Think you'll figure out how to make your marriage work as you go along? That's one way to do it, sure. But, "starting healthy habits before marriage can mean the difference between a marriage that thrives and lasts and a marriage that crumbles and ends in divorce," says Janet Ong Zimmerman, relationship coach and the founder of Love for Successful Women. "Cultivating healthy habits builds a strong foundation so that when issues come up, both individuals are more skilled at resolving them in a respectful and considerate manner." So if you're ready to start working toward a happy and healthy marriage now, here's five habits you can work to develop.
1. Make Your Partner and Relationship a Priority
Your partner will come first after you tie the knot, and practicing making him a priority now will help you "experience and enjoy a deeper connection," explains Zimmerman.
2. Give Each Other Freedom
Making one another a priority will mean a lot of one-on-one time. But "it's just as important to let each other freely do the things you love, as long as they are ethical and moral," says Zimmerman. "By living your own lives—pursuing hobbies, interests, spending time with friends—you both find your happiness within rather than expecting your sole happiness to come from each other. And when you come together, your individual experiences enrich your relationship."
3. Foster Open Communication
It's easy to be honest when the going's good. But practicing honest and open communication is an important skill to have mastered for when things get challenging, says Lisa Kift, Larkspur, California-based marriage therapist and founder of Love and Life Toolbox. "Couples should learn to share their feelings and tackle conflict effectively," she says. "Learning to express frustration, anger or upset in a productive way is the key to avoiding built-up resentment in your marriage."
4. Take Responsibility
"Marriage is an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve into your best selves," describes Zimmerman. "In challenging times, the best thing you can do is take responsibility for your role in the situation and do what you can to make things right. Blaming your partner perpetuates unhealthy dynamics and keeps you both from what's most important—resolving things in a respectful manner." But taking responsibility doesn't just count behind closed doors. "Taking responsibility also means being responsible for the way you treat your partner in front of others," she says. "Always say nice things about him and if you're not able to, don't say anything at all."
5. Check-In With Each Other
You may experience this as your dating, and many go-go-go couples see this happen in their marriages: "When life gets busy, it's easy for couples to become ships passing in the night," Kift describes. "Be sure to carve out time to see how the other is doing, ask how they are feeling, and if there's anything they would like to discuss related to your relationship. This makes your partner feel like they and the relationship matters."