I am no marriage expert. I can only be thankful for the 4+ years of marriage to my wonderful wife. The following list came to me the other day as I considered what is important in marriage:
The first letters form the word "SORT." Now what do I mean by these things?
This factor involves the situational and financial aspect of your marriage. Stable living arrangements and finances provide security. Without this basic stability it is hard to focus on more advanced issues in your relationship. Without this basic stability it is easy to lose respect for your spouse or even yourself. Lack of basic stability brings life into question in profound ways.
It doesn't matter your living conditions, be they humble or grand. What is important is that you are secure and stable in what you do have. Money is required for stability and more of it can make things easier but it can also destabilize you as well.
Stability also has a geographical dimension. Our surroundings are a huge part of our feeling of stability. If you keep hopping from one city to the next, or one house or apartment to the next, you lose emotional stability as regards your day-to-day life and your friendships.
Setting down good roots and keeping finances in order is very important for marriage.
This one could just as well be labeled transparency. Emotional and personal intimacy is just as important and physical intimacy. You can't have a relationship without understanding each other and you can't understand each other if you don't know each other.
One major barrier to openness is fear of what the other will think. If one spouse tends to condemn or control this will almost always put the brakes on openness. If a spouse feels condemned or controlled then that needs to be worked out so that both spouses can feel free to be open again. Sometimes the fear of condemnation or control is imaginary; the spouse has never really exhibited such tendencies; in such cases the fearful spouse perhaps is transferring the experience of another friend or relative onto their partner. Ultimately, any barrier to openness needs to be carefully analyzed and dealt with.
If you aren't fully open, you will drift apart, because your closeness, such as it will be, will only be with fake versions of yourselves. This is a road to divorce.
Insignificant secrets tend to snowball to include important facts. Being honest with yourself, and then honest about yourself with your partner, is very important to marriage.
Respect is holding someone in high esteem despite their differences. In many ways, respect is also "unity in diversity." Your spouse is royalty; each spouse should honor and serve the other not as VIPs (Very Important Persons) but MIPs (Most Important Persons). This treatment should not change if you disagree about things. If there is disagreement, respect means you approach the other with the intention of conciliation and compromise and NOT getting your way. You cannot have freedom without respect in much the same way that control or condemnation cannot exist alongside of respect. There is always a way. Love will find a way, as your love is manifested in admiration and ultimately, as true respect even when you don't feel particularly loving.
So then, respect means holding your spouse to be your equal, regardless of differences. You may have different strengths and weaknesses, but you are equal. If you do not believe this, you should not be married. Since you are equal, your decisions should be shared, instead of unilateral. Your openness and time together along with respect should result in you discussing nearly every decision (and ALL serious decisions) with your spouse.
Respect is a significant factor in a successful marriage.
Spending time together is essential. Relationships don't thrive on autopilot. Yet couples get themselves so involved in other things and assume everything will be okay. However, doing that is basically taking each other for granted.
An hour a day, an afternoon together each week--carve out daily and weekly time with your spouse. You don't have to do anything except snuggle or watch a TV show or eat or just lay in bed and talk. Your togetherness will foster personal and emotional intimacy which will often lead to intimacy of another kind!
This time you spend with each other will result in you connecting on all kinds of levels, sometimes talking out important issues, sometimes just laughing, sometimes just being together.
Time together is like a service station for your marriage. All kinds of repairs and preventative maintenance happen here. It is a very important part of marriage that you can't overlook.