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The 5 secrets to living ‘happily ever after’

Sure, love is complicated — but Dr. Gail Saltz’s ground rules for sustaining it are simple.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

With a divorce rate in this country approaching 45 percent, many couples are wondering how they can stay married once they get married. Often it seems easier to find love than to maintain it. After the initial high of new love wears off — and it always does — every couple needs tools to keep and nurture their love. Here are five tips to consider when working toward longevity in your relationship.

1. Be flexible — or pick someone similar to you. In terms of maintaining a long-term love, one of the best predictors of longevity is how similar your morals, values, goals and ways of thinking about important issues are. Obviously the farther apart you are, the more likely there will be frequent disagreements, unless you and your partner are particularly flexible people who are good at compromising. Of course there will be still be arguments — that is a part of even the strongest relationships. But if the gap between the two of you is relatively small, your task of compromising will be less onerous.

2. Give 80 percent to your partner. Nothing solidifies love and trust like being thoughtful and giving toward your mate. If both of you are doing this, then each feels pretty satisfied and loved. Of course, there will be and should be times when you need to put yourself first — but these times should be in the minority. If you give to your mate, he or she will really enjoy giving to you. Nothing breeds love like giving love.

3. Love on balance. By this I mean that no one is perfect and you will not love everything about anyone. Unfortunately, many people think they are supposed to love everything about their partner and so when there is something they don’t like, they begin to fixate on this characteristic and even try to change it. When it comes to love, you must take the good with the bad, because in the grand scheme of the relationship, the positive should outweigh the negative.

4. Determine the source of your unhappiness. Marital dissatisfaction often has its roots in personal unhappiness (which can be related to work, level of success, health or weight, etc.). Often these personal shortcomings are blamed on the marriage. In fact, many couples that at one time chose to remain in unhappy marriages end up happy five years later — even though nothing in the marriage itself has changed. So if you feel it’s your relationship that is making you miserable, try to step back and see if it is really you.

5. Treasure your “life history.” When you stay together with someone you love, it inevitably means that you build something together. This “something” is something invaluable and irreplaceable — a life history. No other person will know you as intimately and intensely for these years of your life: Who else will share your happiness and disappointments as fully, love your children the way you do and hold the same memories of your family? These commonalties are often underrated by couples and then sorely missed when they are gone. Value, nurture and hold on to your life history, because it will be a tremendous source of pleasure to you both.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .