10 Things I've Learned About Love & Relationships After 36 Years of Marriage

What should matter most in a successful marriage?My wife and I recently celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary. As I reflected on this, I decided to share my list of the top 10 things I have learned in 36 years, in no particular order.

1. We've had to grow-up together. We all bring our unfinished business with us into marriage and it's these developmental issues that create the most problems. In our case we got married young and that makes it even more obvious and important to grow up. When we have been honest with ourselves and worked on our own maturity, our relationship has grown.

2. We've had to change with life stages. Related to growing up is recognizing the need to adapt to different life stages. Each stage of life brings particular gifts and challenges to marriage. Being aware of this and making adjustments has been critical. Now as empty-nesters we are rediscovering certain freedoms while also dealing with getting older. It never stops.

3. Things go in cycles. Marriage is like a rose bush. It contains both beautiful flowers and thorns. Sometimes the flowers bloom and it is fragrant and wonderful. Sometimes the blooms fall off and all you see is the thorns. If you nurture the plant and keep it healthy, you can count on the blooms returning. Learn to accept it all with patience.

4. Trust follows behavior. Most people agree that trust is critical to a healthy relationship. The only way to earn or re-establish trust is through consistent loving and honorable behavior. Words become meaningless if not supported by your behavior. Read More: How Laughter Can Save Your Marriage

5. Values hold us together. My wife and I are different in personalities, motivations, and interests. What has been a foundation for our marriage is our shared values and priorities. It is vital to keep values in mind and talk about what is important to both of you at each stage of life.

6. It's sometimes hard to speak the truth. Telling your partner the truth can be difficult, especially if you haven't learned to be honest with yourself and in touch with your feelings and desires. We may be afraid of our partner's reactions or of exposing something we prefer to hide. The trick is speaking the truth in a spirit of love and owning responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.

7. Know and accept your partner. We all view life through our own perspective and assume it is the best or only way. Things that make my wife feel loved and cared about are not always the same for me.

What I am sensitive to is also different than what she is sensitive to. How she likes to do certain things is different than my way. I have wasted too much energy trying to change rather than accept her, and this only makes the patterns of reactions stronger. People do not need to be fixed, only loved and affirmed.

8. The best gift is your presence. The primary question in every intimate relationship is, "Are you really there for me?" Being present, paying attention, and enjoying time together sends the message that "you are most important to me and you can count on me to be here." One ritual my wife and I have enjoyed over the years is taking a weekend away, just the two of us, at least a couple times per year. It's a great way to re-connect.

9. Love stretches us. This is one of the purposes of marriage. Your partner will demand from you that which you are not yet capable of giving. For example, "I demand that you love me in spite of ..." That something is usually in the area in which you are most vulnerable, such as anger, sex, security, or need for affirmation. This is generally not a conscious process but it helps to be aware of it and cooperate with it. Read More: How To Survive Your First Year Of Marriage

10. My spouse is usually right about me. This is one I hate to admit but it's true. Even if it is feedback I don't want to hear or I think it is exaggerated or distorted, there is always some truth I need to hear. Sometimes my wife has more confidence in me than I have in myself and I need to hear that too. Learn to appreciate your spouse as your mirror and see what you may need to adjust.

Every relationship is unique of course, but I have noticed as a coach that these principles apply to all of us. Look in the mirror at yourself and your own marriage and see if some of these fit for you. Take the long view on your marriage and you will find your way!

Written by Tom King for YourTango.com.

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