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7 Secrets to a Happier Marriage

Relationships expert Harville Hendrix offers advice on how to make your marriage stronger and more fulfilling

En español | Falling in love seems effortless. Intoxicated with each other, you're thoughtful, attentive, generous.

"When we fall in love, we see the world in Technicolor," says psychologist Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., who Oprah Winfrey has dubbed the marriage whisperer. "We're filled with delicious expectations of wish fulfillment."

Join the discussion: How do you fight fair? Tell us your secret.

Loving senior married couple

Successful couples treat each other with respect at all times. — Photo by Jose L. Pelaez/Corbis

But staying in love, maintaining that close connection through the years? That's tricky. "Inevitably, things start to go wrong," explains Hendrix, who created Imago Relationship Therapy three decades ago after listening to thousands of couples talk about their once-happy marriages. "Traits and qualities you used to admire begin to grate. Old hurts resurface; new ones are forged. The relationship that started with such promise leaves you feeling lonely, disconnected and unsure how to get back on track."

Why do some marriages burn out while others burn bright? Hendrix believes the key lies in what he calls the "hidden agenda" of romantic love. "We like to think that we have free choice when it comes to picking a partner," he explains. "In fact, subconsciously we choose someone — I call this your Imago partner — who resembles one of our parents in positive as well as negative ways." No matter how wonderful those caretakers were, he explains, they weren't perfect. As a result, we all have old emotional wounds and unmet needs that stay with us for years. We assume that the person we love will help us rewrite the script, soothe those hurt feelings and satisfy all those missing needs — and in the beginning, they often do. But as time goes by, couples become gridlocked in power struggles large and small that can simmer for decades.

"To break the cycle, couples need to learn how to love in the other what they dislike in themselves," says Hendrix. "Once you've developed this self-awareness, you take the first step toward a conscious marriage and a real and lasting love." Here, Hendrix offers seven rules for making the second half of your marriage even better than the first.

Next: Stop trying to control each other. »

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