The phrase, “Marriage is hard work” is hardly a romantic selling point for the institution of marriage. Yet almost everyone who is married can understand the statement. We have lots of discussions about how to plan a wedding and no shortage of websites for how to deal with divorce, but maybe we need more conversations about the hard work of marriage and why it matters. Time Magazine recently had an excellent article tackling this subject entitled, “How to stay married (and why)” by Belinda Luscombe. In planning a wedding, we often see the picture of marriage, not the movie. By that, I mean that we imagine a snapshot of a beautiful wedding day, a life of holiday cards with a smiling family and a happy couple in rocking chairs during retirement. On the other hand, the movie is more complete. In addition to the happy times, it shows conflict, sleepless nights during early parenting, money troubles and the dishes piling up in the sink. Karl Pellmer studies the elderly and he found that for couples who stayed in a long marriage, they described it as a “peak” experience. Of course, couples in toxic marriages should not stay together, but what if putting in some hard work during rough times could actually protect more marriages? Here are some tips for helping marriages stay on track: • Be aware of life’s challenges and how they impact marriage. Certain times in a marriage are more susceptible to struggle and divorce. After the birth of a child is a key time for struggle because it is such a difficult transition in the marriage. Also, the rise in divorce after children leaving for college points to the vulnerabilities during empty-nesting. Knowing that many couples struggle at these times can help couples realize that it’s natural and normal to struggle, instead of jumping to the conclusion that their marriage is a failure. • Prioritize the marriage. I always tell couples with small children that the marriage is the most important relationship in the house. I say this because taking care of the marriage is protective of your children in the long-run, not because I underestimate the importance of the parent-child relationship. Couples who have a solid marriage are more likely to weather the stressors of childrearing. Prioritizing the marriage means having date nights and maintaining a sexual relationship so that it feels like a marriage, not roommates. • Address the challenges. All marriages will have challenges. Learning how to address those challenges constructively is a key factor in the hard work of marriage. Either end of the conflict spectrum (ignoring problems until they explode or destructive fighting) takes a toll on your connection to your spouse. Learning how to bring up and resolve issues is an important skill. • Know when to go for professional help. The average couple waits 6 years after problems begin to go for marital counseling. As someone who works a lot with couples, I can tell you that creates a situation where the problems are really entrenched and more difficult (not impossible) to resolve. I encourage couples to go for therapy before the wedding or after the first really big fight because there is still a lot of goodwill in the marriage. Couples therapy can teach couples how to more effectively communicate and deal with past hurts in the marriage. Making the time and putting in the effort to nurture your marriage will pay dividends in the long run. It’s not always easy or fun, but everything of real value takes time and effort. Isn’t your marriage worth that? How do you make your marriage a priority?