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The untold secrets of a long, happy marriage

After seven years of marriage, writer Karon Thackston still feels like a newlywed. She shares with us the seven cornerstones to a long, happy marriage, based on personal experience.

Still like newlyweds
I was ultimately flattered one day when an acquaintance of mine told me she thought I had the best marriage she'd ever heard of. Just moments earlier she had been listening to me as I rambled on like a schoolgirl about how fabulous my husband is. "How long have you been married?" she asked, assuming we were newlyweds. "Seven years," was my reply.

I've had many such reactions to the happiness and stableness of my marriage since that time. Even though I am not a marriage counselor or a doctor of psychology, I seem to often be put into that light once people hear me talk about my relationship with my husband. "How do you do it?" is their primary question. At the request of a few friends, I'll frankly answer that question. Based strictly on my own, personal experience I will relate to you what I consider to be the cornerstones of a marriage -- at least my marriage.

1. Know who you're looking for.
I had been thinking about my husband since I was 15 years old. Sure, I had teenage fantasies about our wedding and honeymoon, our house and our kids. But I also had been thinking about what kind of person my husband would be. I considered how he would treat me, the ways we would be alike, and the ways we would be opposites. I knew who my future husband was when I met him because I knew the kind of person I was expecting.

It took me many years to find my husband. The funny thing is we spent a lot of time in the same places but never ran into each other. From reminiscing about our younger days, we both found out that it's a good thing we didn't!

It's difficult to recognize someone if you don't know who you're looking for.

2. How do we play this game?
I can't count how many times my husband and I just sat out under the stars before we were married and discussed "Life Issues." We would ask questions such as, "What would you do if..." and "How do you feel about..." We talked in depth about situations, likes and dislikes. We brought up things about our families that we didn't appreciate. We spoke about what personal characteristics we considered as strengths. We got to know each other.

Our conversations centered around more than inquisitions about a favorite food or favorite color. While we did ask those questions, too - many of our talks were about the issues of daily living. Basically, we set some ground rules and boundaries.

3. The deepest human need is to be appreciated
I can't even begin to tell you how much I truly appreciate all my husband does for me. He listens as I blow off steam about the way I was treated at the drive-through window. He takes out the trash without being reminded. When the laundry basket is about to overflow, he sorts and starts the wash. He never complains if I don't feel like cooking or cleaning (he just jumps in and does it himself).

The neat thing is, he appreciates me just as much. He always says, 'Thank you', for the food in his lunch box each day. He always tells me how much he appreciates me doing the grocery shopping. He gives me praise for keeping the house clean all the time. We truly are members of the Mutual Admiration Society.

Every human being on the face of the earth has a deep need to be appreciated. Don't take for granted that your spouse knows you appreciate the little things they do each day. Tell your husband, 'Thank you', when he mows the grass. Let your wife know how much you admire the fact that she can take care of two kids and still have a hot meal on the table at 6:00 sharp.

Showing each other how very much you appreciate them is a foundation of not only marriages, but relationships in general.

4. Fuss but don't fight
I can count on one hand the number of true "fights" my husband and I have had in our seven-year marriage. We've had four. And I remember exactly what each one was about. I also remember that each one came into being because one of us was too tired or too sick to be in any mood to discuss anything.

Don't get me wrong. We disagree all the time. But both my husband and I understand that people will have differing points-of-view. We understand that calling names, pointing fingers and raising voices won't help us get to a solution or compromise any quicker. When we have a difference of opinion, we talk about it. Yes, sometimes one or both of us get frustrated and fussy. But generally speaking, we don't fight. We listen.

I have found, for us anyway, fighting doesn't resolve anything. We work better together if each person is able to state the way he or she feels and why. Once that's understood the answer or solution is usually pretty clear.

You don't have to always agree, but try not to fight. Do always listen

5. Listen to the radio
That's right, the radio. Every couple of months I'll hear a new song on the radio that reminds me of my husband. I allow myself to get all wrapped up in emotions as I listen to the words of the love song. I think about my husband. I visualize us walking on the beach or dancing under the stars. I fall in love with him all over again.

Music has a special way of conveying a message. I often find that I'll hum the new tune for several days after hearing it, and each time I do I think of the love of my life.

6. Realize that you are two separate people
My husband and I are very different in many respects. He is the outdoorsy type and I prefer air conditioning! He likes to sit and relax on the porch and I like to go out for dinner. We are two separate people who have individual interests. We understand that and, more importantly, accept it.

It simply isn't wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be. I am responsible for my actions, my attitudes and my happiness. My husband just enhances those things in my life.

There are many things about my husband that I would like to change. I know for a fact that he has a list of his own when it comes to certain things about me. People are just different. In a marriage, you can allow those differences to be strengths or weaknesses. We prefer to play on the differences and use them to lift our marriage to higher ground rather than drag it into the dirt.

Be happy with who you are as a person, and then try to find promising ways to utilize the differences to your collective advantage.

7. Live by the golden rule
You've heard it before, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Think of what you'd like to get out of your marriage. Then project those things onto your spouse. If you would like to receive more encouragement, encourage your mate. If you want him to appreciate you more, show appreciation to him.

Most people respond in the manner in which they are addressed. Chances are if you greet your husband each morning with angry words and a sarcastic tone, you will receive the same in return. Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated and the same will return to you multiplied many times over.

I could go on for pages and pages, but these are the basic principles that have made my marriage what it is today. Every married couple is different. Find what works for you and your mate. I hope you find these foundations helpful and I wish you many years of happiness!

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