last a lifetime without a connection that goes beyond the physical and logical. This connection is an all-in, arms-open attitude that says: I am available to you I will be responsive to you.

You matter the most. You are safe with me. When you lock eyes across a room, signal admiration and tenderness, and find comfort in holding, you tell your significant other that you are available.

When you listen attentively and ask about an expression, their frustration, and needs, you say; I am here for you. You signal responsiveness when you show interest in their likes, ideas, hobbies, and personality.

When you make personal and family decisions only after discussion and agreement, you tell them they matter. When you stand up for each other, you demonstrate their worth.

When you prioritize your partner’s needs above work, friends, and family, you have assured them that you will stay close. When you can see and feel attachment in your partner’s warm and soft eyes, touch, and tone, you know they are close.

- Dr. Reta Faye Walker, relationship therapist

17. Always have your partner's back

This may sound trite, but marriage is a contract between two people who are committed to living together as partners. That means they choose to be there for each other.

Thus, when challenges arise, you show up for each other. It can't be a one-sided arrangement. In other words, a successful marriage is a two-way participatory agreement.

This would be the optimal strategy and agreement and often it is otherwise because there are so many lessons one can learn through marriage and relationships in general.

So, you never know if learning how to stand up for yourself, or learning how to be self-validating is the lesson you are to learn in a relationship. Marriage is complicated because there are many factors playing out in the equation — people, family, past spouses, friends, jobs, and careers.

There are no simple arrangements. Yet, all of them are composed of lessons to learn and contracts to honor.

Nevertheless, a healthy long-term relationship requires honesty and each person having the other's back.

- Jean Walters, personal growth coach

18. Take responsibility for your feelings

It's easy to get caught in a pattern where we feel our spouse is responsible for making us feel a certain way. But if we dare to look a little deeper — sometimes, our reactions to our spouse's actions have more to do with ourselves (our own thoughts, beliefs and behaviors), than they actually do, our spouse.

By accepting part of the responsibility for arguments and misunderstandings, it's easier to create an intimate, close marriage.

- Leigh Noren, sex therapist and coach

19. Three important things

Trust, communication and flexibility.

- Pamela Aloia, author and intuitive

RELATED: 4 Relationship Rules The Longest-Lasting Couples Follow

20. Communicate clearly with your partner

First, communication: including the ability to work through conflicts and sexual communication. The research is clear on this: couples who communicate well have better sexual and marital satisfaction.

Second, respect: This goes hand-in-hand with communication. When I think of this, I recall the words of my late father-in-law. He once told me that when in conflict with my late mother-in-law he would think to himself: "This is a woman I respect and who is very smart. She must have a point and I will work to hear it."

Third, according to research by relationship expert John Gottman, couples with stronger marriages provide each other five appreciative statements to every criticism. Make and respond to (rather than turn away from) each other's bids for connection. And accept influence from one another. 

- Dr. Laurie Mintz, licensed psychologist

21. Connect intentionally with your partner

Intentional connection means the connection is as important as the info we communicate. At any point, we are doing one of two things: pushing them away or pulling them towards us. When you intentionally connect, you are saying “I see you,” “I hear you,” “You matter,” and “I care.”

Here's how. First, look at them when you're talking and catch misunderstandings immediately. Second, Listen when you are speaking and be curious, so they know you care.

Third, ask yourself, "Do I want to communicate and create love or be right that they're wrong?" The desire to be right is strong and you can choose love instead.

How? Discover what you are doing that doesn't work and practice the habits you want so you have more love in your marriage.

- Marilyn Sutherland, relationship and communication coach

22. Commit to an active sex life with your partner

Love, respect, mutual efforts, gratitude, romance, and shared core values are the fundamentals of a happy, long-term marriage.

As far as romance is concerned, having sex once every week is proven to skyrocket the intimacy levels within a couple, apart from regular kisses and cuddles. A steamy sex life sets you up for decades of content wedlock. 

- Sidhharrth S. Kumaar, astro numerologist

23. Make clear agreements with your partner about responsibilities

There are three drama-diffusing commitments that make a marriage work long-term:

A commitment to personal integrity, where each partner is devoted to their individual alignment — where what they say and do matches who they are at their core.

A commitment to being fully revealed to each other, where honesty is respectfully expressed from an open heart and open mind.

A commitment to making clean clear agreements — who will do what and by when.

- Michelle Thompson, life and Enneagram coach

24. Avoid criticizing your partner

Long-term marriage works when you are vigilant about giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, being kind in communications, and aligning values.

If you always think your partner is on your side, then your communications can come from there. Criticism thus is non-existent.

The biggest poison to a relationship is criticism of your partner. Look for the areas of aligned values and focus your relationship interactions on them.

- Laura Rubenstein, feminine power mentor

25. Treat your partner with compassion

My best advice is to maintain good lines of communication, have compassion for each other and make sure to spend time together as a couple.

I realize that sometimes these are big asks — especially if you are sleep deprived and dealing with a newborn. But they make a difference in long-term relationship satisfaction.

Also, remember that relationships aren’t always 50/50; often, one of you will carry more of the load than the other.

Anna Krolikowska, Esq., divorce attorney

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Carter Gaddis is the senior editor for experts and wellness with YourTango.