I'm not married, so you might not trust my insights here. Still, I have been married, for almost 20 years, so I do have some experience. More importanty, my former partner is, today, among my three closest friends. Can you say that about an ex? Mine knows me better than anyone else on the planet, not counting myself (cuz there ain't nobody knows as much about me as I know).
I believe that living in a healthy marriage and through its peaceful dissolution gives me special authority. That two survivors of serious childhood abuse, two addicts, managed 20 years together, while in recovery, is really pretty remarkable and, I believe, a testament to the validity of my "recipe."
Here's all I think you need to do for joyful marriage, regardless of how marriage shows up in your life (which I add in recognition that there are more ways to form a family than I could possibly conceive, alone). I chose this photo because (although these women look nothing like us) they remind me of the joyful energy my former partner and I have together, even still.
1. Talk with each other, not just at each other. Really talk. Get beyond the details of the day and talk about how you feel. What touched or moved you about your day? What inspired you or called you to action? What broke your heart? Tell each other about your childhoods, past relationships, best friends, heartbreaks and betrayals. Share as authentically and vulnerably as you can. Make time every day for talking together, even if just for a few minutes.
2. Listen to each other. Really listen, deeply, with curiousity. Wonder what s/he is like, rather than assuming you know. Have a thirst to get to know a partner, thoroughly, without judgment. Keep yourself in "discovery" mode and be open to being discovered, yourself. Tell each other what you think you're learning about each other.
3. Speak up and be who you are, all the time. Express the real you. Never hide who you are or change yourself to please a partner. Don't try to manage your partner's feelings and thoughts with your behavior. "Oh, I can't do that...s/he'll be mad!" Let me tell you something, nobody ever died from being mad. One person being mad for a few minutes doesn't kill a marriage, either.
4. Get clear, up front, about everything important. Long before the commitment of marriage and, possibly, before some other significant commitment (e.g., sexual connection, cohabitation, or merged finances), make sure you're on the same page about relationship components significant to you. Are you looking for monagamy (and what does that mean to you)? Do you want children? Travel? Where do you want to live and in what lifestyle? Are you religious or spiritual and do you need your partner to be the same? What are your expectations around shared or separate finances? What do you want your sex life to be like? What else really matters to you, now and for the long haul? Find out whether there's compatability on the big stuff, early in the relationship, before it becomes a lifetime commitment.
5. Meet each others' needs, with the corollary that you must become aware of your needs and ask for them. Trust in a relationship is built from this foundation, and I believe a relationship cannot survive without trust. But needs are internal, invisible to others. Self-awareness and speaking up for yourself (see #3) are essential components of meeting each others' needs.
6. Share experiences. Do stuff together, even dull stuff...and un-dull it. Go get groceries together, walk the dog together, create moments for each other with surprises or gifts of service or objects. Extravagence is not necessary; in fact, simple is often best. Go on vacations and day trips, have game nights with friends. Make memories together, having fun. And do the hard stuff together. Bury the beloved animal companions, go to the family funerals, grieve the losses that aren't about deaths. Be emotionally vulnerable and emotonally intimate.
7. Touch each other when its not about sex. While cooking, walking the dog, shopping, watching a movie.... Hold hands. Sit close. When you speak to each other, look at each other and touch each others' face or hair. GIve forehead kisses and eyelid kisses and back-of-the-hand kisses, just to be close. Be physically intimate outside of the ways you share yourselves sexually. Cuddle up like young puppies in a basket and let your shared warmth fill you with love that expects nothing else but your enjoyment of it in the moment.
8. Be just with each other; that is, seek a relationship that embodies justice. You may never be equal on all fronts -- physical strength, intellectual prowess, emotional stability, earning power -- but you can commit to supporting each others strengths, and to creating equity and justice in the relationship. See #1 and #4, too, and talk with each other to create clarity about how you will live with naturally occuring imbalances in power. Feeling less powerful than a partner kills joy faster than anything else because it's only a hair's-breadth away from feeling less valuable.
There are eight ingredients, rather than seven, but this is a recipe for 7 Childhood Treasures-based marriage. Without individuals who own the Treasures of Trust, Independence, Faith, Negotiation, Vision, Compromise, and Acceptance, these eight ingredients are impossible to create.
My first book on the 7 Childhood Treasures is coming out in September! Just Be Your S.E.L.F. (Self-governed, Ego-aware, Leading, Free) -- Your Guide to Improving Any Relationship will be available in bookstores, on Amazon.com (print and e-book), and through my website. RIGHT NOW you can pre-order a copy and get it autographed, if you become a backer of my Kickstarter campaign at the "Trust" level of pledge ($25).Other cool rewards come at other levels of pledge (want to come to my book release party?) Click here to become a backer before the campaign ends on July 27.
My TEDx talk on the lost art of dreaming, "Never Lost Forever," will be available by July 23rd on my YouTube channel!