Making Marriage Work

Want a healthy relationship but don't want to take a quarter's worth of classes? Here are some tips from the Marriage 101 experts:

— "Know thyself." A person who isn't aware of his or her own flaws is far more likely to oversimplify problems and blame them on other people. It's important to be aware of your "default settings." What problem or issue drives you crazy all the time? How do your perceptions of gender roles, your fears and concerns and your response to conflict affect your relationships?

— Pick the right person — a compatible person. The central task of marriage is managing differences, but it's hard to do if a couple doesn't see eye to eye on a majority of issues. Compatibility is most important when it comes to money (the No. 1 cause of divorce in the United States), division of household labor, eating and sleeping habits, dealing with one another's families and friends, a sense of fairness between partners and spirituality. The bottom line — opposites may attract, but they usually don't stick.

— Sexual satisfaction. Sex affects and is affected by all other aspects of a relationship. A healthy sex life within a marriage depends on communication, trust, empathy and concern for the partner. If a relationship is struggling in any one of those areas, a couple's sex life will suffer. Likewise, if a couple is not happy with their sex life, that dissatisfaction will eventually be felt in other areas of the relationship.

— Conflict resolution and communication skills. Conflict is inevitable, but research shows that how a couple contains, handles and manages conflict is the best predictor of whether a marriage will last. According to a study from Rutgers–the State University of New Jersey, the four most common triggers of marital conflict are criticism, demands that strike the other person as unfair, "cumulative annoyance" and a failure to appreciate the other person's efforts or positive actions. — R.H. and L.W.