Dr. Orma contributed relationship advice for the recently published book, “Making Marriage a Success: Pearls of Wisdom from Experts Across the Nation.” Here are his suggestions for how to attain and sustain a successful marriage, as well as some bonus ones not included in the book. Please comment and add your thoughts for a successful marriage or relationship.
1. Accept your partner for who they are and don’t try to change them. Expecting your partner to be someone they’re not only leads to resentment, unhappiness, and frustration in both individuals. If there’s something about your partner you don’t like (e.g., an annoying habit), then you can communicate this to your partner in a loving way, but it will still be their choice to change. You can’t force them. Instead, focus on the things you love about your partner and enjoy those, and learn effective ways to deal with the things you don’t like.
2. Marriage is not about sacrifice, but about each partner supporting the other to pursue his or her rational self-interest. When what you want differs from your partner, then come to a mutually agreeable compromise that satisfies both of you. If you want Chinese and he wants Italian, then alternate each week so you both get what you want. If you hate Chinese or Italian, then pick up both and each have what they like, or have something you both like. Apply this same principle to any difference in preferences (vacations, TV shows, where to spend the holidays, etc.).
3. Encourage your partner to pursue his or her values, whether it’s a career, education, hobby, or something else. Support them in any way you can—financially (if you can afford it), emotionally (as their cheerleader), and logically (as an objective voice). When they succeed, celebrate their achievement. If they fail, congratulate them for their effort and root them on to new challenges. Pursuing and enjoying values leads to happiness, and when you’re both personally happy, you’ll have a more fulfilling marriage.
4. If you’re not married yet, but considering it, make sure you choose a partner who shares your highest and most important values—philosophically, spiritually, physically, and materially. If you want five kids and your partner doesn’t want any, and neither is willing to compromise, you may want to search elsewhere. If you’re a strict Catholic and want to raise your kids that way and your partner is a committed Atheist, you may want to reconsider having a long-term relationship. This only applies to your highest values. If she likes paper and you like plastic, it could still work.
5. Encourage and support each other in growing and improving over time—in knowledge, character, career, self-confidence, and everything. Sometimes people feel threatened when their partner changes for the better—but you will never be threatened if you also continue to change and grow along with your partner.
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Dr. Steve Orma is a San Francisco-based licensed CBT clinical psychologist, recognized mental health expert, and specialist in the treatment of anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
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