When you negotiate: Set ground rules to make negotiations pleasant and safe. Identify the problem from the perspectives of both you and your partner. Brainstorm solutions. Then choose the solution that appeals to both of you. Keep negotiating until you find a solution that you both can enthusiastically embrace.

Know that this hard work is well worth it, because it prevents resentment that can destroy your marriage over time. If you feel resentful because your partner isn’t respecting your thoughts and feelings to your satisfaction, complain as often as necessary to call attention to the problem instead of letting resentment fester and poison your marriage. Understand that making decisions jointly will lead to lasting fulfillment and a compatible, enjoyable lifestyle for both of you. Work together with your partner to identify the Love Busters with which you each currently struggle, and recognize which ones cause the greatest pain in your relationship. Then make a plan to eliminate each Love Buster and find someone to hold you each accountable to that plan. Seek professional help if you get stuck in the process.

The promise of honesty. This promise says, “I promise to be honest with you.” Understand that complete honesty is necessary for trust in your relationship, and that, without trust, your marriage will fail. Reveal both your positive and negative emotional reactions to your partner’s behavior and events in your life. Don’t hide any information about your personal history, especially events that demonstrate personal weakness or failure. Share information about the events of your day. Give your partner a calendar of your activities, with special emphasis on those that may affect him or her. Be open about your thoughts and plans regarding future activities and goals. Never deliberately keep any personal information from your partner. Work with your partner to encourage each other to be completely honest every day.

The promise of time. This promise says, “I promise to take time to give you my undivided attention.” Commit to giving your partner your undivided attention at least 15 hours each week (more if your marital satisfaction level is currently low), using the time to meet the emotional needs of affection, sexual fulfillment, intimate conversation, and recreational companionship. Schedule the time in various appointments with each other throughout the week, and guard that time from distractions and interruptions that aren’t genuine emergencies. Establish privacy by getting away from everyone else, including your children, other family members, and friends.

When you’re together on an appointment, don’t just do something passive such as watching television. Instead, do something that will allow you to actively relate to each other. Be creative and flexible about finding mutually enjoyable ways to spend the time together. Expect you and your partner’s interests to change as you grow older; be open to giving up some activities and exploring new ones together.

Adapted from I Promise You: Preparing for a Marriage that Will Last a Lifetime, copyright 2006 by Willard F. Harley, Jr. Published by Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., http://www.revellbooks.com/.  

Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D., is a nationally acclaimed clinical psychologist, marriage counselor, and best-selling author of books such as His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage. His website, http://www.marriagebuilders.com/, offers practical solutions to almost any marital problem. Dr. Harley leads Marriage Builders Weekends across the country and lives in Minnesota with Joyce, his wife of more than 40 years.