Like a lot of people who got married in the pleasant fog of romance, I thought our legally-sanctioned vows made it a done deal -- forever.

Then life together begins, routines set in "¦

Loving does not guarantee living happily ever after.

Says Bill Ferguson, a former divorce attorney who has been featured on Oprah: "The divorce courts are full of people who love each other. To have a relationship work, you need to make sure the other person feels loved."

How do we do enough to ensure love lasts -- and still have enough time for work, the kids and all the errands life requires?

I set out to find the top 10 tips, and here, the first two courtesy of Ferguson, they are.

1. Replace criticism and control with acceptance and appreciation.

Notice how you feel when someone tries to change or control you. You get upset. You put up walls of protection and become more critical in return. Then notice how you feel when someone genuinely accepts and appreciates you. It feels great and does the same for your partner.

2. End the cycle of conflict.

Someone gets upset and tries to change or control the other. Then the other person either attacks or withdraws. Then the first person gets even more upset. This cycle of conflict then goes on and on, destroying the love and creating distance. It's like a tennis volley. It takes two people to keep the volley going. It only takes one person to end it. As soon as someone refuses to return serves, the game is over.

3. Set up ground rules for handling money.

Well in advance, know who is going to be responsible for what, what happens in emergencies and what percent of income will be spent and saved. If you do that, says Sherman Spencer, author of the soon-to-be released "The Cure for Money Madness" (Random House, 2009), you'll avoid a major marriage minefield.

So what else? From a dozen relationship experts, I got more than 100 tips. But "listening" came up more than once. Here's the advice in the words of Jen Carsen of

4. Learn to really listen.

The ways that you communicate (or don't) can make or break you. Take the time to truly hear what your partner is saying rather than simply wait for him or her to finish speaking so that you can talk again.

Now here's something you are going to have to spend some time on: Sex.

5. Keep sex a priority.

Look at it this way, Carsen says: Sex is the one thing you and your partner do together that neither of you does with anyone else. You'd be surprised how many other relationship issues magically smooth themselves out when sex is a priority.

Incidentally, exercise makes you feel sexy and desire sex. So don't disdain the bike ride, gym workout or pool.

6. Keep up your health, hygiene and appearance.

Wear colors and clothes that your partner likes to see you in, splash on his or her favorite scent.

But, we hasten to add, do not become so dependent that your partner would liken it to being gripped by a boa constrictor. So comes the advice of dating coach Etienne Charland of

7. Get a life.

"When two people make an effort to have full, interesting, independent lives outside their relationship with one another, it strengthens both the partnership and the individuals in it," Carsen says.

The next tip might surprise you, but it is important and getting more so every day in our possessions-oriented society. For the sake of your romance:

8. End clutter.

By simply clearing the way for better energy or "chi," you can greatly improve your relationships, says Pat Heydlauff, president of clutter-reduction company Energy Design.

When your home facilitates thought, talk about the future. Here's how's sex and relationships author Alex Lluch puts it:

We're getting near the end and have to include:

9. Build trust and respect.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable, advises Jaiya at Allowing our partner true intimacy is one of the best things we can do for a relationship. Then, adds Loren Gelberg-Goff, licensed clinical social worker at We need to nurture self-respect by acting with integrity and respect our partners by looking for qualities that are valuable and worthwhile. We also need to foster trust. In loving relationships, we count on trusting each other to be loving, compassionate, respectful and wanting what is best for each other.


10. Dream and plan together -- and be open to spontaneity.

With your spouse, create a list of things you want to do together in your lifetime. Some will be simple to carry out, such as "eat an exotic cuisine. Others may call for some thought, such as "plant a garden." Still other things require lots of planning, such as "hike through the rainforest."

And don't hesitate to stray from that list, for without spontaneity, marriage falls into a routine. Marital boredom can be much like a car that is running on fumes -- couples neglect to add gas to the car, yet end up shocked when their marriage sputters to a stop. Together, try a new recipe, hobby, sport, restaurant or movie genre. Strive to be the kind of couple who are always willing to go on a small adventure at the spur of the moment.

Remind yourselves that your regular life and all of its demands will be there when you get back -- if you keep these 10 important tips in mind.

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