How do you stay married? By not getting divorced.
That’s a joke I heard recently, and there’s a lot of truth to it. You make it to your golden anniversary by not splitting up. It isn’t that easy, of course: No one wants to be in an unhappy relationship for 50 years. So what’s the real secret to making love last? It’s a combination of these 6 things:
1. Have a Mindset of Realistic Positivity. Realistic positivity means you see and accept what is happening now—both in your inner and outer world—and then put your focus on what you would love. The antidote to a relationship impaired by criticism and contempt, for example, is gratitude. The simple act of genuinely looking for and appreciating something about what your partner does will instantly begin to heal damage and turn your relationship around.
2. Build a Rewarding Relationship with Yourself. You will be most attractive to your significant other when you are happy and fulfilled independent of them, and vice versa. No matter how close you are to your partner, you remain individuals with your own needs. Mutual respect for each other’s independence and time alone will strengthen your relationship. Tara Parker-Pope, author of For Better, advises that “Your marriage should be your primary relationship—not your only one” (1). Be honest with yourself and your partner about what you want, and what you don’t want. You must tell your partner what you need for your needs to be met. No matter how much your partner loves you, they can’t read your mind.
3. Develop Your Emotional Intelligence. Relationships are wrecked when people lack emotional intelligence. When you don’t know how to recognize and deal with your emotions in a healthy way, screaming fights or seething resentment are bound to happen. To manage your emotions, you need to be aware of them—as they are, not as you imagine they should be. Once you’re aware, you anticipate that your partner has similar feelings and develop empathy for them. Building this connection between yourself and your partner creates an internal motivation: You want to treat your partner as you would like to be treated.
4. Approach Conflict with Mindfulness. Mindfulness—a state of mind in which your awareness is focused on the present and you acknowledge and accept your feelings and thoughts—allows you to step back from having a knee-jerk response when conflict arises.
When you step back, you can examine your feelings and what your partner has said and intended with their words. You need to listen and respond in a spirit of love, keeping your good intentions for your partner at the forefront.
And don’t be afraid of conflict. It’s okay to tell your partner if they’ve said something to you that’s hurtful. Holding it in will lead to resentment. David Klow, the founder of Skylight Counseling Center, explains: “Similar to working out a muscle, if you can effectively survive tears in your marriage and then repair them, then it makes the relationship stronger” (2).
5. Practice Healthy Communication. Before you talk to your significant other about something that bothers you, take some deep breaths and put yourself in a place of confidence.
Remind yourself of your intent to love your partner. If communication is difficult for you, try repeating what your partner said in your own words—or what you heard in your heart. Use “I” statements and “feeling” messages while avoiding “you” accusations and words like “never” and “always.”
Try listening more than you talk and looking for common threads instead of focusing on your differences. Communicate what you want in a situation rather than what you don’t want, and avoid criticism; instead, use empowering feedback.
6. Enjoy Special Time Together. What was happening in your relationship when you were first falling in love? You were probably going on exciting dates and getting to know each other. No matter how long you’ve been together, you can still enjoy this kind of special time, and there’ll always be more you can learn about your partner.
Investigate new adventures you can undertake together. Sharing new experiences can rekindle a spark that may have dimmed over time. According to Parker-Pope, “The amount of fun couples have and the strength of their friendships are a strong predictor of their future.”
Inevitably, differences and disappointments will happen, and you should discuss them with compassion and loving-kindness. Total honesty and transparency are required for a relationship to last until your golden anniversary. You need to be open and willing to share, listen, and understand.
You must not be afraid to be yourself and share yourself. The secret to making love last is to extend your love unconditionally.
A version of this article originally appeared here on psychologytoday.com