1. What are your top 5 tips to creating a successful marriage?

I think the number one tip I have; is for couples to understand that relationships are indeed hard work. There is a common perception out there that, if you really love someone, then everything in the relationship will come easily. That is also why, I believe, people give up so easily in marriages.

As soon as things start becoming difficult, it leads to an emotional-disconnect (if not handled correctly) and we start losing that “loving” feeling for the other person. The moment that happens, people jump to the automatic conclusion that they have made a mistake in marrying this specific person, because the love is gone. We need to realize that – being in love is easy…but loving someone is often very hard work and will not and cannot just be a feeling that you just happen to have or not have. And that brings me to my second tip. 

It is of the utmost importance that you as a couple stay connected.  I often see couples who state that the person they have married, does not exist anymore, they never expected that person to change…Realistically speaking change is inevitable! Every situation we face and every challenge that life throws at us, shapes and moulds us to a certain extent. Just think about how much we can learn from certain life experiences and how we can use that knowledge to better who we are as people…so how can we expect of each other to stay exactly the same…? Therefore it is extremely important to grow together; for if you’re not growing together, you will grow apart. 

How do we make sure that we grow together? Make time for one another. Being married and a mom of two, I have first-hand experience in how difficult it is to make time for you and your partner to just connect. One of the big challenges couples have is time. My advice to couples is to really try and get into the habit of having, at the very least, two hours a week for just the two of you – without the kids! And make sure that the time you spent together is worth it! That brings me to the next tip; 

When couples actually do manage to get some time for just the two of them, it is usually spent on discussing all the logistics regarding the household; who is taking which child to what appointment, don't forget the family dinner, the car service …no real intimate connection at all. When you get the opportunity to spend time together, try to focus on deeper issues. Hopes and dreams, fears and desires… so stay interested in one another as individuals. Use the time you have to make sure that you are aware of what is going on in your partner’s head, heart and life in general.   

Lastly, another tip would be to take personal responsibility for your relationship. I usually explain it as follows. You and your partner are both two, very unique individuals. The moment you got married/started a committed relationship, those two individuals did not disappear – they simply became creators of and responsible for a third entity; their relationship. So in everything you do, always ask yourself the question – is what I am doing, who I am spending time with, what I am saying or thinking, or what I am choosing to believe…is this specific thing “Life-giving” to our relationship, or is it “Life-taking”. Does it add to that third separate entity we call “us” or does it subtract from it. Understand that successful marriages don't just happen; they are created. And it is your own, personal responsibility to keep on co-creating as you go along. 

2. Does physical attraction play a large role in determining relationship success?

I believe you could successfully argue both sides of the coin here. In my opinion though, I think physical attraction is less important than we think. In my experience, what most people define as a successful marriage/relationship; has less to do with physical attraction and more with an emotional connection i.e. companionship, respect, understanding, friendship, support… Yes; physical attraction is one of the components here, but not all important. You can be extremely attracted to someone physically, but he or she might not be able to meet most of your other needs. Remember that we are need driven beings; we've got spiritual, emotional, cognitive, financial, social and physical needs to name but a few. The success of the relationship, in my opinion, depends on how well we as a couple understand and meet each other’s needs in general. 

3. How important is communication?

Healthy and effective communication is most definitely one of the key cornerstones of any healthy and successful relationship. And, healthy and effective communication is probably one of the most complained about topics I deal with on a daily basis. Couples feel like they might as well be speaking two different languages! He says one thing, but you hear something completely different. One of our biggest desires and needs in relationships specifically, but in life in general; is to be truly heard and understood. Not one of which is possible without communication being both healthy and effective.

When asking couples what they feel some of the components of healthy and effective communication are, a lot of emphasis is put on the giving of information; or the person doing the talking. Not many people seem to realise that Healthy and Effective communication has two active role players – someone who talks…but someone who truly listens as well. If you redefine healthy communication as “listening to one another with the intent to understand” you'll be well on your way! 

4. Respecting each other's views can be difficult at times. Do you have any strategies or tools for being more open-minded?

This is a very challenging problem I am often faced with. Again, we need our partners to hear our hearts, to respect our viewpoints. So in this too, healthy and effective communication is an absolute must. It is important to note as well, that we do not necessarily have to agree with each other all the time – it keeps life interesting.  It is not the disagreeing with one another wherein the problem lies; it is often the how we disagree that causes the hurt and the feelings of being misunderstood, dismissed and belittled. My advice would be, to really listen when your partner shares a certain viewpoint, and really try to understand where your partner is coming from or why he/she would feel a certain way or see something in a specific light. If you really, honestly try to understand without judging or interrupting or defending yourself…the not agreeing in itself won’t be such a big problem, because the how  is sorted out. Another thing to keep in mind is – if we agree to disagree, where does that leave us? In other words, if we disagree about something that directly influences us, we have to work at coming up with a practical solution that suits both of us! So here; compromise comes into play. 

5. Do you have any advice on how to keep a relationship interesting for couples that have been married for many years?

My advice would be to really pay attention to the little things in life. It’s often the little things that slowly but surely start falling through the cracks, so follow the 5 tips I've given in the beginning of the article as a start. If you've been married for a while now, ask yourself honestly: is our emotional connection what you would like it to be? If you can't answer yes honestly, take responsibility and start creating that connection. Be creative; don't stagnate and fall into a too boring and predictable routine. Try and find something new to do together often; like dancing lessons, or taking a cooking class together. It broadens your horizons, gives you new, shared- experiences, memories and gives you something new to talk about. Make sure that you have something fun to do on a regular basis – important here is to remember – it has to be fun for both of you.

Try and learn something new about your partner on a weekly basis. This can be quite a challenge if you've been married for quite a while; but take up this challenge, and you will experience the rewards thereof. The most important thing here is to remember that you; personally have to take responsibility for your relationship; in so doing breathing life into it on a continuous basis.