"It's a discipline all its own. Do your research to find a licensed marriage therapist. Any therapist can offer marriage counseling, but not every therapist is equipped to do it," says Carrie Krawiec, a couples and family therapist at the in Troy, Michigan.
"There is no such thing as eternal and permanent marital bliss," says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., who practices at the . "Every relationship has struggles and challenges and evolves by working through conflicts. The goal is for the quality of the relationship to trend up, not devolve over time."
"Make sure you and your spouse feel comfortable with your therapist and can relate to him or her," says Krawiec. "If you don't feel open, or she is not open to your feedback, find another therapist."
"Training and education give therapists insight on how to replace dysfunctional patterns in your relationship. It doesn't depend on your lifestyle matching theirs (i.e. married with children)," Krawiec says.
"In therapy, we're going to shift the system and peel back the couple's layers before healing can begin. It's the therapist's job to manage the pace so it doesn't get too bumpy or scary," says , a couples therapist in Austin, Texas.
"View it like the stock market. There are many ups and downs," says , Ph.D., who practices in Denver.
"Since couples usually seek a therapist when there's a crisis, make a timed commitment with additional three-month check in points so the process is contained, goal-oriented and has a clear beginning, middle, and end," says Hokemeyer.
"I ask couples to close their eyes and point to the person who has the greatest impact on their success or failure," says , a therapist in Belleview, Washington. "When they point to their partners, I tell them I agree. Both are right. It takes two to make a good marriage."
"Come when there is still room for negotiation and neither partner has 'checked out,'" says Li. "It's just like hiring a personal trainer. You need to do it before you have major health issues and it's an uphill climb."
"Sometimes one spouse is looking for a way out and wants me to tell them it's okay. As a therapist, I don't play into that," Li says. "If you want out, tell your partner. Don't rely on me."
"People usually get stuck feeling like the problem is 100% their spouse's. That's rarely the case. Be open to learning how your actions may be contributing to the very thing you hate about your spouse," advises Fisher.
"Be patient," Fisher adds.
"Research shows that when we view our partners in a loving light, we're more apt to be happy in the relationship," says , a psychologist who lectures on the psychology of close relationships at Harvard.
"Have a clear understanding of what you need and communicate it clearly to your partner," says Bachrach. "It is your partner's responsibility to support and assist you in meeting your needs, not to read your mind or figure them out."
"Don't put fun aside and deal only with the business of life," says Parker. "Fun is linked to a lifetime of passionate, romantic love."
Which words or situations provoke aggression or defensiveness for you? "Knowing this in advance can lessen suffering in both and head off problems before they begin," says , Ph.D., a marriage counselor who practices in Los Angeles.
"It's far too easy to dismiss it in a relationship and take care of that long to-do list. Most assume that the relationship influences the quality of the sex, and it certainly can, but it's often the other way around," says Parker. "Good sex contributes to happiness together."
"Couples don't own each other," says Hokemeyer. "Success comes from letting partners fulfill their dreams and professional aspirations."
"Appreciate what you bring to the table. Your self-esteem and that of your partner's shouldn't get jumbled together in the relationship," says Parker. "Each plays a roll in predicting the happiness of the marriage."
"When you are thankful for your partner, you're more likely to want to go the extra mile," says Parker. "You can 'leak' messages to your spouse by being more helpful and loving. An honest 'thank you' goes a long way."
"The value of marriage is that it provides a frame to deepen intimate relationships," says Hokemeyer. "While it's important to build on the past, it's equally important to let it go and focus on the present."
"It can be a tough world out there. Strengthen your bond by creating a safe space for your partner to share their fears, disappointments, hopes, and desires," Bachrach says.
"Prior conditioning is very powerful and can impact your marriage in ways you probably haven't identified or ever thought about," says Brown.
"Commit a minimum of five minutes a day, every day to check in with one another — not by phone, computer, or text, but face to face," Brown says. "You might be surprised at what opens up."
"It sets up a host of negative consequences and is an unhealthy dynamic. Relationships need to celebrate individual freedom, not stifle it," says Hokemeyer.
"Clarify what you do and don't want in a marriage. Couples should be about 80% compatible," advises Brown.
"How often do you currently express love in ways that matter to your partner? How often does your partner express love in ways that really matter to you?" asks Brown.
"Breathing patterns are perfect barometers and reflect your mood minute by minute," says Brown. "It will help you tune into yourself and your partner."
"The best thing to do is to explore why and how it occurred," says Hokemeyer. "Properly handled, it can add to a relationship rather than destroy it. But it takes time and needs to be professionally managed."
"Even if your spouse isn't ready or willing to go to counseling, it's still beneficial to go alone," says Li. "It's like a bike: If you change one cog, things are going to happen differently. The same applies to couples: If one person changes his or her coping skills, it shifts the system."