A few friends have gotten married recently (I didn’t get invited to George Clooney’s but I’d like to pretend he’s my friend too!) and it’s made me think about the institution I’ve avoided since my first one (and almost another) didn’t work.

In my most recent read, The Social Animal, New York Times columnist David Brooks says that “by far the most important decisions that persons will ever make are about whom to marry, and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses.”   Yet, the skill of choosing a partner has often been treated as relatively unimportant in our society and I think this is why marriage ends so disappointingly for so many of us.

It’s frighteningly easy to choose the wrong person.  Attraction and chemistry are easily mistaken for love, but they are far from the same thing (I’ve got experience here).  Being attracted to someone is immediate and mostly subconscious. Staying in love with someone happens gradually and requires many conscious decisions made over a lifetime.

So, whether you’re currently married or not, I think you might get a few of these “lessons” and here’s what I’ll think about next (?) time around:

1. Never take him/her for granted.  Never get lazy with your partner.  I used to hear, “Why should I tell you I love you … you already know it.”  Never say that.

2. Always see the best.  Focus only on what you love. Be prepared for that thing to become an annoyance.  If it does, find something else to love!

3. It is not your job to change him/her.  You can only change yourself.

4. Find happiness inside you and bring it to the relationship.  Don’t ask the relationship to give happiness to you.

5. Get close to (not push away) your partner when he/she is at their worst.    Emotions come and go.  Some are not pretty.   Love (and hold) your partner through them.

6. Have fun. Laughter makes everything else easier.

7. Be present.  Give your time, focus, attention and your soul.  It’s not going to work all the time but make it your mission.

8. Have great sex. (Sorry kids, but it’s true).

9. Don’t make a big deal about mistakes and forgive immediately.  You’re not supposed to be perfect – just try not to be too stupid.

10. Allow for space.  Sometimes we’re doing too much and we need a special space for ourselves.  For me it’s getting up early and running.  We all need space to renew and re-center.

11. Be grateful.  There is nothing more loving than feeling grateful for what you have.  Give your relationship special billing.

I don’t know about you but I’m still taking classes on this subject.  In some, I’m getting an A. In others … well, I need a bit more work.  The important thing is to not worry about the grade, but to open to any new lessons that might arise from our mistakes.  We can make anything better if we set our mind to it!

Have a wonderful start to your week!