As a psychologist, relationship expert, and dating coach, clients often come to me with a list of things they want in a mate. They wonder who'll be the right partner and how to find them. This choice affects their future happiness, lifestyle, children, family, spirituality, finances, career, and more, so it's helpful to know what they need in a mate, their deal breakers, and how to take action. Yet they rarely ask how to prepare themselves for a long-term relationship, even though they are the one thing under their control. So, today we'll discuss how to prepare for a lifelong relationship, even when you haven't met your partner yet.
1. Create a life you love.
In fairytales, meeting "The One’" is often the turning point from a perilous life to a happy one—finding a mate is the harbinger of happily ever after. But in reality, it's best to already have a life you love and then start figuring out who'll complement it. It's attractive to have wonderful things to offer.
2. Maintain a good support system.
One reason marriages fail is unrealistic expectations. You may want things your partner is incapable of providing instead of appreciating what they can offer you. In a survey, struggling married couples were six times more likely to be disappointed when a spouse didn't meet their expectations than happily married couples were. You can develop a variety of ways to get your needs met and to create emotional support so you don't put it all on your partner.
3. Work on your own issues and triggers.
Often fights are especially painful when your spouse triggers an emotional wound from childhood. This may remind you of feeling criticized, rejected, or unimportant as a child and can cause you to overreact and to personalize your mate's behavior. You may react in childish ways but can begin to notice why, when, and how you're triggered. Then hopefully you can separate past events from current ones and respond in more mature ways. If you need help with this you can go to therapy to learn about your triggers in relationships and how to better work with them.
4. Learn to be a good communicator.
A lot of marital problems result from poor communication. Research shows that four communication styles are often associated with divorce, while other approaches create more healthy, functional relationships. Skills can be learned and practiced. The proverbial "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" are communication styles discovered by researcher John Gottman that are predictive of divorce.
These negative communication styles are criticism (critiquing/attacking your partner), contempt (disrespecting your partner so they feel worthless), defensiveness (defending yourself from a perceived attack), and stonewalling (shutting out your partner out). You can learn adaptive behaviors to replace these, like appreciation, having a soft startup during a challenge, listening and validating your partner, and compromising on important issues.
5. Practice self-care and independent stress-reducing techniques.
There are many internal and external stressors in a marriage so it's important to cope with stress well. This can include strategies like exercise, meditation, yoga, problem solving, breathing exercises, and spending time in nature. Prioritizing sleep, a good diet, and time for leisure will prepare you to later add a spouse and possibly kids into the mix. It's also important to be able to take care of yourself financially, should this be needed in the relationship.
6. Learn what makes you happy and do it.
In marriage, sometimes your spouse will make you feel happier. Other times, they may bring you down. You're ultimately responsible for your own happiness, so it's important to love yourself even when you spouse isn't making you feel terrific. Research suggests that couples who maintain outside hobbies and have novel interests to bring back to the relationship are happier. Having high self-esteem and knowing your interests can provide outlets for positive energy.
7. Learn what works.
Every marriage is different, but research shows certain commonalities in happily married couples. Partners maintain a high level of admiration and respect for one another. They celebrate each other's successes, say more positive than negative things to each other, respond often to one another's requests for attention, share time at least weekly, assume good intentions in the other, are generous, make repair attempts after conflict, and are fully committed to the relationship.
I wish you much love on your journey.
Paulette Kouffman Sherman, M.A., PsyD, is a psychologist and author of The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit and Dating from the Inside Out: How to Use the Law of Attraction in Matters of the Heart. She has a private psychotherapy practice in NYC and does international phone coaching as a relationship and life coach. She published 21 books, translated into 6 languages. She gave expert commentary on Fox 5, Channel 11, The Early Show, The Huffington Post, Readers Digest, Guideposts, Glamour, Redbook, Seventeen, Forbes, Crains, Elle, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, Woman’s Day, The NY Times & more. Visit her website and sacredbathing.com for more information.