Note from Hannah: This is a long one. But hey, it’s about long-term relationships. It’s a summary of what I’ve learned in an ever-growing number of years of life and professional experience. Hope you can commit to reading it…
Relationships are complicated, that’s for sure. There are a lot of pressures that pull couples apart. At the same time, there are many ways to strengthen a relationship for couples who want to be in it for the long-haul. Here’s the deal: you can’t wait until things are bad. You have to intentionally, proactively, and continuously keep tabs on how things are going. Here are my thoughts on things that help committed and motivated couples stay together:
It goes a long way when both partners give without keeping score. When we give of ourselves, others want to give back. There is a natural ebb and flow. In couples where each party is able to give time, attention, and effort without pettiness and guilt-trips, there is a greater chance of staying together.
Couples who are able to have fun and see the lighter side of life seem to be able to let things go and smooth things over more easily. This is different than using humor to deflect problems or minimize issues. This is about cultivating an environment where fun, playfulness, curiosity, and adventure are part of daily life.
A positive, fulfilling sex life helps a lot. Like humor and light-heartedness, a lot of little frustrations can be more easily overlooked when sex is good. It certainly tips the balance towards ease and connection in a partnership. There is a biological reason for this: during sex, our bodies release oxytocin, the hormone that promotes bonding. We feel strongly connected with our partner at a cellular level. That’s deep.
Couples who can see and appreciate what each partner brings to the table feel more connected. Appreciation strengthens teamwork and helps us feel like we are in it together. I often hear of couples who split joint expenses even when there is an income disparity. I think this is problematic. True appreciation is about seeing value beyond money. It’s about understanding that contributions of love, kindness, compassion, support, fun, and partnership have value too. Things like housework, cooking, social planning, gift-buying, future planning also have value. Couples who understand this have more flexibility to get their joint needs met by working together with respect and appreciation.
I think couples who are committed to never being unkind in their words and actions have a much better chance of staying together in the long-term. It’s very possible to disagree, complain, feel angry, even yell without ever saying something unkind about the other person. Always treating your partner with respect, without name-calling or belittling, is a key ingredient in good relationships.
A FULL LIFE
Couples who understand that a partnership is very important, but not their whole world fare better in the long-term. We need an abundance of support and love in our lives. Family and friends are crucial to our well-being. So are activities that keep us engaged, whether it be work, hobbies, recreation, or education. We all need a few fulfilling things in our lives. An absence of fulfilling relationships and activities takes a toll on a partnership. No one person is enough and it becomes too easy to feel let down if you lean heavily on your partner.
Couples who are not looking to change each other are, in my observation, happier. You might be surprised how often I say to clients who are complaining about their partners, “Sounds like you want a different person.” To be in a long-term relationship you need to like your partner mostly, and accept the less flattering parts of them. At some point we need to accept at least minor annoyances and frustration with our partner’s habits and mannerisms. People who can focus on the 95% of what works in their relationship are going to be a lot more content.
DEALING WITH HARD STUFF
No long-term couple is immune to the inevitable difficulties in life. Having cultivated many positive aspects of a relationship can buffer the hard times. A willingness to talk, listen, and just be with each other are the kinds of skills that will help couples make it through big challenges. Couples who can face things head-on and not avoid, minimize, or shut-down are in a good place to get through even the rough patches. (More on this topic here).
AN OPEN HEART
Maybe the most fundamental aspect of closely connected, long-term partners is a continued willingness to be open-hearted. This means loving our partner, holding them in high regard, supporting and nurturing them. To be really invested in a relationship, we need to get to the point of doing these things without fear of rejection, abandonment, and isolation getting in the way. There is no risk-free relationship. To be emotionally invested is a risk to our emotional selves. But my observation, and indeed my experience, is that the daily pain of not being connected is much worse than finding and investing in a worthy relationship where you can give your whole heart.
What do you think? What keeps couples together and happy in the long-term?
Many thanks to Jared and Melissa for use of their photos.