Five things a marriage needs to survive

I'M OFTEN asked how to have a long lasting, happy relationship or marriage.

What's the "secret"? What's the formula?

I'm married (it doesn't make me an expert), I've studied research on the science of love and relationships (again, no expert me) I've counselled, taught and spoken to people in long term relationships and over the years I've distilled a small list of what I call essential qualities for a healthy marriage or serious and committed relationship.

Not a formula, and not a secret in the bunch even.

For certainty, everyone will have their own unique experience of what is essential - no two couples are the same. Even the same couple are not the same from year one to year 10 and beyond.

So while reading below, please allow for lots of flexibility (darn, that should have been on the list) and your own flavour too.

Agree or disagree, here are five of my top 10 qualities for a healthy marriage - in no particular order - because again, everyone will place these qualities on different spots of the totem poles of their own relationships, and also when in different phases of their relationships too.

1. Laugh

Begin, enjoy the middle, and stay together to the end, always with the enjoyment of each other's company. It's pretty simple: if you're happy together, you're more likely to stay together.

2. Communicate

Okay we all knew this was going to be towards the top of the list, random order or not.

Without effective communication you have a muddle of miscommunication, misunderstandings, and mis-assumptions.

Translation: a sea of negative reactions, feelings and subsequent not good behaviours.

Not likely to lead to a healthy, happy or long union. So listen up. To your partner that is.

3. Respect each other

And that means in all ways.

Allow for the other to be the individual you became attracted to and intrigued and fascinated by.

Allow for you to be separate people with potentially different interests, tastes, opinions, thoughts and needs.

Give each other space. You didn't become a couple and merge into one person.

A healthy relationship does not complete a person ... rather, it bonds two complete people, in love and mutual like, who respect each other, differences and all, and work to build a solid foundation together for a shared life.

4. Have shared goals

Couples with shared goals stay together longer. Makes sense.

They not only live daily life together (and that's not always rosy in marriage now is it, let's be real) but they envision their future together and actively contribute towards it together.

Cue the sad background music, oh it's so cliche, when you stop dreaming together you begin dreaming separate hopes for yourself. ... but sadly it's true.

How do you think "irreconcilable differences" start to fester for many couples who took that hopeful trip down the aisle?

5. Prioritise each other

Prioritise each other, yes, but prioritise the relationship too.

There are three working parts to a relationship, not just two.

There's "me", because you are always important and the moment you stop nurturing yourself resentment and other nasties creep in to sabotage your relationship.

Then there's your partner who I refer to as "he or she" and their needs are also vitally important.

Finally there's the "we".

The "we" is the relationship itself.

It's a third entity in your relationship, in which you not only focus on doing things you want, or what you think will make your partner happy, but those things you know will be good for you as a couple.

Here we have date nights, exploring new interests together, a shared social life, sex of course, talking, and touching which doesn't lead to sex (wait, what? No, really, trust me, it's essential) and all the other things you know helps make you two feel connected.

Want to know the next five to round out the top 10 essential qualities for a healthy marriage?

Until you get to reading part two, why not discuss what they might be with your partner?

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