Cinderella and the Prince live happily-ever-after. The End. I closed the book for the thousandth time. The pages were tattered from wear. Every time I read the story as a child, I felt this unparalleled connection with the words. I was sure that one day my prince would come. And I know I am not alone. Every year, over 2,000,000 people enter into the institution of marriage with hopes of finding their own prince or princess. Sadly, some later come to the conclusion that they married a toad –not the prince they expected.

The statistics vary on the divorce rate in the U.S. However, it is thought to be somewhere between 53 to 68 percent. This number does not factor in those who are separated or unhappily complacent in their marriages. But regardless of the grim figures, people still continue to get married and many find their fairytale ending. The question is then, “How can we all successfully slay the dragons of marriage and live happily-ever after?”

Without having to read innumerous books, I can summate about a half dozen marriage self-help books into two words–perception and expectation. For many of us, we get wrapped up in the perception of what marriage “should be.” And for others of us, we combine that perception with a rather unreasonable list of “expectations” for our significant other.

Many people enter into the union of marriage thinking that they are in love. Yet the love that many of us tend to give our spouses is a conditional love that is distributed as a kind of reward for fulfilling our personal expectations. But real love, love from the heart space, comes without conditions. It is pure, honest, and unrestricted. It fully and completely honors the divine space within our loved ones without subjecting them to grueling tests, changes, or lofty expectations. More simply put by Deepak Chopra, “On the path to love, impossibilities are resolved by turning non-love into love.” As offering unconditional love to our loved ones is the primary step in fostering a lasting relationship, there are, of course, other things we can do to ensure a successful marriage.

It has been suggested in innumerous self-help books that the things that we tend not to like (or even hate) in others are simply a reflection of what is within ourselves. The key here is to step back from our judgment of others and reflect upon what really belongs to us and not the other person. Harville Hendrix states, “Rather than getting rid of the partner and keeping the problem, you should get rid of the problem so that you can keep the partner.” Owning our own “stuff” will not only foster emotional health within, but it will alleviate a lot of conflict and ill will towards others.

Recently, I spoke to a woman who was telling me that her significant other “should” be more romantic. He “should” give her flowers and perform quixotic gestures of love. My question to her was twofold. The question was simply why “should” he do those things? And does he know that those are things you’d enjoy? Her answer, “I deserve it, and no, he doesn’t know.” There are two key issues to address in her response–inner happiness and communication. As a life coach, I cringe when I hear a person or couple proclaim, “He/she makes me so happy.” Or conversely, “He/she doesn’t make me happy anymore.” Both sentences are an inroad to or a result of disappointment.

In our busy, fast-paced world, we forget to take the time to nurture ourselves. Therefore, many of us expect others to do it for us. We desperately want someone to fill the void that has grown beyond proportion. However, it is not the responsibility of your partner to “make” you happy nor is it their responsibility to fill an internal hole. It is your responsibility to find peace within yourself. True happiness comes from within. The things that we have in our periphery are all transient and temporary. The more people pull away from their inner joy and happiness, the more they expect others to fulfill their needs. Unfortunately, no mere mortal can perform that magic–only we have that power to satisfy our inner needs and find true bliss.

The other piece to successful marriages lies in the second part of the woman’s answer–communication. She wanted something from her husband, but expected him to find clairvoyant powers to meet her needs. Apart from love, communication is the second most important ingredient to having a successful relationship. Harville Hendrix, says, “Distorted communication is interpretation rather than reflection. Since an interpretation is what you understand or what you think rather than what your partner meant, it often results in conflict and judgment.” Clearly communicating your feelings and desires is very important. But the key to this is owning your feelings and not attacking your partner thereby putting them in a defensive position. This can be done with simple “I” statements such as “I feel and I would like.” The other part of this is the practice of “active listening.” Really be present when your spouse is talking. Listen without judgment or feeling the need to interject your thoughts. Repeat back to them what you have heard and understood to be sure that you are clear about their thoughts and feelings.

Marriage isn’t always easy. There is not one magic recipe for success. And even if you talk to 100 happily married couples, they will all give you their experience. However, we are all unique. So what works for one rarely works for another. We have to find our own way on the path of life. But there are things that can be done to increase of odds of success in a marriage. Foremost, I think that many would agree that the best course of action is to love. This love comes from the heart, not from the head. Open your heart to its fullest without expectation, hopes, wishes, or desire. Just love for the sake of love. “If you have it [Love], you don’t need to have anything else, and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter much what else you have.” ~Sir James Barrie Remember: Love Connects Us All.

Book List

Harville Hendrix: Keeping The Love You Find

John Gray: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

Deepak Chopra: The Pathway To Love

Rhonda Bryne: The Secret

Robert Holden: Happiness Now!

Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth

Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now

John Goldthwait, Ph.D.: Purifying The Heart

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