Spring is the time for revival, romance, and all things fresh. Regardless of whether you are in a budding relationship or a long-standing marriage, we all need tips and tricks for how to make a successful relationship last.
As a marriage therapist, I find that sometimes the best advice comes from unusual sources: In this case, I welcome the wisdom of Rabbi Avigdor Miller (1908-2001) who captured the time-tested “Ten Commandments of Marriage.” This is my take on his list of the Ten Commandments of Marriage, a compilation of his time-tested principles coupled with my own wisdom, to bring you some hands-on tactics for keeping that love alive.
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT: BE REALISTIC
We find our perfect partner and then . . . WHAM! Reality hits. He or she is NOT so perfect after all. (Which, of course, neither are we, right?) So how can we avoid that hard-hitting realization once the “honeymoon” period wears away? Simple: Set realistic expectations both for what you may learn about your partner’s character and habits as the relationship progresses. This means knowing that everyone has off days, tough times, or ingrained habits that may not be so easy to change. The key is focusing on the positives of the person and coming to a place of loving and accepting those things that may challenge your patience.
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT: KEEP ROUTINES
Establish loving rituals that are kept—regardless of times of strife. Whether it’s a date night, bringing flowers once a week, or sharing certain responsibilities for one another, adherence to these types of routines is essential in demonstrating dedication and commitment to each other and the relationship. It’s easy to do those things when times are good. The true measure of character is if you can continue to act lovingly while you work through tough times.
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT: MAKE PEACE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
No doubt the proverbial stink will hit the fan at certain points in a relationship. This is both OK and normal. However, couples who decide to address matters honestly, openly, and with care as quickly as possible are more likely to last for the long haul. Best to not let matters simmer and certainly not to take the passive-aggressive approach: This hurts you and your partner and builds walls, not love.
THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT: DON’T MENTION THE ‘D WORD’
In today’s marriage arena, the “d word” (shhh . . . divorce) is thrown around and sadly implemented way too much. If you are serious about wanting to build a long-lasting, loving relationship then this word can simply not enter the vocabulary in a relationship. Trust is built by knowing that regular marital issues that arise during the course of all relationships will be met with a true desire to communicate. In the event of very serious infractions such as abuse or adultery, this is a different matter that should involve qualified professionals. However, for most typical relationship disagreements, at a minimum a couple can agree that threats of leaving are not acceptable where trust and love are desired.
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT: BE LOYAL
Beyond the well-known commandment “thou shall not commit adultery,” which is a given for a successful relationship to take place, loyalty of heart and speech can go a long way. This rule means standing by your mate when others may say negative things. It means speaking positively about your partner to others highlighting their gifts and talents such as, “He is an amazing cook!” or “She is my absolute favorite artist.” Having a positive and excited energy about your spouse not only strengthens your love for him/her in your own heart, but builds their sense of self up as well (which, of course, endears them to you).
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT: DON’T SAY MEAN WORDS
Everyone has faults. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Don’t be the person who points this out about your spouse. If you have constructive criticism to share, do it with style: “Babe, I like how you are thinking about this. Can I suggest an alternate way that might prevent XYZ issue?” Sweet words are so much easier to digest than bitter ones.
THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: LET MEAN WORDS PASS OVER
OK, so you blew it on commandment number six and let a few bombs drop. Or perhaps your partner did. Best advice is, don’t add insult to injury. If you are the one who let loose with your words, suck it up and apologize—own it and try not to let it happen again. If you were the recipient of those bombs then do not respond at the same level. Instead try an even-tempered, nonemotional response with a cool and clear message, “I can see that XYZ is upsetting you and I’m willing to hear what you have to say but not like that. When you are ready to talk calmly you know where to find me.” Then, my friends, make like Elsa in her Frozen castle and let it go—only don’t be an ice princess.
THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: LOVE YOUR SPOUSE AS YOURSELF
One of my favorite tales is of a rabbi whose wife was having pain in her leg. The rabbi took his wife to the doctor and when the doctor walked into the room and asked what the problem was the rabbi looked at him and said, “Doctor, our leg hurts.” What a shared love to see your partner’s happiness or pain as your own. This can only be accomplished by caring as much for your spouse as you do for your own welfare and to know that in a challenging world you have each other’s backs. Look at your partner through the eyes of kindness, tolerance, and appreciation and this level of love is achievable.
THE NINTH COMMANDMENT: DON’T DRESS SLOVENLY
That’s right, people! Even your long-time lover likes to see you looking good. It can be very easy to fall into the, “Oh, well he/she loves me no matter what, so it doesn’t matter if I wear exercise clothes all day” (as I sit writing this in exercise clothes). Part of the time this may be true, but every now and then work to take it up a notch by getting yourself shiny and bright for your partner. It helps to keep those original sparks alive.
THE TENTH COMMANDMENT: DON’T BE A TYRANT
Speaking in command language (“Do this” “Get me that”) is demeaning and shows a lack of respect and appreciation. Words such as “please,” “thank you,” and “You’re the best!” grease the communication wheel and create goodwill between partners. Agree on roles, share chores and responsibilities as agreed upon within the context of the relationship. Help out when you see your loved one is stressed. Live in the relationship with open eyes and an open heart to prevent an imbalanced or abusive dynamic.
Always remember that it takes two to tango, and by living these Ten Commandments of Marriage, you and your partner can share one heck of a lifelong dance.
Originally written and published for Verily.