When it comes to relationships, I'm certainly no expert; all I can do is share what I've learned and hope I don't keep making the same mistakes. It's been more than a year since my marriage ended, and, well, hindsight is 20/20. Here are some valuable lessons and suggestions for a strong relationship:
1. Love. Don't underestimate love. It's everything. Without it, you don't have a relationship. You'll lose respect for each other and you'll stop caring what happens, so you have to take care of it.
2. Act. Love looks different on each of us, but however you do it, do it. Love as an emotion feels wonderful for the person who feels it, but that doesn't do much for the other person. Love is an action.
3. Read. Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is a fantastic book on marriage and relationships in general. I realize that a recommendation from someone whose marriage didn't work out might not mean much, but I promise, it's insightful and will have an impact on you. And it has games!
4. Share. If your goal is to share your life with someone, then share it. Some couples value their individuality, and leading somewhat separate lives doesn't bother them. But at some point, even the most independent person must share feelings, physical space, or activities with his/her partner. Otherwise, why bother being together? Keeping feelings secret, in particular, is a great way to breed resentment, fear, and distrust. Be curious about the other person's thoughts, feelings, and actions.
5. Know thyself. Remember when I linked this blog post about ending a potential relationship over cake? I'm in favor of this. I think my marriage unofficially ended over chips. The point is: You have boundaries. You have standards. You have things you can dismiss and things you can't. Discuss these boundaries with your partner and respect your partner's boundaries as well.
6. Work at it. You don't have to force it, but you do have to make an effort.
7. Quit blaming 3rd parties. As in, quit blaming all those external factors for the problems in your relationship. There's never an ideal time for a relationship. Stressful times expose problems that were already there.
8. Handle it together. Whatever you do, don't say, "I guess I have to deal with this on my own." No, you don't. That's what being in a relationship is all about--having someone to go through stuff with. If you have to go through something alone (whether it's a pleasant or unpleasant experience), then you don't have a relationship. If your relationship is suffering, handle it together or end it. One person can't keep it going forever, and a dead limb just weighs you down. Both people have to be in it to make it last.