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If movies and romance novels are to be believed, discovering true love is almost always followed by a blissful “happily ever after.” Those of us who have been in serious relationships, however, know that this certainly isn’t the case! Even the best relationships involve hard work and dedication.
When we’ve found “The One,” we want to build a relationship that lasts a lifetime. What are the secrets to staying happy and building an enduring partnership? Here are a few words of wisdom from couples who have stuck with their partners for decades. By being mindful of the ways in which you treat one another, you and your partner can build a relationship that will stand the test of time.
Practice Small Acts of Kindness
Simple acts of consideration and kindness can strengthen your relationship in big ways. Instead of treating your partner like a roommate, commit to performing small, thoughtful gestures to show your partner that you really care. Put a new roll of toilet paper on when it runs out, hold open the door when entering a building, or tackle a chore on your partner’s to-do list. Sometimes, simple acts such as these are the best way to show your partner that you value them. Take the time to really appreciate the ways in which your partner cares for you, too. What would your life look like without them? You’ll probably realize that there are many things that they do that you’ve been taking for granted! Verbalize your gratitude, and show your partner how much you care through both your words and your actions. Doing so will build a foundation of appreciation and respect in your relationship.
Strike a Balance
Fictional relationships make it seem as though we should be spending all of our time with our partners. Though some couples can make this work, most individuals feel suffocated by 24/7 relationships. Instead, focus on spending real, quality time together while also respecting one another’s personal freedom. You can be soulmates and not share all of the same interests! Many couples have separate friendships, hobbies, and passions. This is natural and healthy! Allow your partner the freedom to meet up with their friends and pursue their interests on their own. Remember, little breaks from one another can be healthy, and are far better than codependency in a relationship. Don’t feel like you have to love the same TV shows; it’s fine if you want to read while he watches a soccer match. By allowing your partner the freedom to explore their own identity, you’ll ultimately enhance the quality of the time you spend together as a couple.
Communicate & Compromise
If you’re in a long-term relationship, it is inevitable that you will ultimately face some of life’s biggest challenges together. You might struggle with a health crisis, a career change, job loss, a major move, or the death of a beloved friend or family member. Perhaps the conflict you face is a more personal one, such as differing values or priorities. These challenges, amongst others, will force you to confront painful emotions and difficult decisions. Though your relationship might be tested by these challenges, the ways in which you manage these stressors will often be the deciding factor in whether or not your bond will be strengthened or weakened by such experiences. Remember first to focus on the issues at hand. Deal with the problem, and never resort to attacking your partner on a personal level. Even after a heated argument is over, we often remember the hurtful insults used to attack us. Even if you’re frustrated with your partner, remember that they are not the enemy. Life is difficult enough; we should strive to make things easier for one another, rather than tearing each other down.
Fighting occurs in even the best relationships. Working on your communication skills, however, can significantly reduce the amount of strife in your partnership. Be honest with your partner, and deal with problems as they arise. Remember to use “I” statements whenever possible. Instead of saying “You always leave your dirty laundry on the floor! You’re such a pig!” rephrase your sentiments to focus on how your partner’s actions make you feel. “I feel hurt and frustrated when I see that you’ve left your clothing on the floor, because it makes me feel as though you don’t appreciate the effort I put into keeping our home tidy.” Avoid getting aggressive with your partner, and strive not to blame them for the problems in your lives.
Sometimes, avoiding conflict is the result of successful long-term communication patterns. Be open and honest with your partner. What are your expectations regarding their behavior in your relationship? Are there any boundaries you refuse to let them cross? Do they have any “deal breakers” you need to be aware of? By making your expectations and boundaries clear, you can avoid many of the misunderstandings that result from a lack of communication.
One study of long-term couples found that partners who had been together valued one trait even more highly than communication skills. These couples cited respect as the number-one key to success in their relationships. All of us will, at some point, be hurt by our partners or frustrated by their actions. Can you manage to stay kind and respectful, even during these challenging times? If you treat your partner poorly, can you bring yourself to apologize for how you’ve behaved, regardless of if you were “right” or “wrong?” By communicating with your partner and treating them with respect, you can prevent pain and resentment from poisoning your relationship. By building a strong foundation, you can overcome even the greatest of difficulties.
Never Stop Dating Each Other
Though you’ve probably heard it before, one of the best ways to keep a long-term relationship strong is by continuing to date your partner. In long-term relationships, we often spend a lot of time passively “around” our partners. Instead of simply being there, take the time to be mindfully engaged with one another.
Though organizing a romantic “date night” each week can be fun, dating doesn’t need to be limited to expensive dinners and weekend getaways. Sometimes, you simply need to put your phones away and return to a place of communication and joy. Uncork a bottle of wine and play some board games together. When running errands, take a half-hour break to sit down at a coffee shop. Just chat and enjoy one another’s company for a little while. Another great way to reconnect is by starting up a mutual self-care practice. Do yoga together, or spend a few minutes meditating together each morning. Take a bath or a shower together if you’d like. Doing so will relieve stress and can help you both unwind, making you better prepared to approach your relationship from a place of patience and love.
Keeping your relationship strong and healthy doesn’t result from following a simple guidebook of rules. Rather, it is the result of a number of different practices and behaviors, all of which contribute to a healthy relationship dynamic. Here are just a few other insights that long-term couples had to offer.
Communication requires striking a balance that works for you. Checking in with your partner throughout the day, for instance, might make your partner feel cared for and loved. Others might find such constant communication stifling and burdensome. Strike a balance that works for both you and your partner.
When talking to your partner, take the time to really listen to them. Stay quiet and simply let them talk. Don’t interject, just listen. By actively listening to your partner, you’ll better be able to see things from their point of view. In understanding them, you’ll be more sympathetic to their wants and needs.
Don’t forget the power of humor in a relationship! Stay playful, and keep a positive attitude. Laugh at yourself and laugh together. Life can be ridiculous and unpredictable; laughter is one of the best ways to cope with this chaotic world!
Avoid comparing your relationship to the relationships of others. No one’s relationship is perfect; everyone fights sometimes. You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. Though you may value the insights of your friends and family members, be sure to limit the impact these individuals have on your relationship. Only you and your partner should be dictating the terms of your relationship.
Make the time for physical intimacy in your relationship. Does your partner know that you find them attractive and desirable? Express this to them! Plan time for intimacy, too. Quick and spontaneous sex can be fun, but true intimacy is built when time has been set aside for deliberate, unrushed closeness. Schedule an appointment for intimacy; you won’t regret it.
Finally, be willing to work on your relationship. Therapy isn’t a shameful thing! If you know that your relationship needs work, commit to it. Working through your problems has the potential to change your relationship for the better. Therapy can be challenging, but the rewards are often worth the effort. Committing to couples counseling just might be the trick to keeping your relationship going strong for years to come.
Even when the roaring fire of passion has dimmed, the embers of true and enduring love remain. Keep this fire burning by fueling it with the emotional “kindling” it needs to stay alight. Spend quality time with your partner. Foster physical and emotional intimacy through communication and acts of kindness. Learn to laugh together, but remember to discuss the difficult issues and apologize to one another, too. Most importantly, cherish each other and treat one another with respect. By nurturing your relationship and remaining grateful for your partner and all that they are, you can build a happy and healthy relationship that just might last a lifetime.
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