Relationship difficulties, marital problems and unhappiness are simply facts of life for most people. The unfortunate truth is that most marriages typically don’t work out for the people involved. At any given moment, one person is probably happier or more “in love” than the other person; and, as they say, “it takes two to tango.” One person simply can’t make a marriage work, which is why most marriages end in unhappiness and divorce. If you aren’t working on making your marriage work every day, you are eventually going to run into marital problems, stress, unhappiness and — if you’re lucky — divorce. If you want to make your marriage work, you need to consciously and consistently put energy into it and, in order to do that, you’ll need: incentive; commitment; a committed partner; and a plan.The first key to making marriage work is incentive. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that people don’t like to do anything unless they’re going to get something in return for their efforts. While it isn’t wise to do things in order to manipulate your partner into responding a certain way, you need to establish a clear incentive for your efforts. My incentive is that I want to continue to live a happy and healthy life for as long as possible. To stay happy and healthy, you need to spend your time thinking and doing happy and healthy things. Arguing, fighting, worrying and being resentful are not conducive to health and happiness; they cause stress and stress causes illness. Decide what you want in life — or what kind of life you want — and make that your incentive.The second key to making marriage work is commitment. You need to be committed to your goals in order to stick with the program and achieve them. The proper incentive helps us maintain focus, but we also need to learn to master our thoughts, emotions and actions for those times when we are put to the test. Without commitment and focus, you will fall into the unconscious, automatic (habitual) behaviors that got you where you are in the first place. It helps to have a safe “sounding-board” to keep you encouraged and focused through tough times. Friends with agendas or negative influence, however, should be avoided — these are the friends who attempt to stir up drama by trying to make you feel justified in your anger, worry, etc. True commitment to your marriage may mean eliminating negative influences from your life. How committed are you?The third key to making marriage work is having a committed partner. As I mentioned earlier, it takes two to make a marriage work; if you try to do this by yourself, you’ll simply become worn-out, bitter and resentful. Communicate with your partner. Study and learn about relationships together. Explain the importance of a committed, joint effort and then observe what happens. If your partner is truly committed, it will show. If your partner isn’t truly committed, then they aren’t truly your partner; they are an obstacle to your health and happiness. Just as you need incentive, your partner will also need incentive in order to maintain a commitment to your relationship. Help them find it and keep it in mind. Spend time talking regularly about what your joint goals and desires are — as well as what you each want individually. If you help each other, you have found the true essence of marriage.The fourth key to making marriage work is a plan — a simple plan. If being happily married was innate to humans, half of our marriages wouldn’t end in divorce and married people wouldn’t drive each other nuts. Your plan should include regular, meaningful communication, spending quality time together having fun, and learning (together) how to develop incentives and commitment in order to maintain relationship harmony. To be good at marriage, you’ll need to learn about it and practice the things you learn. Remember the old axiom: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” There are many resources available to help you develop strategies for creating and maintaining relationship harmony.Everyone of us wants to be happy. If you’ve found yourself in a marriage, your odds of being happy have dropped significantly. Although humans need companionship to be happy and fulfilled, having a companion you don’t get along with will have the opposite effect. You can be happy and married at the same time, but it isn’t easy or natural; you’re going to have to work on it. Follow these keys to relationship success — and find a committed partner to help you along the way. When you have learned the art of being happily married, life takes on a whole new look, feel and meaning. If you’re married, do yourself a favor and learn how to make marriage work for you and your partner. You’ll be glad you did.