Despite all of our dazzling successes, the art of sustaining and developing a marriage is still a mystery to many. What are the most important tools needed to polish our relationships? What type of questions can we ask ourselves in order to ensure that we are headed in the right direction?

Question #1: Am I making my marriage a priority?

Almost all of us have garages in our homes, in our minds, and in our hearts for the stuff that are dedicated to the not “now, maybe later” pile and are left to collect rust, dust and cobwebs as they await their unsure fate. The thriving, delicate partnership called marriage is like a garden that needs the undivided attention of two doting gardeners.

User testing tool: Sit down during a quiet moment and ask yourself what place your marriage holds in your world of priorities. For example, would a small setback in your relationship ignite the same concern and attention that a risk to your career would? It is never too late to clean out of our garages and reorganize our homes.

Question#2: Are my expectations of my spouse realistic?

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we’d be able to tailor-make our life and our partners the same way we had our dream wedding gown custom-sewn or our living rooms custom- designed to our wishes? Reality is not so simple. Nobody is perfect. We married our spouses along with all their flaws, baggage, hang-ups, and idiosyncrasies. It takes strength, humility and flexibility to accept and love our partners as they are.

User testing tool: Consider those few quirks that make your spouse less than perfect and can disquiet you at times. Then, consider your attitude by asking yourself: Do I give my spouse the liberty to be human and make mistakes? Are my disappointments in him or her justified, or are they only a result of my own shortcomings? Do I measure my spouse’s failings with the same rod that I measure my own?

Question #3: Am I making unfair comparisons?

We tend to judge right and wrong based on what we see around us. Judging or trying to fashion our own relationship based on that of our friends is like trying to mix two cake recipes into one batter. Every marriage has its own delicate balance and unique recipe. Looking outside to find what our partners lack can only lead to false expectations, jealousy, anger, resentment. It is the perfect recipe for disaster.

User testing tool: During a conversation or argument with your spouse, do you find yourself suddenly comparing another couple’s relationship to your own? Do you ever say or think to yourself something like, Mr. so and so just took his wife to the Bahamas or her birthday so why can’t my husband do the same? Mrs. So and so is always smiling and speaking pleasantly- why can’t my wife be that way?

Question #4: Do I see my spouse in a positive light?

Reality is often dependent on our perception; how we choose to see will affect our perception about our spouses and relationships. Wearing ‘negative lenses’ can sour even the most wonderful of relationships.

User testing tool: Write down ten qualities that you think makes your partner amazing. If you are having trouble coming up with those ten qualities, then maybe it’s time to switch lenses. Keep the list with you to serve as an inspiring reminder when you are beginning to feel less-than positive.

Question #5: Am I treating my spouse the same way I would want to be treated?

Relationships are reciprocal; the way we treat others elicits an identical response. The same way that sour behavior will likely boomerang, the best method for being treated with the respect and appreciation you believe you deserve is to treat the other the very same way.

User testing tool: Recall the behavior you exhibited toward your spouse within the last few days. Did you talk to him or her in the same manner you would want to be talked to? Did you listen to him or her in the same way you would want to be listened to? Would you want your partner to reciprocate that exact type of behavior?

Question #6: Am I more focused on what I can do for my marriage or what my marriage can do for me?

It is very difficult to maintain harmony when each partner is only focused on his or her entitlements. An authentic union is one in which the concern or need of one individual becomes the concern of the other. Such an attitude requires the concentrated effort of looking beyond our own needs and focusing on the needs of the other as well.

User testing tool: At the end of a long day, ask yourself: What did I do today to make my partner smile and brighten his or her day?

Question #7: Do I communicate to my partner how I appreciate him or her?

Receiving recognition for all we do is the fuel that we need to keep our tired engines going. Even a small word or gesture of gratitude goes a long way.

User testing tool: Are the words, “thank you” an active part of your vocabulary? Do you ever point out things that you appreciate your partner did for you? Try writing your partner a small note of appreciation and see how far it takes you!

Question #8: Am I communicating effectively?

Often, misunderstandings, resentment, and conflict in marriage are a just result of faulty or bad communication. Achieving positive communication habits and patterns can work wonders in promoting mutual understanding between two people.

User testing tool: Think about the last two disagreements that you had with your spouse. Did they have a positive outcome? Did you come to a peaceful resolution? If not, why? Did you really listen to what the other was saying? Were you careful not to point fingers of blame? Were you allowing your emotions to take over? Were you focusing on problematic situations or on problematic people? Communication is a vital skill that is better learnt late than never.

Question #9: Is my marriage experience turning me into a better person?

The blossoming of two people into a union cannot be taken for granted. Like the caterpillar that can only fly once it emerges from its cocoon, a marriage blossoms once we liberate ourselves from our own limited psyches, and choose to learn, to give and to grow.

User testing tool: Think back on the last few years. How has your relationship with your spouse and others improved? How have you changed as a human being? What insight and positive quality traits did you attain?

Marriage is not a destination, it’s a journey. It is an essential part of our spiritual and emotional growth. Hopefully these tools will help you reach the peak. Bon voyage!