Being married offers benefits beyond having a standing Saturday night date, or a regular jogging partner, or someone who will reliably take out the garbage. My husband, Mehmet, often talks about the medical virtues of wedded bliss: It can lower your stress level, reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease, even improve cancer survival rates. All very well—but the operative word here is bliss.
It's been proven that it takes a happy marriage to reap the most from those benefits. And—as I can attest after nearly 25 years of marriage (some a bit bumpy)—that takes work. In my book, I talk about the challenges Mehmet and I have faced (like when he stares at his BlackBerry instead of into my eyes during a conversation) and the strategies we use to stay connected:Have Real Conversations
When you and your husband first got together, you didn't spend your nights discussing the kids, the bills, or the leaky roof. And while checking off everything on the to-do list is a nice goal, it's not nearly as valuable as staying emotionally in tune with each other. It's not always easy, but make a point of taking ten minutes each day to talk about something more meaningful than cleaning out the garage. If your husband (like mine) has a hard time talking without getting distracted, try this: When I want to have a heart-to-heart with Mehmet, I get him engaged in another more appealing activity, like working out together or taking a walk. Once he's physically occupied, it's easier for him to hear what's on my mind.Fight Clean
Because dealing with conflict is a large part of any long-term relationship, you need to know how to air your differences productively. Too often an argument devolves into proving you're right—and as I've learned, being right is overrated. One way to tell if you're resolving your disputes in a civilized manner is to record your argument, and then play it back later. Did you fight fair, or did you come off like the Wicked Witch of the West? I once saw a video of a family vacation that captured a fight Mehmet and I were having in the background. I was so horrified by my venomous tone, I quickly erased the tape—but seeing that fight is still having a positive impact on our relationship.Take Responsibility
If there's something in your marriage you want changed, do something about it yourself. For years I wanted Mehmet to work less and play—especially with me—more. It took a long time to realize that if I wanted to be entertained in life, I needed to find the entertainment myself. After decades of blaming him for my boredom, I decided to make my own fun. I enrolled in continuing education classes, reconnected with friends, even took up kung fu! I still prefer having him around, but I'm no longer putting my life on hold until he's cleared his heart surgeries and TV show tapings from his schedule each day.
Let's face it, as much fun as you may have with your spouse, marriage isn't a 24/7 party. But what makes a healthy union is sharing goals and growing together as a team. Concentrate on the life you want to build together, and you'll find that all the little stuff you think you need—whether it's dates at fancy restaurants or lazy weekends without the kids—seems unimportant.Stop having the same fight!