This Is What Keeps a Marriage Strong

Put the freakin' seat down. Learn how to do the laundry. Don't talk to me until I've had my coffee. The secret to a good relationship might just be agreeing to a few ground rules.
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The Rule: Date Night Is Sacred

When I married my husband, Fred, two years ago, we promised to love, honor, and cherish each other. And then, to be on the safe side, we added a couple extra vows we think will help us through the next 60-plus years that we'll be together: When I use the last sheet of toilet paper, I have to replace it with a new roll. And on Saturday mornings, Fred makes breakfast.

I know these rules sound simple, perhaps even to the point of absurdity, but every time I get to the end of a roll of toilet paper, I laugh remembering when Fred (who rarely gets irked about anything) told me just how much it bothers him when I leave a new roll on the back of the toilet, rather than taking the extra two seconds to load it on the holder. And every Saturday morning, when I wake up to the smell of blueberry pancakes, I'm reminded of just how much he loves me.

Between hectic work schedules and keeping up with our 1-year-old son, it's these little gestures that help us keep our relationship a priority. "People often think having rules in a relationship is a way of one spouse controlling the other, but in reality when you agree on rules together, it protects both of you -- and your marriage," says Jane Greer, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship. Like Fred and me, you and your husband probably have a few little rules of your own that help you get along -- everyone does. Meet six couples who have learned to take their marriage rules as seriously as they take their vows.

The Rule: Date Night Is Sacred

Linda Cohen, 43 \ Aaron Cohen, 49 \ Portland, Oregon \ Married 19 years

Linda says: "When we were new parents, we really needed time for ourselves and Aaron suggested date night once a week. We've been doing it now for 14 years. It's not always easy to find a babysitter, but it's always worth the effort. The best part is after the date. We always feel more connected, and it's helped keep our spark alive over the years."

Aaron says: "The rest of the week is so hectic and busy that Saturday night is one of the few times I have Linda's undivided attention. We know we need to keep our relationship a priority, so we don't lose sight of why we fell in love in the first place, and that means having time together as adults without our two kids. I think date night is crucial for any couple raising a family. It's definitely helped us stay connected -- and kept us sane."

The therapist says: "There's a difference between being together all the time and having quality time together," says Dr. Greer. "Linda and Aaron understand that to make a relationship work, they need to make quality time with each other a priority. Saturday night might not be the most viable time for every couple -- maybe it's a Tuesday night at home after the kids go to sleep -- but every couple needs to carve out time on their calendar that they can look forward to, if not every week, then every two weeks."

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