Dear Planning Ahead,
Good for you for thinking about this now. Most people spend more time planning vacations than they do working on their relationship. In fact, many people don't work on it at all! Lots of wedding planning, then live happily ever after. Oh, wait! I have to work at this?
One of the lovely women at Water Zumba just had her 45th anniversary (congratulations!), and I asked her what the keys are to a happy marriage. Part of what she said: Patience, Communication, Respect. I asked her if by patience, she meant remembering that, "This Too Shall Pass," and she laughed, and said yes. I just finished a novel in which a character says that Admiration, Looking Up To, and Cherishing are what's needed for a good marriage.
These may be qualities that get lost.
After a couple of years the "love hormones" calm down; we've been through experiences together and see a more complete picture of our partner (and ourselves, hopefully). S/he has traits that are not your favorite; s/he doesn't act "right" sometimes (which means not how I expected/not how my family would act in the similar situation); we don't always feel safe and secure being ourselves in our relationship (I am not referring to domestic violence here, just being our quirky self). That may lead to decreased satisfaction and increased defensiveness.
This may lead to a downward spiral, and the question: Did I marry the wrong person? The answer is most likely, "No, it's just time to work."
We have the opportunity to grow and learn to change and to accept our partner's authentic self, while showing up authentically ourselves. That way, we're sure that when we are loved, it is ME that is being loved (not the mask we wear at times).
Remember, there is each of you, and the third entity, your marriage. You both get to and need to put effort into your marriage.
The upward spiral of increased satisfaction, trust and happiness happens when we learn and implement the knowledge of how the brain works, and learn tools and skills for marriage that decrease defensiveness and increase pleasure and our identity as a couple (vs. just partnership).
Slow down, be kind, explicit, and respectful, seduce one another, support each person's interests, provide comfort and great listening with empathy, challenge rarely and with the others' best interest in mind, find out each others' Love Language and give in that way to him/her.
Check out the Connect2 Marriage Counseling reading list for books that will help with these tools and skills. Many of them are described here in Couple's Net, so peruse earlier posts.
People ask me if they can say what they normally would to their mate. No, that's what got you here! The great thing is that it really is within your capacity to experiment with new behaviors and create a happy marriage again.
Please remember, many people rewrite history when they are unhappy. You were connected, intimate, sexual, and communicative in the early days. Do what you did then. It will help a lot, and lead to a 40 or 50 year marriage. Put more into your relationship.