Keeping Marriage Strong

15 Rules for a Happy Marriage

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

15 Rules for a Happy Marriage

  1. Love the person for who they are, not who you think you can get them to be
  2. Say I love you every day
  3. Never go to bed mad
  4. Cuddle every night before you go to sleep
  5. Cuddle every morning when you wake up
  6. Prioritize each other over everyone else, including your children
  7. Don’t just tell your partner you love them, show it
  8. Take risks and be vulnerable with your partner
  9. Celebrate the little moments
  10. Don’t worry if you are different than other couples – be and do what makes things happy for the two of you
  11. Never stop dating
  12. Be friends
  13. Support each other’s dreams and goals
  14. Compromise often, give in whenever you can, and stand up for what’s really important to you when you have to
  15. Talk to each other – really talk to each other – every single day

Our first year of marriage was a while ago – almost 20 years. It was exciting, and challenging, and scary, because it wasn’t just Dave and I, but three kids, too, working hard to make a family. More recently, I’ve had the privilege of watching the relationship between my daughter and her husband as it has developed over the last two years. We first met Louis when he landed in America a few days before his wedding day; he, Kira, and their daughter have lived with us since then.

In watching them navigate those first 12 months has reminded me what really makes the magic in a couple – and it’s not the passion or the sex or the date nights or the time away from the baby.

It’s the talking.

None of that other stuff matters if you can’t talk to your spouse. Everything about those 15 rules is about talking, communicating, and most importantly – listening.

When Dave and I were first dating, living together, and finally married, the most important time we spent together was in a little porch room off the back of the house. We would sit for hours and talk. We talked about everything and anything that came to mind – we talked about the future, about our kids, about our jobs, about our beliefs, about our childhoods, about our pasts – we talked. And talked. And talked.

Kira and Louis, who also met online and lived in different countries, had no other way to build their relationship than through talking. While much-improved since the days Dave and chatted in the AOL chatroom (since they could see each other and hear each other and didn’t have to type well), conversation was all they had to stay connected.

All that talking from oceans apart prepared them for the challenges of that first year of marriage, and they not only survived it but thrived through it. In a few weeks, they’ll be celebrating anniversary number two. When it comes to surviving the first year of marriage, nothing is more important than openly and honestly communicating with each other, respectfully and lovingly.

Dave and I are together almost 24 hours out of every day. We live together, run a business together, sit next to each other most days while we work. We are raising kids together. We travel together. And we talk to each other, all the time. People ask us if we get tired of each other. We really don’t. We really do actually like each other, just as we are, imperfections and all.


Keeping Marriage Strong

Secrets of a Successful Relationship

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

The biggest key to having a successful relationship with anyone else is to first have a successful relationship with yourself. In fact, I would say loving yourself and knowing yourself are so important that it is worth not having a serious relationship with anyone else until you do love yourself. We all have moments of self-doubt, but generally, you should wake up in the morning happy with who you are and what you are doing with your life.

If you don’t, then love yourself enough to be selfish enough to be alone and get to know you – the real you – and learn to love you the way you are. For some people, this may be as simple as just having a few weeks of self-reflection, and for others it will require an in-depth examination of your life and motivation and why you are who you are. Ultimately, though, you cannot give to another person and love another person adequately until you love you.

While it’s great if you are physically attracted to your partner, the most successful relationships come when you actually like the person your partner is and don’t want to change anything. Love intensifies and diminishes over time, but friendship only deepens. Be friends, have things in common, and treat each other with respect.

Communicate with each other regularly. This is more than just a grunted hello as you roll out of bed in the morning.  Make time to talk to each other and share your thoughts with each other. Be sure to do as much listening as you do talking. Pay attention to the needs, desires, and aspirations of your partner.

Spend time together. No relationship will grow or survive if it is not a priority. Make your relationship a priority – that means ditching kids, pets, jobs, and other obligations on a regular basis in order to nurture your relationship.

Expect to argue, but don’t argue to win or to hurt. Be mindful of what you say, don’t hold grudges, don’t dredge up the past. Avoid going to bed angry. Listen to your partner’s side of things. Be willing to compromise.

Be intimate. Touch each other, look into each other’s eyes, and tell your partner you love him or her every single day. Spend more time appreciating the person they are than being aggravated over their shortcomings.

It’s not always easy, and you won’t always be perfect, but if you really like and love the person you’re with, striving for this kind of nurturing is a great way to have a positive, happy, healthy relationship.

Let's Talk Resolving Conflict

Fight Nice

It’s inevitable: you’re in a relationship with another human being, you fight. You can’t avoid it, and in fact, if you’re in a relationship where everything is “perfect” and you never fight and life is like a fairy tale…it’s either the first week, or you’re not letting your “real” you show through.

I’m not cynical, and I believe in love. I just also believe that if two people have a committed, close relationship, they are occasionally going to butt heads – and that fighting is actually a healthy, normal part of a relationship.

It’s how you fight that matters, and it’s very easy to get into unhealthy patterns.

For everyone else, unhealthy patterns include doing things like giving the silent treatment, dredging up everything that has ever happened in the relationship over the last several years, or playing the passive-aggressive game. For fighting to be good for a relationship, it has to be healthy fighting.

You’re going to disagree with your partner, and you may even get angry and yell at each other. What you have to be able to do is stay focused on the issue you’re fighting about. Your argument should not become a personal attack. In fact, you really shouldn’t say anything about your partner. Instead of saying, “You always do this,” say, “This is important to me and I feel like it’s not a priority.”

If you’re the kind of person who needs time before you can discuss things rationally, that’s fair … but the silent treatment is not. You supposedly care for this person, so punishing them by not speaking when you’re angry isn’t a good way to handle your anger or frustration. Instead, explain it: “I really want to talk to you about this, but I have to have some time first to deal with my emotions and clear my head. I promise we can talk about it in a couple hours.”

No matter how angry you get, it’s really not fair to dredge up the past, especially if you’ve already gone there, hashed it out, and put it away. Bringing stuff up from the past is a relationship killer. Never be purposefully hurtful or derogatory.

When you’re done being angry, make up. Say sorry. You don’t have to be wrong to be sorry. You can be sorry because you feel bad that you fought. Compromise and listen. Don’t go to bed angry – and never fight in your bedroom. If you think you’re too angry to control what you’re going to say, take time to cool off first. Things said in the heat of the moment often lead to big regrets.

Let's Talk Love

Guys Read This! Top Ten Ways to Make Her Melt

You want to show her you think she’s amazing … and you want her to feel it in every pore of her body. It’s possible, it’s not that hard, and it doesn’t take nearly as much effort as you might think. To rock her world, follow all ten steps or pick any one of the steps for a quick way to show your love. Ladies, you can turn the tables and use these tips on your man to give him a Valentine’s Day he’ll never forget!

  1. While she is out of the house (at work, shopping, with family), straighten up the house. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just dust everything off and put away the clutter. Just knowing that you were thinking of her and trying to do something nice for her while she was out will make her feel good.
  2. Before she comes home, chill some wine (or put on the pot for tea). Prepare hors d’oeuvres – something simple and light. Make sure it is something she likes to eat.
  3. Hide love notes around the house. Put messages on little sticky notes – something as simple as “I “heart” you – and hide them in places she will find them over time. Put one on the mirror in the bathroom, one under her pillow, one on her computer, even one under her coffee cup. Hide one in the cupboard and put a couple in places she may not find for a while. She’ll be delighted with the message and the playfulness.
  4. Set a relaxing mood: lower the lights, light some candles, have soft music playing. Make it seem as though your only wish is for her to come home to a loving, peaceful environment.
  5. Just before she comes home, run a very hot bubble bath. Leave the lights off in the bathroom and fill it with candlelight. Sprinkle the bath with rose petals if you have access to them.
  6. When she comes home, greet her warmly. Ask about her day. Tell her you missed her. Pour her a glass of wine and offer her the hors d’oeuvres.
  7. Massage her feet. While she is enjoying the wine, kneel in front of her and massage her feet. Foot massage can be an intimate and erotic act. Careful not to tickle!
  8. Take her to the bathroom and show her the bath (the temperature should be perfect at this point). Make sure you’ve left a book for her to read nearby and have soft music playing – perhaps even a mix of love songs that you’ve made for her. Leave her in peace for her bath.
  9. While she is bathing, lay out tickets to a show or movie that you know she wants to see somewhere where she will find them. Arrange all the details – a sitter if one is needed, plenty of time to get ready, dinner reservations.
  10. Take her out for a special evening. Dote on her, pay attention only to her. Remind her often of how much you love her, how special she is, and how lucky you are.
Let's Talk Love

Opposites Attract but Similarities Last

We’ve all heard the line about opposites attracting, and we all know couples who are as different from each other as night and day. You know the scenario – she’s a librarian, he’s a Harley-riding tattoo artist; he likes to “veg” in front of the TV every night, she likes to go dancing three nights a week; she’s well-educated, he’s a high-school dropout.

While passion may fuel short-term romance between polar opposites, if you’re looking for a life mate, you’ll have more success with someone whose lifestyle and aspirations more closely match your own. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve seen happy couples that you would never have guessed would be happy together who seem like total opposites, but their differences are typically surface differences: he’s tall, she’s short.  Other differences can work, but it takes work, patience, and understanding – particularly if you’re talking major cultural or religious differences.

There is something, though, about having very similar core values that makes a relationship successful and strong. Couples who tend to have the most long-term success share the same set of core values. If they are not of the same religion, they have the same religious or spiritual core that includes a healthy respect for others’ philosophies and a willingness to allow their children to be raised with both. Long-term success is also more easily sustained when the two people have a similar level of intelligence or education. That doesn’t mean PhDs should only date PhDs…it means that there should be an intellectual connection in which both parties feel fairly equal.

Other areas where similar core values seem to be important are physical activity level, finances, and the desire for children. Couples are more successful if both of them like to get out and go dancing three times a week than if half of the couple wants to go while the other half would prefer to watch TV every night. A shared passion for some activity (rock climbing, charity work) can also bind people together more closely. While two people don’t have to come from the same financial background to have a successful relationship, their attitude about money, saving and spending, and earning habits should be similar. Kids – or not wanting them – can be a major deal breaker. There is no right or wrong, but if you’re not both on the same page about wanting to raise a family, you will most likely face some major struggles.

Opposites attract … it’s why the “good” girl always wants the “bad” boy in every 80’s movie ever made. For lasting and fulfilling love, try to find someone with whom you have more in common than a passionate spark that will fizzle fast.

Let's Talk Love

Long Distance Relationships

They’ve been dating off and on for almost three years. Sure, it’s “just” a high school romance … but in case you haven’t noticed lately, high school is a bit more complicated these days, and the pressures, responsibilities and even the relationships are much more profound.

This couple was best friends first. Romance developed slowly and surprised them both. They both think they might have “the real thing.”

They graduate in a few weeks. She’s heading 2,000 miles east to study theater in New York City. He’s traveling 900 miles west to study graphic arts.  They’re both 18, and wonder whether or not they should keep their relationship going once both of them leave school.

My advice?  No Way!!!

That probably seems a bit harsh, but there are a lot of factors to consider.  Long-distance relationships can – and do – work.  In fact, there are about 2.5 million married couples and another two million unmarried couples in long-distance relationships.

So why do I say no to this young couple?

Relationships, whether you’re married, living together or 3,000 miles apart are hard work. Two of the key components to a successful long-distance relationship are planning a future together and seeing each other as often as possible. Without those two components, the relationship is likely to fail. Add to that the fact that the average long distance couple only lives about 125 miles apart and this couple seems doomed from the start.

That doesn’t mean that down the road they won’t reconnect, but the 3,000-mile distance along with the fact that they are both young and starting fresh, new lives in different places makes me think they’ll both do better in the long run (even though it will involve some short-term heartache) if they say their goodbyes at graduation.

In a long distance relationship? Here are some tips to keeping the love alive from a distance:

  • Keep in touch! Talk to each other regularly. Use technology to your advantage and buy pc cams so that you can see each other while you talk.
  • Talk about your future. Do you have plans to join each other at some later date? Talk about your plans and dreams, your expectations and hopes. Keep the relationship moving forward.
  • Set ground rules. Know ahead of time how your partner is going to feel if you have dinner with the cute guy from your office – and respect the rules.
  • Be honest. If the relationship stops working for you or if you are just going through the motions, be up front with your partner. Make changes if you can, or agree to part as friends if you can’t.
Let's Talk Resolving Conflict

Everyone CRAVES to be heard

Getting Real With Jennifer Poole

One of the most important things we can do for those we care about it just listen, but you have to active in this process. Here are some tips to help you become an active listener, which will assist you in communicating with your significant other and your children. You can remember the steps as CRAVES:

C is for clarify. Ask who, what, when, where, and how to help you get the details about the issue. Avoid asking “why” because this can be seen as judgmental and make the person defensive.

R is for Restate and Reflect. Restate or paraphrase what you heard them say and reflect the emotion you think they are expressing.

A is for attend which is your nonverbals – eye contact, head nods, facial expressions etc.

V is for validating. We all like to hear something positive about ourselves especially when we are in a conflict.

E is for empathize. Put yourself in their shoes and express how you would feel if the roles were reversed.

S is to summarize the stories and emotions that have been expressed.

The following puts it all together is a simple, but somewhat cheesy, example:

“I am so frustrated that this house is such a mess and I am always cleaning.”
Clarify – What areas are frustrating you the most? What can we do to help?

“I get so frustrated to come home and have toys etc all over the house and people just sitting on the couch. I am not the maid!”

Restate/Reflect – You feel disrespected when we sit around and don’t help clean.

Attend – head nodding and turning off the football and focusing on her.

Validate – You are the best wife and mommy and shouldn’t have to do it all yourself.

Empathize – I would be frustrated if I wanted help and no one was stepping up.

Summarize – So you are feeling frustrated and disrepected since we haven’t been helping with the housework and we need to come with a plan to help you out.

There is still work to do to resolve the conflict but this open the lines of communication. We will discuss how to resolve the conflict in Assertive Resolution.