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What makes a successful marriage/relationship?

I asked nine happily married couples that question for a project last spring. I continued interviewing couples over the summer and Winter Break, and I noticed a pattern to what people had to say on the topic. Overwhelmingly, there was a top answer that at least one spouse gave. I’ll give you a moment to think about what that might be.

Did the word “love” cross your mind?

Good answer. You can’t have a serious relationship without it. However, love didn’t snag number one for what makes a successful relationship. There are plenty of couples that have been in love and split up.

If your answer was communication, you get a gold star for the day.

Communication is key to any relationship, but is overlooked in so many ways. There are always things  you can do to communicate better.

First of all, it’s never a good idea to keep things bottled up. It’s not fair to you or to the person you’re dating. It’s probably not something you want to keep dealing with. Plus, no one has the ability to read minds, and rarely do issues magically disappear if you don’t talk about them. If that’s not enough incentive, there are plenty of couples I’ve seen split up because they didn’t talk about problems that could have easily been addressed.

Perhaps you feel you’re not in the right frame of mind to talk about problems with your significant other, but s/he is pestering you and asking what’s wrong. If this is the case for you, keep in mind something one of my interviewees said: “Sometimes, it’s important to just say, ‘Yes, something’s bothering me, but I need to come up with the right way to talk to you about it.’”

When you’re discussing something that’s bothering you with your significant other, timing is everything. Whether you’re talking about something that the other person has done or an outward struggle you’re looking for some sympathy on, there’s a right time for it.

I remember my mom always telling me not to bombard my dad about a bad grade or a fight with a friend the second he got home from work. She knew he wanted to come home and unwind, and when he had a hard day, the last thing he wanted to hear was, “Oh, by the way, I didn’t do well on my math test.” Her own mother had told her this, and my mother saw how it contributed to the sense of balance that upheld her parents’ relationship.

So don’t hit your significant other with: “Remember that thing you did the other day? That really bothered me,” when the look on his or her face is telling you that now is not the time to bring up your own issue. Wait until you’re both in the right state to resolve a conflict. That will bring peace and harmony to the situation.

That brings me to the next part. When you do find the right time to talk about your relationship glitch, delivery is important. Remember the saying from kindergarten, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”? Think about it. Saying “Ugh! I hate it when you [fill in the blank]” sets a different tone than, “Hey, can we talk about this? This has been bothering me.” Of course, you will come up with your own way of delivering the message, but do it with a kind and loving motive of wanting to make your relationship better instead of ranting. Say it with love.

Using words like “always” and “never” can be danger zones unless it’s 100% true. “You never call me when you say you’re going to.” “You always complain about your roommate.” If you over-generalize, the other person will feel defensive, and your time to improve your relationship by communicating what’s bothering you can turn into a big war of who’s right and who’s wrong.

If you’re on the receiving end of all this, be willing to discuss what’s on your significant other’s mind. While it may not be something you want to hear, s/he loves you and has enough courage to tell you something is wrong. It’s quite phenomenal if you’re dating someone who cares enough about your relationship to want to fix something that seems to have gone awry. As important as it is to say it with love, it’s just as important to receive it with love.

If you love and respect each other enough to really communicate, even when it’s hard, you’re on your way to a seriously fabulous future.

Love from me to you,


Lyrics from Title: “Say” by John Mayer