Keys to a Lasting Relationship

In that grand adventure called “Love”, you are creating something new. You and your partner bring unique strengths, talents, and skills to your relationship, creating a synergy that transcends the mere combination of two individuals. In embracing these keys to a lasting relationship, you build more than a marriage; you craft a resilient and enduring partnership that thrives in the dance of love.

Title Photo by Vija Rindo Pratama

My Marriage Advice

When my oldest daughter got married in October 2015, she and her fiancé asked me to conduct the service, so I became a notary public to do so. During the service, I shared with them my observation on what it takes to create a happy and lasting marriage and the keys to a lasting relationship. Here is an excerpt from that day.

“As I have been happily married for over half of my 63 years, I believe I have learned some rules for maintaining a happy and sustaining marriage.

“Along the way, I have learned three rules from various sources that I believe have become the foundation for our marriage. We didn’t learn these all at once and certainly didn’t know about them in the beginning. I share them with the two of you today, in hopes that you will benefit from knowing them at the outset of your own marriage.

“These are the 3 rules:

  1. It doesn’t matter whose job it is, if the garbage needs to be taken out, take out the garbage.
  2. Never ever use the word ‘divorce’.
  3. Love is a verb.”

Take Out the Garbage

“If you see the garbage needs to be taken out, take out the garbage. It doesn’t matter whose job it is. Now, obviously, this isn’t talking only about garbage. It applies to any hard, stinky, unhappy, unpleasant job that has to be done. Each of you has strengths, talents, and skills that lie in different areas. There will be some tasks that each of you is more suited to handle.

“But you are now a team – you are working to build something together that is different than either of you and bigger than the two of you. And there will be things that you’ll need to do that neither one of you wants to do. Do them anyway. Don’t wait for the other one or for another person to do them. If you see something that needs to be done – do it. Don’t worry or quibble about ‘it isn’t my job’ – if it is for the good of your team, your marriage, it’s your job.”

Don’t Use This Word , , , Ever!

“Never ever use the word ‘divorce’. Not in jest. Not in anger. Not as a threat. Never. Words have power just as thoughts have power. Don’t say or even think anything that has the power to harm your marriage. Once you utter the word, it becomes a possibility, even if a tiny one at first. And once it’s a possibility, it could become your reality. Whether it’s ‘divorce’ or ‘cheating’ or ‘lying’ or other words that you know could have a harmful effect – don’t say them, don’t think them. You’ll have enough to contend with without creating problems for yourself. You don’t want or need any chinks in your armor.”

Love Is a Verb

“Probably the most important rule I’ve learned is this: Love is a verb. Love isn’t merely a sweet, happy emotion. It can be a powerful emotion sometimes. But it is much more. Love isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do and it’s something you are. As the great philosopher, Alanis Morissette said, ‘Love, to me, is a verb. Love kicks in for real when things get hard… Love, for me, is when I don’t feel very loving. It’s an action.’

“Love is taking care of your partner when he or she is sick and you’re not feeling so good yourself. Love is fixing the mirror on her car, again, when she hits the garage. Love is washing his muddy, sweaty clothes, again, after a bike race. Love is digging deep to tap your commitment to the choice you have made to create a life together on the days you don’t feel particularly loving. Love is all the little things you do for each other, without being asked, because you want to – because you love each other. You don’t fall in love and you don’t fall out of love. Love is something you choose to do . . . because Love is a verb.

“As you start on this grand adventure, you are creating something new. I call it ‘us’. In a broader, metaphysical sense, ‘us’ encompasses all humankind – the family of man. But that’s the 30,000-foot view. We are all ‘us’ but there is another ‘us’ made up of two people. In this case, the 2 of you – Matt and Rachel. You each bring different strengths and talents and skills that complement the other one but in a truly fulfilling and nurturing marriage, there is a synergy where the two of you together are different and better than merely the combination of you two, where 1 + 1 = 3. And that, in the end, is what my three rules do. They help you create your own ‘us’.”

Principles for a Healthy Relationship

Drs. John and Julie Gottman are renowned psychologists and relationship experts, well-known for their extensive research on relationships and marriage. They are also married to each other. They have identified seven principles, based on their research findings and clinical experience and on “the simple truth that happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.” [Gottman] These principles are keys to a lasting relationship. They aim to help couples build and maintain strong, healthy attachments.

Let’s explore how we can implement their principles to enhance our relationships. And along the way, see how the ideas I shared with my daughter and her husband can come into play.

Supporting Each Other

Principle 1 for making marriage work is to “enhance your love maps”. This requires actively developing an understanding of your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Communication is key. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Be curious. And pay attention. Show genuine curiosity about your partner’s interests, dreams, and aspirations, and be willing to share about your own. Show them that you value and care about what they have to say. Then be open and willing to share your own inner thoughts and feelings with your partner. Together, create an environment of emotional intimacy where both partners feel safe expressing themselves.

Practice active listening by giving your full attention when your partner is sharing something important. Avoid interrupting, and use reflective listening techniques to confirm your understanding. As often as possible, use an active and constructive response.

The active and constructive response is especially important and helpful to celebrate each other’s achievements. Take note of your partner’s achievements, no matter how small, and celebrate them.

Come back to these questions from time to time. What does Love mean to you? What is most important in your relationship? What does Love mean to your partner? What is most important to him or her? (Ask, don’t assume you know.) How can you support them?

And in these communications, don’t say hurtful and unhelpful things, and don’t say things you don’t want to happen or to be true. As I said during my daughter’s wedding ceremony: “Words have power just as thoughts have power. Don’t say or even think anything that has the power to harm your marriage. Once you utter the word, it becomes a possibility, even if a tiny one at first. And once it’s a possibility, it could become your reality.”

keys to a lasting relationship

Photo by Natalie Bond

Falling in Love or Staying in Love

Most of us can remember (I hope) the excitement and passion that come with the early stages of a romantic relationship. Falling in love typically involves intense emotions, infatuation, and a sense of novelty. And that is exciting. But Dr. Gottman emphasizes the need for couples to transition from the initial “falling in love” stage to actively “staying in love.” Staying in love involves making a conscious and ongoing effort to nurture the emotional connection and intimacy within the relationship. So while the initial experience of falling in love is exhilarating and can be intense, maintaining a strong and enduring connection over time requires a different set of skills and attitudes.

Here are some key points regarding staying in love versus falling in love.

Build emotional connections through positive interactions. Dr. Gottman shares that the foundation of a successful marriage is the emotional connection between partners. Staying in love requires cultivating emotional intimacy and understanding, and being responsive to each other’s needs and feelings. Positive interactions and expressions of affection maintain a loving connection. Regular expressions of love, appreciation, and kindness contribute to the emotional bank account.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman encourages couples to continue growing individually and as a partnership. Shared experiences, personal development, and mutual goals contribute to the ongoing process of staying in love.

So while the initial stages of falling in love are vital and enjoyable, the long-term success of a marriage requires intentional efforts to stay connected emotionally, foster positive interactions, and build a deep and enduring friendship. In doing this, couples strengthen their relationship and stay in love over time.

The 5:1 Ratio

“You need a 5:1 ratio to predict a strong and loving marriage,” says psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, “five positive statements for every critical statement you make of your spouse.” [Seligman]

The 5:1 ratio Dr. Fredrickson referred to comes from the Gottmans’ work. The 5:1 ratio refers to the balance of positive to negative interactions in a healthy marriage (“five positive statements for every critical statement”). Dr. Gottman’s extensive research on couples led him to identify this ratio as a crucial indicator of marital satisfaction and stability. It is an important key to a lasting relationship.

The 5:1 ratio specifically suggests that for every negative interaction or communication during a conflict or in daily interactions, there should be at least five positive interactions to maintain a healthy and stable relationship. These positive interactions can include expressions of affection, appreciation, humor, and other forms of positive communication.

Couples who maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions are more likely to have successful, long-lasting marriages. Conversely, when the ratio becomes imbalanced, with more negative interactions than positive ones, it can lead to dissatisfaction, increased conflict, and a higher likelihood of marital distress.

This concept underscores the importance of fostering positive communication, emotional connection, and expressions of love and appreciation within a marriage. By maintaining a healthy balance of positive interactions, couples can contribute to the overall well-being of their relationship and create a foundation for long-term success.

Pay attention to your interactions with your spouse and family for a day. What is the ratio of positive, affectionate interactions compared to negative ones? If it isn’t 5:1, what changes could you make to improve the balance?

Be Here Now

One of Dr. Gottman’s key principles is to “turn toward each other instead of away”, that is, be emotionally responsive and engaged with each other’s needs for attention and affection. You do this by being present with your partner and not distant or preoccupied. Here are some key points to help you “be here now” when you are with your partner.

Be emotionally present for your partner. This involves actively listening so you can understand and respond to your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Being present goes beyond physical presence; it involves providing quality attention. Set aside dedicated time for meaningful conversations and shared experiences, free from distractions and external pressures.

Create shared moments of connection. Whether through shared interests, rituals, or simple acts of kindness, these moments contribute to a sense of togetherness and intimacy.

Being present also involves validating your partner’s emotions and showing empathy. Dr. Gottman stresses the significance of acknowledging and understanding your partner’s perspective, even in moments of disagreement. Especially in moments of disagreement. During conflicts or disagreements, being present means staying engaged in a constructive manner. It involves avoiding withdrawal or defensiveness and instead actively working together to find solutions.

Overall, being present with your partner is a foundational element for building trust, fostering emotional intimacy, and creating a resilient and fulfilling marital relationship. What could you do to “be here now” a little more consistently for your partner?

Enjoy the Dance

And so, in the dance of marriage, remember these steps and hold fast to the three rules I’ve shared.

Don’t hesitate, don’t wait, don’t wonder whose job it is. If it’s for the good of your team, your marriage, it’s your job. Don’t let words such as “divorce” or “lying” or “cheating” find a place in your heart because thoughts can become reality. And remember, love is not just a feeling; it’s a verb, an action you choose every day.

Creating Synergy

In this grand adventure you’ve embarked upon, you are creating something new. Not just “you” and “me”, but “us” – where 1+1 equals 3. You and your partner bring unique strengths, talents, and skills to your relationship, creating a synergy that transcends the mere combination of two individuals.

Then, drawing from the wisdom of Dr. John Gottman’s principles, enhance your love maps by staying curious and attentive to each other’s dreams. Practice active listening, and celebrate each other’s achievements. Transition from the thrill of falling in love to the steady and intentional effort required to stay in love. Maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, ensuring that love and appreciation outweigh criticism. Above all, be present, turning toward each other instead of away, fostering emotional connection and understanding.

In embracing these principles, you build more than a marriage; you craft a resilient and enduring partnership that thrives in the dance of love. May your journey together be filled with joy, understanding, and a deep, abiding love that weathers every step of the dance. For that is embracing your Excelerated Life™!

How do you show your partner how much he or she means to you?
How could you do more of that?
Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Developing Excelerated Relationships™ — nurturing ties to other people — is one practice for creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.

Read more about the Excelerated Life.


Gottman, John. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. London, England: Orion, 2000.

Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Flourish. New York: Free Press, 2011.

This blog post includes research information and suggestions provided by ChatGPT, an AI language model developed by OpenAI. The content was generated with AI assistance and is intended to provide information and guidance. Please note that the suggestions are not official statements from OpenAI. To learn more about ChatGPT and its capabilities, you can visit the OpenAI website.

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