It is impossible to "work" at marriage. It is an oxymoron; it is the wrong approach.
Many take this to mean that they can do nothing to improve upon their marriage or make their marriage great. They see marriage as a feeling or something they fall in or out of. This is victimization thinking, and it is certainly a popular notion. What I am suggesting is that we do not work on the relationship at all. Instead, we can work on ourselves.
Two adults for a mature relationship
We can focus on our own issues and become a mature and responsible adult. When there are two adult, mature, committed people within the marriage, the relationship almost takes care of itself. I say, almost, because there will be a need to learn to communicate, but this can't even happen without the underpinnings of "two worthy opponents."
Healthy boundaries in marriage
The second part of this approach is that we don't need to actually "work." Work implies a seriousness that is much too problematic, and it points to a lack of self-differentiation – a mature and healthy sense of "we" and "I", balance between intimacy and autonomy, togetherness and separateness.
When we are serious – chronically serious – we are operating from a highly anxious level. We are treating the situation as though there is something wrong, or worse, that you and/or I are wrong. This is illusional thinking. It is also inconsistent with the gospel message of having no undo anxiety at all and building your Christian marriage on the solid foundation of Christ. Whenever we think this way we cut ourselves off from the higher levels of our human functioning – the capacity to reason and problem-solve, be creative and imaginative. Anxiousness keeps operating out of a reflex mode – far from the great potential of the human species.
Putting the horse before the cart
Most Christian couples beginning marriage do not know what it means to "be" a husband and wife for one another – because it was never explained to them or in a way that they could grasp. Many couples seemingly never arrive at the level of "being" married as evidenced by high divorce rates. In order to know what we are to "do" in our marriages, we first need to know what we are supposed to "be" in our marriages. Being precedes doing in the order of becoming the husband or wife that God desires for our Christian marriages. As often we get caught up in our busy and task driven lives of doing, this may require a conscious flip in our thinking.
For an insightful and biblical explanation of what it means to first "be" married, as the basis for knowing what we to "do" as a husband or a wife, listen to this audio podcast talk— "Spirituality of Marriage" —by Fr. John Riccardo, priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit