We are newly married, and although we are very much in love, I am scared about the future. I look around and there is so much divorce in the world. How can we make sure that we will stay in love, and that our marriage will last over the long term? Is there anything we can do, or is it all just chance?

A Newlywed

Dear Newlywed,

You can rest assured that a successful long-term marriage is not a matter of chance at all. There is a lot you can do to invest in your marriage, and that work already begins now, in the early stages of marriage. The first year of marriage is known as the shanah rishonah, and it is a period when it is appropriate for the couple to dedicate to getting to know one another and solidifying the centrality of their commitment to one another, and to their relationship.

Slowly, over the course of this year, your identity will change, as you become not only an "I", but also a "we", and begin to make decisions based on the needs of your spouse as well as yourself.

Here are some concrete things you can do during this time:

Experiment with different types of compromise. See what works best for you, and in which situations it is important to say, "You care more about this than I do, so why don't you make the decision on this one."

Pay attention also to the times you will need to say, "I can't compromise on this one without resenting it, because it is too important to me." Women are especially prone to keeping silent and than boiling over with resent later. Now is the time to begin learning how to communicate and negotiate.

Learn to call a time out if a conversation gets too heated. Words that are spoken carelessly in anger can nevertheless cause deep wounds. Learn to apologize, even if you were provoked. Learn to forgive without getting an apology.

These are skills that will serve you well. If practiced regularly, they will become second nature.

In addition to these skills, there is another critical dimension to the evolution of a healthy marriage. Couples need time as a couple, and they need periods of separateness as well. Human beings are not able to constantly sustain intense levels of intimacy indefinitely. Even people who love each other need a break from one another sometimes. Learning how to give and take space from one another will help you to establish a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.

The Jewish laws of ritual purity reflect this deep understanding of human nature. These laws help a couple navigate the cycle of intimacy so they are able to sustain platonic periods of friendship which strengthen and renew the bonds of marital love. It is highly recommended for couples to review these laws together in their first and subsequent years of marriage.