Give advice to a 22-year old? I don’t think they’ll listen to me. My 22-year old son certainly doesn’t want to listen to me. I’ve got great advice! Maybe we just all need to live our own lives, make our own mistakes and mature at our own rate.
But let’s imagine for just one minute that I did have an audience waiting to hear what I’d advise. I’m a relationship expert and couples therapist, so I’d say something about falling in love, getting married, and building a life with someone.
Trust me, I have a lot of experience in this area. I’ve been consulting with couples for over 25 years. And I’ve been married, sadly divorced, and happily remarried.
Shocking, isn’t it? Do you believe that a marriage therapist with a graduate degree and years of experience with couples could have ended up sadly divorced? Well, it’s true and it’s made me really, really good at what I do. I certainly know what not to do!
So, if you’re in you're 20's, here are 4 pieces of marriage advice that you need to know:
1. Attraction is not love
When I was young, I thought that falling in love meant that I was supposed to get married and live happily ever after. I imagined that being in love was the same as loving.
I didn’t know that there are powerful chemicals and hormones that get stimulated in our brains when we are falling in love and that they are designed to wear off within the first couple of years.
My advice to you is to take your time. Slow down. Really get to know the other person over a variety of experiences and don’t confuse sexual attraction with the real deal.
2. Love is more than an emotion
Love is just the beginning. It takes a lot more than that to make a marriage. It takes commitment, and kindness and, generosity. Mostly, it requires really good communication tools.
Before, I didn’t know how to make my partner feel emotionally safe enough to truly connect with me. Without deep connection, marriage gets painful, or possibly just boring. I didn’t know how much attention this intimate relationship requires and deserves.
My advice to you is to find someone with whom you’re compatible, with whom you share common interests, and with whom you share core values. It’s hard. No need to make it harder.
3. Don’t give up just because you're going through a tough time
Marriage requires waking up every morning and committing to this other person—even if you don’t like them this week. It’s a lot of work being with another person day in and day out. It’s a lot of growing and adapting and healing.
Get help! The average amount of time that couples wait to get help when they’re struggling is six years! Don’t wait. If you’re stuck in a negative cycle with your partner, reach out and get some help.
In every long-term relationship I know of, there have been peaks and valleys along the way.
4. Remember to take care of yourself
Once people fall in love and get married, they frequently get busy considering the other’s needs and fulfilling their partner’s desires. This sounds like a good idea, but actually, it’s not if it’s at the expense of losing yourself.
It’s like that often-quoted saying about losing air compression in an airplane: "Put on your own oxygen mask first so that you’re better able to help those around you."
I’ve noticed this is particularly true for women. We seem wired to care for others ahead of ourselves. What does self-care mean to you? Is it making sure that you eat right? Exercise? Get out in nature? Pray? Meditate? Read? See friends? Visit family?
Whatever it is, remember to take some time out for you. Your relationship will benefit from having a healthy, happy you.
If you’re in your 20's and have made it to this paragraph, I applaud you. I never actually wish to be in my 20's anymore, but I would like the chance to do some things over. Maybe that’s why I spend my days helping others.
Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Do you have questions about the health of your relationship? Click here to download a quick assessment to help you determine the stage of your relationship.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.