Your marriage vows included the "'til death do us part" line, but you had no idea that married life could sometimes feel so long. You're not alone and statistics prove it. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that only 56 percent of men and 52 percent of women in first marriages reach a 20-year anniversary. But a look at the flip side of the numbers also reveals hope -- nearly half of marriages last longer than 20 years. Intentionality and hard work can dramatically increase your chances for a successful marriage -- and make that 20-year milestone only the beginning of your second honeymoon.
Choose to love. Song lyrics, television shows, literature and movies propel the idea that love is a feeling and mysteriously happens. Yet feelings come and go and change with circumstances -- leading to a shaky foundation for a marriage. Elevate love from a feeling to a daily demonstration of your commitment toward your spouse. Say to yourself every day, "I choose to love my spouse today" -- and then carry through on that promise until the next morning when you make the choice again. This conscious commitment may not always lend warm fuzzy feelings, but it can steadily strengthen your marital foundation.
Close the divorce door. The grass on the other side of the fence may in fact be greener than yours, but closing that fence gate and viewing divorce as not an option will keep you from prematurely escaping or bailing out precisely at the time you need to buckle down and work to build your marriage.
Communicate well. One of the leading predictors of divorce is when both partners communicate contempt to each other, says Dr. John Gottman, an expert on couple studies. Learn to show respect to your marriage partner in everyday communication. Avoid starting sentences with "you" plus a directive such as "should" or "must." Nobody wants to feel bossed around. Also, eliminate universal statements such as "you always" or "you never." When you start to feel resentful or angry toward your spouse about something, ask to revisit the conversation later after you've had a chance to cool down.
Change yourself, not your spouse. Disappointment and discontent with a partner are at the root of most failed marriages, yet both parties usually have a part in the fiasco. However, you can't change your spouse; you can only change yourself, reminds marriage expert and author Mitch Temple. Identify your own weaknesses in marriage -- how you fail to show love to your spouse, your annoying habits and failure to communicate properly. Strive to change those and you will likely see your marriage improve, too. With time, your spouse may notice and adapt personal behavior, too.
Ask forgiveness often. A biblical proverb says "humility comes before honor," and the saying especially holds true in a marriage. Saying sorry is hard to do and asking forgiveness is even harder -- especially when the other party is wrong, too. Practice self-awareness to the point that you can quickly notice when you're wrong and be willing to ask your spouse for forgiveness soon after. Your spouse's jaw might drop the first few times, but sooner or later the peace you give to your marriage will reap its rewards.