Are you married, planning to get married one day, or are you in a long-term relationship? I have some disappointing news.

In the U.S. 40 to 50% of all married couples divorce. That’s not a very good statistic. Ideally we date several suitors and after some time, decide on the one who’ll make the best partner for life. If you think about it, it’s an enormous amount of pressure to find the One— that person you’ll spend every day of your life with until the end.

At some point you make a choice; for better or worse and share your vows. For some, marriage is bliss. It’s functional, it’s fun, it’s a joyful adventure, it’s romantic, and comforting. For others marriage can be down right stressful and it can be frustrating, lonely, confusing, and leave some completely miserable.

Which way do you want it to go? Do you want to be in the half that stays married or the half that divorces? Maybe you even have the goal to be married and live happily ever after together.

I believe that we can choose which experience of marriage or partnership we want to have. Will you accept this premise with me?

Our relationships evolve, they are not static and we have the ability to shape them in the way we want. If you want to create a successful long-term relationship, use the following method as your guide.

 

The 5 Keys to Long-Term Relationship Success

1. Relationship clarity. The first step is to get clear about what you really want in your relationship. Grab a pen and paper and do a brain dump. What does a wildly successful long-term relationship look like to you? What would you be doing? How would you be feeling? What types of things might you be saying to each other? How might you be touching each other? Set aside the past for now, think about this in terms of the present and the future. You might even want to make 2 columns on your paper.

 

2. Play games together. No, not Twister or Scrabble; though feel free to play a few rounds. What I mean is choosing things you can do together that will allow you both to grow as a couple. One popular game couples play is raising kids. It’s an excellent game, but do you know what happens when the kids go off to college? The game is over. Many couples suddenly find themselves not knowing each other or knowing what to do because they put all their energy into their kids and little to none into their relationship.

The key is to have more than one shared game together. In fact, the more games you play together, the better. Successful relationships require that you engage in mutually satisfying activities so you can grow together as a couple. It’s fine to do things on your own for personal growth, but the growth of the relationship is just as important.

If you both love to cook then take cooking classes and make meals together. If you enjoy doing home improvement or landscaping projects together then great, go for it. The key is to choose things you BOTH enjoy. Maybe it’s music or theater, maybe you both want to learn a foreign language, or get healthy together. Choose anything that will allow your relationship to evolve.

 

3. Have shared values. This is fairly straight forward, though sometimes overlooked. Did you know that arranged marriages report higher satisfaction in their marriages than non-arranged marriages? So long as the parents of the bride and groom make it a priority to find a companion that shares the same beliefs and values of life, couples are much more likely to be happy over time.

Take a look at your own relationship and consider what’s important to you. What do you value? Consider not just your relationship, but what do you value in the world. Talk to your partner and ask them these questions too. Hopefully you have quite a bit of common ground. If not, start looking for what you do have in common and start building from there.

 

4. Work on your marriage. A successful marriage or partnership is just like having a beautiful garden. It takes time and regular attention for it to blossom and grow. If you are engaging in activities together and setting specific time for ‘date nights’ then you’re on the right track.

Putting attention on your relationship also means working on things that are difficult and not ignoring them. Sure some issues will be harder to work though, but if you don’t tend to those weeds they’ll start to take over. And if things get heated, let your partner know that you need a time-out and that you’d like to discuss this important topic tomorrow or later that day. After having time to think it over, you’re both much more likely to come back calm and from a reasonable place.

Also, focus on what’s going well. Put your attention on what you love and enjoy about your partner and your relationship. If you spend all your time looking for faults or for reasons to be disappointed, that’s exactly what you’ll find.

 

5. Keep your cards face up on the table. Building on #4, keep the communication line open. The happiest couples are the ones who talk about everything. If you’re hiding secrets (even little ones) they will undermine your relationship. Do plan some time each day to not just do a debrief of your day, but really check in to learn how each other is feeling.

Too often we get caught up in the events of the day and we forget to consider each other’s feelings. Get really connected by looking into each other’s eyes whenever you speak. Embrace or hug for at least 30 seconds twice a day.

And when I say talk about everything, I mean EVERYTHING including death, finances, kids, growing old, sex, travel, work, elderly parents, purpose, play, religion/spirituality, health, friendships, home maintenance, tv shows, and all the feelings that you experience in life.

It’s OK if some topics feel awkward at first, do it anyway. You can even share this article with your partner as an ice-breaker. Let them know that you felt inspired by what you read and wanted to not only share your thoughts but want to hear what they have to say too.

 

May you live happily ever after together.