18 Qualities of a Marriage Built to Last

happy older coupleHow do you stay married? One way is to be sensitive to each other’s needs and to compromise every now and then. That means taking turns getting one’s way, or finding a third way that suits you both.

I bought tickets to a concert months ago; I bought them because I’m the one who wanted to go, and my husband acquiesced because he is a good sport, better than I am. But when the time came to go (actually, the night before), I saw he wasn’t feeling that great and the concert promised to be a brawl anyway so I suggested we stay home. He agreed immediately because he thought I was tired, he said, even though we must have both known he felt lousy too and never really wanted to go in the first place. He told me he was skipping the concert for my sake. He’s done this before, where he indicates he’s doing something for me but it’s really for him. Occasionally I point that out, but this time I didn’t. And he was right; I was tired. This spring has been a rough time in many ways for us both, and I’m not talking about the weather.

I had bought the tickets looking forward to us having a good time together, but now I didn’t think it would be fun with him punky and me tired, although I felt disappointed. I knew someone who would probably like to go to the concert, so I gave her the tickets and got to be generous twice with one gesture. It all added up: two tickets minus two people who didn’t want to go plus two other people who did want to go equals four happy campers. My math may not be that good, but you get the idea.

Relationships are not logical like math. The numbers don’t always add up; they are about the space between people, the back-and-forth flow, feeling the whole being of the other. That takes time, determination, an open heart, and a sensitive touch.

Oh, and by the way, on the day of the concert I was very busy and tired and glad to have an early evening. When work was over, my husband and I met at a local restaurant, had a lovely dinner together, and went home feeling happy and connected. We had found the third way, a low-key evening that pleased us both.

Eighteen qualities that help make a marriage last:

  1. Trust. Our marriage space is sacred and private.
  2. Restraint. We resist temptation and remain true to each other.
  3. Intimacy. We are open with each other.
  4. Priorities. We both put our marriage first.
  5. Difference. We respect each other’s differences, and know that difference lends interest.
  6. Sameness. We share basic values, some interests, and tastes.
  7. Communication. We speak up and communicate our needs, likes, dislikes, agreements, and disagreements.
  8. Fairness. We play fair.
  9. Respect. We demonstrate it.
  10. Emotion. We get mad at each other sometimes; we are human.
  11. Reconnection. We get un-mad. If it takes a day or so, we live with it and work on letting the anger go.
  12. Humor. Having a sense of humor helps.
  13. Gratitude. We are so glad to be together, and we say so.
  14. Truthfulness. If we have to say something that might be hard for one of us to hear, we tell the truth, and we try to say it gently and clearly so that the other person can hear it.
  15. Sensitivity. We know where the buttons are and are careful not to push them.
  16. Persistence. Staying married takes time, determination, and hard work.
  17. Forgiveness. For your partner and for yourself, too.
  18. Teamwork. We help each other grow.

I’m sure there are many other qualities that you can think of that help a marriage stay healthy and alive, and I’d love to hear from you. What things do you and your partner consider important? How long have you been together? We first met in 1980 and have been together ever since.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lynda

    June 23rd, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    I am so thankful to see that there are so many areas where I think that my husband and I excel, but let me be clear. We are not perfect and our marriage is in no way perfect either. But what we do have is a relationship of exclusivity and trust and love for one another and I think that it is those things that help to make the other stuff a little easier. Again let me be clear on another issue. No matter how great it can be a good marriage is never easy and you can’t ever stop working at making it better. When you stop working then the magic that brought you together is lost little by little until there is nothing there anymore.

  • purcell

    June 23rd, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    I find that many of us get bogged down in the differences and don’t use those as a chance to learn something new but instead always use them as something to fuss and argue about. That to me is not the secret to longevity in any relationship. You have to be willing to see the differences in a way that can be psoitive and take that as a chance to learn something that maybe you had forgotten about this person.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 23rd, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    Lynda, thank you for writing about your moving understanding of what it means to be married.

  • marquise

    June 24th, 2014 at 4:10 AM

    Yet there are those marriages who seem to possess none of those above traits and they persist and last. How does that happen? Stubborn refusal to see the truth?

  • Seedling

    June 24th, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    May I just say I really enjoyed your story? It seemed honest to me, and it showed the give-and-take of your relationship beautifully. You each had “stuff”, moments where you could have dug in your heels and refused to budge, or complained about your partner’s issues – but you didn’t. And you found a third way together that was respectful of both you and your circumstances. Beautiful. My husband and I have been married for 31 years, and I can attest that it takes a willingness to be aware of one’s own stuff to extend the kind of grace and compassion to the other that you speak of here. I wish it hadn’t taken us so long, but we have today :-)

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 24th, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    Hi Seedling and Marquise-
    Stuff moments– great phrase Seedling, and yes, we each had and have them but we work through it. Marquise, duration, as you observe, is not the same as quality, but the marriages you observe might have qualities that are hard to see.
    Thanks, both of you, for writing.

  • Hank

    June 24th, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    My wife and I have had some real knock down drag outs in our marriage, I will attest to that. But we always find a way to play fair. It is not down and dirty, but we do try to keep it honest. I won’t say that voices never get raised, but when you keep it real, keep it honest, that helps to keep you a little more grounded than when words and accusations are thrown around for nothing.

    This is not my favorite part of being with her although I know that there are couples who genuinely thrive on disagreement! I would never be able to be a part of a marriage like that. That is just too much negative energy being thrwon around for my taste.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 24th, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Hank, you and your wife know how to fight fair and love grounded. Thanks for writing about it.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 24th, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Purcell, you’re right, some difference lends spice and interest.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • jed d.

    June 25th, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    There will be times when you are married that you feel like you have all 18 of these traits and then there will be other times when you look at this other person beside you and you wonder who this person is.
    Marriage can be very fluid and change from day to day, but for me this all hits it right on the head by emphasizing that while these things are true, a strong and lasting marriage is one that has all of the above traits at its core.
    It might not feel like that every day as we all go through phases of change, but at the heart of it all a marriage that works is one that has all of these things at its foundation.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    June 25th, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    Well said, Jed.
    Take care,

  • traci

    June 26th, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    couples who want it, they will cultivate it

  • Jaymie

    June 28th, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    My husband is the funniest person that I know and while there are times when I think that he can be a little crass, he can always seem to eventually bring a smile to my face and I love him so much for that. I don’t know what I would do if he was dour and not so much fun- I guess that without that sense of humor I probably would have never been attracted to him in the first place. Within about a minute of our first meeting he made me smile, a big and genuine smile and I think that even from those first moments that was when I knew that he would eventually be the man that I would want to marry.

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