Someone once asked me what the secret was to a good marriage. I responded with Trust, Communication, Honesty, Compromise, and DESIRE. I've been married to my wife for 11 years and we've been together for 17 (since 1999). I feel like I have a strong understanding of this subject and wanted to share.
I have also added Respect and Apologize to this list as I've grown and learned a lot since I originally wrote this.
Your spouse is the first person in your life that you give every part of yourself to. -Me
Goes without saying trust and integrity are a major part of a relationship. Always do the right thing when no one is looking, always do right by your spouse. Never intentionally put yourself in a bad situation or a questionable situation that can turn bad. Always focus on your own relationship, put your spouse first, and if you get invited somewhere by the opposite sex, ask why your spouse wasn't invited. You must know each others intentions and this one sits heavily in line with Honesty. Do not do things that make your spouse uncomfortable, it's not worth it.
There should never be something you're afraid to your spouse about. Remember you are both a team with the exact same goals. Tell each other everything, communicate the dumbest of things, communicate the important things. Discuss, Plan, and Execute things together. You must be willing to talk about uncomfortable subjects, subjects that make you mad, and subjects that make you sad, and you must do so without losing respect for each other, without losing yourself, and while staying true to each other.
You must have open and boundary-less communication at all times. If you can't say something around your BEST FRIEND, why are you saying it? If you did it and won't admit it, why are you doing it? Always be 100% with each other. Your spouse is supposed to be your anchor, your co-pilot, and your wing-man. Your spouse is supposed to ground you, guide you, and comfort you. Do not be afraid to ask each other questions and don't be afraid to answer. Respectful communication is important.
You CANNOT have everything you want in a relationship. You CAN have just about everything though. The purpose of having a great relationship is that your goals are similar, your hobbies overlap, your parenting style align, and your end-game is happily ever after. At some point though you need to pull back on your own wants and desires and focus on what is the best for the relationship. Sometimes you may think what you want is the best, sometimes your spouse thinks theirs is the best, but at the end of the day your goal is to find a common ground and push forward. You're both probably wrong but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you supported each other 100% and overcome any challenges.
This one has always been important to me. You have to WANT to stay together for you both to fight for it. Giving up is the easy way out and it needs to not be an option. Give your spouse your everything, want and love them like they are the only person in your life. Show them they are exactly what you want, show them they provide what you need, and they will do the same for you. A relationship is not a give-and-get scenario. It's a GIVE-and-GIVE scenario. At no point should anything ever be considered a punishment or a reward for an action. Your entire relationship is the reward and the only punishment is when you admit your own faults to which your partner will accept those faults and empower you to overcome.
Your relationship is absolutely SACRED. Religious or not, I won't preach this to you, but your partner is EVERYTHING. You must respect who they are, what they are, their possessions, their wants, their desires. You must love, protect, and show compassion for their entire being. You must set aside your ego for the greater good. Whatever boundaries you have, they are concrete. Understand your partners needs, don't criticize their concerns or insecurities, and push them to be a better person at all times. Respect sets the foundation for everything else. It tells your partner you are on equal ground and are a team.
For the love of God put your ego aside and learn to apologize. Learn to know when you are wrong without being told. Sometimes you may be technically right, but in your relationship sometimes you need to accept being wrong is the better outcome. Yeah it sounds stupid, but petty arguments over shit that doesn't matter will never help your relationship. Learn to pick your battles, learn when to say, "I'm sorry," and work things out as a team. If both partners are on the same page misunderstandings drop to near-zero and compassion, respect, and empathy go through the roof. If all else fails, ask for clarification, understand, apologize, and move forward.
Your spouse is the first person in your life that you give every part of yourself to. You'll always have unconditional love for your parents and children, but your spouse is different. He/She commands a different level of respect, trust and love. You must be there to support and grow that love. You are each literally responsible for the well-being of the other in a way no one can imagine. Do not share yourself with another person(s) mentally, physically, or emotionally. Those are things you must allow your partner to nurture and protect. You are each responsible for respecting those boundaries that makes your relationship yours.