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Marriage Survival: The Holidays and Beyond

By Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC

So you want to have a successful marriage?

Sure, we all do. But statistics tell us that the chances are pretty good that you'll fail. And the truth is that many married folks aren't willing to do the things necessary to have a successful relationship. During the holidays, our relationships can suffer when stress and overwhelm get in the way. But as long as we remember to practice the strategies of successful marriages, our holidays can be filled with joy and gratitude.

So what are the essential qualities of a successful relationship that will stand the test of time?

1. Be a Blame-Free Zone

An interesting thing happens when you blame your spouse. You actually get more of the very behavior that you say you dislike. When I blame my wife, she's quite aware that I'm blaming her. What does she do? She blames me back!

I see her as the problem, and she sees me the same way. All over the country, there are couples blaming each other and feeling justified in doing it. Sadly, millions feel that being "right" is more important than the health of their marriage!

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Blaming your spouse has never worked and never will. There are certainly times that you can be angry with your spouse, but carrying around blame and resentment will kill your chances for long-term success.

2. Commitment as a Daily Ritual

"Commitment" should be more than a word you used on your wedding day. Commitment can be the practice of specific acts done on a daily basis. Commitment can be an enthusiastic welcome at the door every night, daily acknowledgements, or spending free time with your spouse.

Commitment is shown in everyday acts that are repeated over and over. When these acts are forgotten or neglected, they need to be re-visited and started again. Bored? Then do it differently, change the ritual, or just get over it! Your boredom often speaks to your inability to find depth and meaning in everyday life-and your ability to handle a long-term relationship.

3. Use the "Five to One Rule"

For every scornful look, sarcastic comment, or criticism, there should be five positive acts or interactions--a hug, a wink, or a compliment. In the research for his book "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail," John Gottman Ph.D. found that if there were at least five positive acts for every negative one, the marriage was very likely to succeed. In fact, it didn't matter if the negative interactions were quite hostile, as long as the positive interactions took place.

Successful marriages need a steady dose of kind acts and thoughts. When you provide these to your spouse, your capacity for kindness grows along with it. Not only for your spouse, but for others in your life as well.

How well do you employ these strategies in your marriage? Have a little fine-tuning to do? It's never too late to start improving.

Just ask your spouse.

© Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of "25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers". For more great tips and action steps for fathers, sign up for his FREE bi-weekly newsletter, Dads, Don't Fix Your Kids, at


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