We've all heard that marriage takes work, but what exactly does that mean? According to Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ph.D., LCSW and owner and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, it means facing whatever life throws your way together — in a way that promotes growth, empathy and deeper connection. It's "the willingness to own your part and to continually learn about yourself and your partner," she says. Here are five expert-approved ways to do just that.
1. Learn to identify and divulge your expectations.
Whether there are preconceived notions about who will handle which household chores to stereotypical gender roles, "we all go into marriage with expectations of the relationship," says Hanks. Regardless of what your expectations may be, "being able to identify and express them directly is the key to making a marriage work."
2. Think of yourselves as teammates.
Marriage is the ultimate team sport, says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of the Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. "You each have strengths and weaknesses," she says. "You must focus on harnessing those strengths and managing your weaknesses. You must work through your discomfort with your differences, and find a game plan that works for both of you."
3. Always express your most vulnerable emotions.
Expressing your emotions can be difficult, "especially for men because our cultural message indicates that they should always be tough, in charge and in control," says Hanks. Being able to express when you're feeling sad, lonely, fearful or ashamed and "having it met with empathy is an important step toward creating a lasting emotional connection," she says.
4. Be kind and generous as often as you can.
It won't always be easy, but when your partner causes a problem, give him or her the benefit of the doubt, Doares says. "Be open to his or her interpretation of events, and stay away from right versus wrong," she advises. "Both of your perspectives can be true, and generously accepting your partner makes them feel safe and loved."
5. Take time to 'feed' your marriage.
We've all heard the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If your marriage is A-OK, it's likely something else — something noisier — will get your attention. "But nothing thrives on neglect," says Doares. "If you want a great marriage, you have to spend time every day connecting with each other in a loving way."