This is the third of a three-part series examining military marriages. In some military weddings, the newly betrothed exit the ceremony through a solemn yet spectacular arch of swords. Near the end of the line, the last two swordsmen lower their sabers, stopping the couple for just a moment. The bride is then given a small swat on the rear with a sword and she hears the words “Welcome to the Army” (or whichever branch of service she has just “joined”). It a two-tissue worthy moment to be sure. After the wedding formalities, however, the real work of cultivating and maintaining a successful marriage begins. It is far from being an easy job as the ever-increasing military divorce rates suggest. Recently released statistics, reported in The Associated Press, indicate that there were about 10,200 failed marriages in the active duty Army and 3,077 marital fatalities in the Marines for Fiscal Year 2008. In the Army alone, that translates to a 3.5% divorce rate and a whopping 3.7% rate for Marines. The numbers are clearly working against you, making it even more important to work at making your marriage work. Here are some solid, tried and true strategies to keep your marriage from becoming a sad statistic. 1. And the two shall become one… but there are still two of you! You may have similar interests, be star-struck in love and full of passion, but making it work over the long haul requires an honest appreciation, acceptance and support for each other’s individuality. 2. Ditch the scorecard. There will always be another couple, somewhere along the line, who appear to have it together way more than you do. They will have more stuff. They will be financially set. They will appear to do everything together all the time and actually enjoy it. Forget trying to outwit, outlast and out-score them on the happiness scale. They are not real or they are an anomaly. In any event, consider them relationship zombies and just ignore them. 3. Keep your sense of humor. You will need it all the time. You will need it when he comes home from work and tells you that he is leaving again for someplace you can’t even pronounce (assuming he can tell you at all) and he doesn’t know when he’ll be back. You will need it when he mentions that five of his buddies and his boss are coming over in twenty minutes for dinner. Meanwhile, you have a raging case of PMS and want nothing more than to consume inhuman amounts of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and watch bad sitcom reruns in your favorite sweats. You will need it when something breaks in the house and you realize that not all guys have the fix-it gene in their bodies. Especially yours. 4. Fight fair. It’s the only way. Being a real bitch (or the male counterpart to that), even if it’s absolutely warranted, will not help the situation. Focus on achieving a compatible resolution in genuine disagreements and accept that you won’t always get things your way (and visa versa, of course). 5. Agree to disagree. Unless it is a life or death situation, sometimes you just have to move on with your life. Table the discussion for another time, another attitude or another place. Don’t worry. If it’s truly important, you’ll revisit it. 6. Express yourself. Honest communication is key. Without it, marriages die and people go their separate ways. If you don’t like the lid being left of the toothpaste and he does it all the time, tell him. Either of you should never be expected to read each other’s mind. 7. Make future plans together. Never stop having something to look forward to with the one you have agreed to spend the rest of your life with. Whether you are planning for retirement, a vacation or for what you’ll do together next week, keep moving forward. Making a military marriage work takes an amazing amount of understanding and patience. There has to be a strong commitment to succeed and a willingness to laugh in the face of the many odds stacked against you. It means keeping your marriage in tact through not only your time as a military couple, but for the years that follow this chapter in your lives. So go ahead. Forget what the statistics say. You are not a number and everyone knows that it takes an extra special person to be married to someone in the military…an extra special person just like you.