In countless studies it’s been shown that people in relationships are healthier, more satisfied with their lives, and live longer.
Probably because they are happier… Except, of course, when they’re not.
Few things are more painful than a marriage that is not working. I remember a comedian who once said that marriage is the formalized act of choosing to be annoyed over lonely.
It doesn’t have to be.
Marriage and committed relationship can be the most blissful, enjoyably challenging, self-realizing, and spiritually fulfilling part of your lifetime. The truth is in the Nat King Cole song, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.”
It turns out that whether or not your marriage is blissful and the greatest thing you’ll ever learn… is largely up to you.
Here are 10 practices that will create that kind of marriage for you. Every one of them is good enough to tattoo on your body.
You will construct a powerful, purposeful life of fulfillment and sweetness if you commit yourself to creating daily, meaningful practice of this list.
1. Prioritize Sex
Of course many couples have what they consider a wonderful and functional marriage as pals, without any sex.
And while I see nothing wrong with that, a friendship like that does not get the benefit of the intimacy-opening truths that are deeper than words can communicate. Physical touch is the most primal sense, and sharing sexual pleasure with the one you love is a unique and essential experience of aliveness.
Of course for elderly or physically disabled couples, sexuality might become challenging or infrequent, but touch can (and I believe must) remain an important component of marriage.
For younger couples, many of whom simply give up on sex as soon as the easy novelty wears off, they are missing out on one of the most important gifts of being human.
Spontaneity is great, but in our culture, the elevation of spontaneity as an important principle of sexual attraction is dysfunctionally overblown. Sex is too important to relegate it beneath spontaneity.
Schedule love making if necessary. Show up for sexuality in your life. Prioritize, practice it and play at it the way you would any other pleasurable priority in your life, and you will see love open, and relating become easier and easier in your marriage.
2. Never Forget That It’s A Romance, Not A Friendship
Your wife isn’t your drinking buddy and your husband isn’t your gossip girl-friend.
Of course, friendship is great and can happily co-exist inside of your marriage, but first and foremost, your partner is your lover.
You don’t spontaneously buy flowers for your buddy or light candles in the bedroom when your girlfriend is in the shower before bed.
Never stop courting each other. Treat your lover like a precious gift in your life. Treat them like what they are: The object of your love.
You will be amazed at how they will grow and rise to this expectation of being special.
3. Don’t Fear Emotions
Emotions are a part of being human. Suppressing them is a loss, and obeying them is foolish.
Cultivate the maturity to enjoy your emotions and feel them fully (even the difficult ones). Know that no matter how you play out your life, there will be both intense pleasure and ineffable pain. It’s a guarantee of being human.
Allow yourself to experience and honor your emotions and express them and share them to the best of your ability, while also understanding what they are.
Inquire into your emotions to find their source and gain greater understanding of your self and your lover, and remember that they are changeable, temporal, and most-often exist outside of the rational world.
4. Never Stop Discovering Each Other
One of the biggest mistakes that couples make with each other is the assumption that they know everything about each other. It turns out that believing you know someone is a cruelty to you both.
As the old adage goes, you never step into the same river twice – the river has changed and you have changed.
When you think you KNOW someone it makes them feel boxed in whenever they are around you. It stifles growth and it breed resentment.
Unfortunately, we are hard-wired as a mental efficiency to learn something and then believe it is true. We see a behavior from our lover a few times and that becomes who they are to us.
The bigger truth is that that is not who they are. It’s who they were in that circumstance, on that day, in that mood, and in the past. Humans are dynamic, and what we like now might be very different from what we want in 20 minutes.
The practice of seeing your lover with fresh eyes, of discovering them as if they were a stranger, every morning at breakfast and every evening when you make love, is one of the deep secrets to sexual, emotional, romantic, and spiritual fulfillment in your marriage.
5. Your Entire Universe Is Whatever You Pay Attention To.
Be mindful of your attention and focus on what you love.
My friend once said to me, “Attention is the most valuable resource in the Universe.”
What he means by this is that your attention IS your Universe. If you give it to television, then your life will pass as television. If you give it to solving the world’s problems, then that will have been your life. There really is nothing outside of your attention for you in this lifetime.
Anthony Robbins talks about people at a party… The next morning one person says it was great, and another says it was boring. What was the difference? What their attention was on.
Here’s the thing you must never forget: Where you focus your attention is a choice.
It turns out that your spouse is like that party. Choose to focus on their short-comings and very quickly that is what they will become for you in your life.
Make a practice of finding their most beautiful, attractive, and powerful qualities and focus on those. Those qualities will continue grow under your appreciation, and you will look back on a life shared with someone wonderful.
6. Honor Disagreement
My father once told me that when two business partners agree all the time, one of them is unnecessary.
Many couples find disagreement threatening. They are afraid that if they disagree then they will have to argue, compromise, lie, placate, or do SOMETHING so that they can back into agreement.
This feeling is driven by the disempowering and unrealistic belief that it’s important for a couple to agree.It’s not.
When your spouse holds a different opinion from you, even when it’s frustrating for you, acknowledge to yourself that it’s an important part of attraction that you are not the same person, (and then congratulate yourself for being wise and mature enough to let your partner be the person that they are).
There is a poisonous belief that work is more important than play.
In fact, they are both essential parts of life and both deserve the respect and concentrated focus and effort of your time.
Give play your attention and your life will be more fun. Play with your partner and your relationship will be fun.
Life is already full of seriousness and it does not need your help in being more soberly attendant to difficulty.
Never stop having fun with each other. Give each other permission every single day to be silly, to laugh, and to feel joy.
8. Give The Gift Of Your Presence
If your attention is the most valuable resource in the Universe, it is also the most precious gift.
Your presence has never been more rare, more difficult to give, and more appreciated than in todays world of infinite electronic, entertainment, business, and communication distraction.
Every time the cell phone rings or a Facebook update pings into your phone you have a choice to let it interrupt your time with your spouse, and declare it more important than your presence with each other.
You also have the choice to turn it off, even if only for a few minutes, and to be fully, undistractedly present with each other.
Even in small doses this is powerful medicine.
9. Strive to reveal your deepest Truth And Be A Safe Harbor For Your Partner’s Deepest Truth
Being vulnerable and truthful as a human requires enormous courage, effort, and intention. But it’s the best game in town for living in happiness and fulfillment.
Humans are, generally, incapable of being truthful all the time, and we are filled with crap that we are ashamed of. You may never get down to the very bottom of every truth inside of yourself with your lover, but you will benefit greatly if you make a practice of trying.
Reveal what you are able, and then practice every day at pushing that boundary deeper and farther.
Commit to yourself by all that you hold holy to be safe, accepting, and loving in the face of anything that your partner reveals to you in the name of vulnerability and truth.
10. Love The Perfection Of Imperfection
You have two choices: You can either love the imperfect or you can get out of the love game altogether.
There is no such thing as perfect, and that is radically true of humans. We are a hot mess!
If you get frustrated by your lover’s imperfections and try to improve them, you are behaving in a highly irrational manner and will suffer the consequences of clinging to your no-win game.
Instead, allow yourself to fall in love with the sweetness of the struggling animal that is your beloved. Practice a deep and loving acceptance of humans in general and your spouse in particular.
David Deida wrote, “Stop waiting for your partner to change.”
That sentence rocked my world when I first read and it changed me forever. It re-made me into the kind of lover that is capable of intense, lasting, and beautiful relationship.
11. Surrender 100% Of Your Heart
I know, I said 10, but I like to over-deliver. Plus, this last one is in a category of it’s own and is virtually impossible for most folks to do.
It is also the most sacred and powerful practice of relationship.
It turns out that if you surrender 60% of your heart, your relationship will be fairly easy to manage and relatively drama and pain free (though perhaps often annoying). As you increase your level of surrender, the relationship becomes more dangerous, more fiery, more naked and vulnerable. Fights become more painful.
At 90%, relationships are heart-breakingly difficult. The pleasure and pain are both threatening, even overwhelming in their magnitude.
Is it any wonder that 100% looks like something suicidally terrifying?
The thing is though, there is a magic trick that happens when you can make the ultimate leap of faith and surrender your heart 100% to your lover:
Everything suddenly become easy, and you learn the deepest lesson that life has to offer. The Universe, and God, and Love, and Truth all suddenly make sense in perfect clarity.
It turns out that nobody else can tell you what that lesson is. You have to go out and experience it for yourself.