In his book, “How to Love,” bestselling author and psychiatrist Gordon Livingston offers 37 chapters of advice for a happy marriage. Having myself compiled stories, excerpts, and insights from hundreds of couples—famous and not—in my book with co-editor Mike Leach, “I Like Being Married,” I recognized the wisdom in his simple suggestions. I chose four of my favorite—insights that I believe are the most important in striving for a happy marriage.
“People ask me what advice I have for a married couple struggling in their relationship,” said Mother Teresa, “I always answer: pray and forgive.” Ruth Bell Graham wrote, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Livingston describes the effort of forgiveness as “becoming the person you long to love.” We must cultivate in ourselves the traits of characters that we value in ourselves. And given our human fallibility, he explains, “the most important quality may turn out to be the ability to forgive.”
2. Recognize Patterns.
Per Livingston: “If we wish to protect ourselves from disappointment at the hands of others, and if we think it is important to recognize those who will enrich our lives, we had best learn the art of pattern recognition when it comes to human behavior.” In their book, “Getting the Love You Want,” psychologists Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt explain the process of healing our childhood wounds in the behavior we exhibit with our life partners. Once we recognize our patterns and the wounds we so desperately want to heal, we disable the power of our patterns to destruct.
3. Kill Negotiations.
According to Livingston, the negotiations—indirect or direct—that we make at the expense of our partners are the antithesis of love. That is, if the definition of love is to place the needs and desires of another at the level of our own. Livingston writes: “Marriages that come to my attention are on life support. Their common theme is that they have become power struggles; in fact, most appear to have been so from the beginning. The issues over which the contest is fought are familiar—money, children, sex—but the underlying causes are usually diminished self-respect and unmet expectations.”
4. Be Kind.
Rudolf Ray once wrote, “I would like to have engraved inside every wedding band, ‘Be kind to one another.’ This is the golden rule of marriage, and the secret of making love last through the years.” The best piece of marriage advice I have ever heard was uttered at a bridal shower I attended 20 years ago. The older woman said to the young bride-to-be: “Be nice.” Writes Livingston: “Kindness is the indispensable virtue from which most of the others flow, the wellspring of our happiness. If the definition of love is raising the needs and desires of another to the level of our own, then kindness implies an ability to weight these needs in every interaction with people.”
Originally published on “Sanity Break” at Everyday Health