1. We all have our ups and downs
Long-term relationships, no matter how well matched, are always going to have ups and downs. Let’s face it, your own life doesn’t go in a straight line, so when you weave two lives together, what you end up with is a very complex emotional tapestry. All relationships go through difficult patches. Part of the trick of being ‘in it for the long haul’ is to be able to recognise this.
When we first embark on a relationship, it feels like a permanent high. The thrill and the buzz you get from just being with that other person is designed to stick you together. Inevitably though, this intensity of emotion will change over time. In the most successful relationships, it deepens into an enduring emotional and physical partnership. Being able to navigate the difficult times essentially requires both partners to develop a level of pragmatism and understanding that draws its strength from that initial rush of love you felt. Good relationships don’t just happen, they rely on both partners making an effort to get along and talk through differences to achieve compromise.
So, if you’re going through a sticky patch, as a couple you need to recognise it, talk about it and work to improve things.
2. Respect… it goes a long way
All too often, I work with couples who treat each other with such little respect and appreciation that it’s no wonder their relationship has stalled. When we share our lives with someone else in the long-term, it’s very easy to begin to take them for granted. If this happens, resentment kicks in and you find yourselves arguing about a myriad of petty issues, rather than confronting the underlying cause.
Showing you appreciate your partner will go a long way to oil the wheels of harmony. It doesn’t take much either. I’m always surprised at how many people don’t even say please or thank you to their significant other, let alone do anything more thoughtful. Showing appreciation lets the other person know you’re thinking about them and you care. It helps to develop that sense of collaboration that enhances that feeling of communality between a couple.
3. Sing from the same hymn sheet
Shared values and goals are such an important part of any successful relationship. I think this is especially crucial when kids are involved. Being able to pull in the same direction as parents will give you that united front that really helps children to understand boundaries. Not only are you more likely to raise well adjusted children, but the more they see you working together as a couple, the more likely they are to grow up understanding what a good relationship looks like.
It’s worth remembering that our relationships don’t just affect us, but they have ramifications for our children. Our behaviour and the way we treat each other directly influences how they will behave in the future. Treating each other with respect, supporting each other, standing together on how you bring up your children, all of these things are fundamental to achieving a positive family unit.
4. At the heart of any good relationship lies compromise
We won’t always get what we want in life, and the same goes for relationships. Balancing your own needs against that of your partner is never going to be easy, but if you’re going to succeed as a couple, it’s going to be an essential. Compromise doesn’t mean giving up or giving in, rather it’s a natural blending that allows both partners to thrive rather than one to dominate. It should involve a certain amount of sacrifice on both sides to achieve a shared outcome and it should never be done in anger.
5. Look after yourself
Nobody should feel pressured in any relationship to look a certain way, or to change to suit their partner’s wishes. This, in itself, would be truly destructive. However, I do believe it’s important to value your own physical and mental well-being. If you feel unhappy, it can change the dynamics of your relationship. That’s why it’s important to look after yourself and for you partner to support you in doing so. If you feel your best, then it stands to reason you’re going to give your best to the relationship.
6. Spontaneity is the spice of life!
It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but doing something nice for your partner shows them you think about them, you care about them and will have the added benefit of making you feel good too. In long-term relationships, it’s easy to let these things go, but every so often doing something for your partner completely out of the blue keeps things fresh.
In my opinion, it’s better not to do these things in response to an argument, but rather to make them completely unexpected.
7. Share and share alike
Whatever your life circumstances, sharing the burden as equally as possible will help you to avoid those petty niggles and resentments that can build over time. Division of labour helps things to run smoothly and avoids one person in the relationship feeling put upon. If you want to feel like a team, you need to act as if you’re part of one.
8. Schedule excitement!
Kids, work, chores… just getting through the daily grind can leave you both feeling like all you want to do is crawl under the duvet and sleep. Of course, this is absolutely normal and fine, but every relationship does need to stoke the fires every once in a while. Easier said than done, I hear you cry.
That’s why I say, schedule it. It sounds very clinical, but I like to think about it as more of a practical solution. Every couple needs time together, but when you factor in busy lives, it sometimes just doesn’t happen. This can leave the relationship feeling out of sync and starved of intimacy and fun. So, make time for shared experiences.
If you have kids, plan ahead, but do plan. Date nights should appear regularly on your calendar. It doesn’t have to be spectacular, but it should give you the time and space to reconnect, talk and have fun.
9. Give each other space
It’s a wonderfully romantic thought that your other
half is all you need. In the real world, however, our lives are far more complex and that’s healthy. Beyond our core relationship, we need people to interact with; friends, parents, children, work colleagues – all of these add up to a rich, fulfilling and supportive emotional life. Giving yourselves the space to include others will complement your relationship rather than diminish it, but only when these other relationships are well balanced against time spent with your partner. It’s a fine balancing act – get it right and you make the most of life, get it wrong and your other half can be left feeling neglected and low on your list of priorities.
10. Communication is vital
The amount of couples I see, usually when I’m in a restaurant, who are meant to be out enjoying themselves together, but who spend the time, phones out, communicating with others through text and social media, (rather than communicating with the person sat right opposite them) totally bemuses me. Talking together and laughing together are the foundation stones of any good relationship in my opinion.
Keeping the lines of communication open isn’t always an easy task. But there’s one thing that is certain – you can’t do it when your attention is diverted elsewhere. Talk and perhaps, more importantly, listen. Keeping open those two-way channels of communication with your partner will lead to greater connectivity, greater understanding of the other person’s thoughts and feelings and ultimately gives you a better chance of happiness together.
And finally... We all need to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, despite what social media and romantic films would have us believe. Relationships change over time, because we change. Both accepting the inevitability of this and enjoying finding out where that change will take you will give you greater chance of sticking together through it.
Russell Hemmings is a life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting. russellhemmings.co.uk.