1. Children, money, sex and housework; these are the things you must come to agreement on.
2. The clichéd advice is often correct: Date nights, compliments, indulging his or her bids for attention — these all make a difference, as does the lack of them. The two of you (or more; shout-out to the polyamorous) like each other enough to have committed to, theoretically, a lifetime together, yes? So it makes sense you'd likewise prioritize committing a few hours each week to reinforcing and building your relationship. Important note: For this to work, you can't just call it "date night" and then spend the whole time revisiting disagreements or unleashing pent-up resentments. The key word is "date." If you need to converse about the bills, then create "bill night." If you need to talk about how he never puts the dishes away, arrange for a "household responsibilities" moment. If you need to communicate about her propensity for polishing off a bottle of wine nightly, make an appointment with a marriage counselor. Date night should be fun. You must have fun together if you're going to keep hanging out for years and years! Think about what the other person enjoys and get creative. If he or she is crazy busy all the time, maybe a simple dinner out is the best option, but don't overlook the bonding that can happen over doing something physical or learning something new together. Dance lessons, cooking classes, agate hunting, a book club for two — choose your own adventure. It can be simple; a couple I adore has a "cheese board moment," where they put together a lovely assortment of snacks and then sit, snack and talk. Simple! Fancy! Your options are limited only by your imagination and joint preferences. What's not negotiable is this: Focus on your partner and put your phone away.
3. If one of you is an asshole, this won't work. Don't be an asshole. If you're married to an asshole, get out.
4. Kindness and generosity. Kindness and generosity. Kindness and generosity. Be kind: Assume the other person has good intent. He's not really trying to make you crazy by constantly asking what seem like ridiculous questions when you're trying to double down on a writing project. He just can't find the spatula and has no one else to turn to for help. She doesn't mean to set your teeth on edge when she uses phrases you despise. Repeatedly. Refrain from yelling, "Jesus Christ, would you stop?" Refrain from yelling, generally. Try, "Hey babe, this might sound petty, but it's important to me that you unload the goddamn dishwasher from time to — " Wait, that's not quite right. But you get the drift. Part of kindness is being generous with your attention. Yes, you've had a long day and now he wants to show you some baseball highlight when all you want to do is finish the crossword (YOLO). Give him those few minutes anyway. On the flipside, be aware of demanding too much attention from your partner. He or she is not responsible for entertaining you at all times. Sometimes kindness is taking care of your own needs.
5. Despite the title of this column, the goal is not longevity; it's love. More marriages end in divorce than last — which is OK, as we're all trying to figure out life and love and compatibility and sometimes that's the direction that's necessary — and, according to people who study this stuff for a living, relatively few marriages are happy and healthy. Staying together to stay together means little. If you've been together for 23 years but 21.5 of those have been miserable, then wow, what a waste of life. If you're unhappy on a regular basis, fix it sooner rather than later. Talk. If you can't talk, get to a counselor. If you had a broken arm, you'd go to a doctor, right? If you have a broken relationship, it's okay to find a professional someone to assist in mending it.
BONUS: People get married, so hence the advice, but marriage is just one kind of relationship — a benefit of our modern times is that the social structures that made marriage more of a necessity have shifted. So get married if you want to (shout-out to #LoveWins!) or rock the single life if it suits you. But aim for kindness and generosity regardless.