While we like for our romantic books and movies to end with the couple living “happily ever after,” anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship knows that that state is very difficult to achieve in real life. We believe that maintaining a healthy long-term relationship requires a great deal of time and effort. But if the commitment is there, it absolutely can be done.
In it for the Long Haul
If you and your partner are truly focused on going the distance, here are some strategies you can use to help ensure you do:
- Check in on your relationships.
This is a magic-bullet solution to so many relationship problems! Schedule systematic meetings to talk about the state of your relationship and what can be improved.
For example, my wife and I have a relationship check-in every two weeks. We first talk about what we appreciated most about each other during the last two weeks. Then, we discuss what can be improved in our relationship, and how to do so. Finally, we finish up with gratitude to each other for doing the relationship check-in and have some delicious chocolate to reward ourselves. This has done wonders for improving our relationship!
2. Compromise. Early in relationships, things tend to be more of a 50/50 split. Their wants and needs and yours are honored equally. But over time, it’s not uncommon for us to grow a little selfish and develop stronger preferences for the things we want to see or do or eat, the people we want to spend time with and the like. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, it’s important to recognize that shift and resist it.
3. Trust others. All of these strategies will help you build up trust, which is key to having happy, lasting relationships. Always keep a personal evaluation of your relationship’s level of trust in the back of your mind. How much do you trust the other person to act in ways that match your mental model of that person? How much do you trust that person to have your back? If you want an intentional relationship, then do things to build trust and gather information about the other person’s trustworthiness. Exhibit vulnerability and openness, share secrets, and be generous in your offers to compromise. If the other person shows themselves trustworthy, then commit more to the relationship. If they do not, then re-evaluate your own level of commitment, as the relationship likely will not work in the long term.
4. Be open and honest about your feelings. Effective communication is critical to successful long-term relationships. Sometimes we begin to keep things inside because we don’t want to “bother” our partner. In other cases, we may want to hang on to certain emotions because we feel it puts us in a position of power. Whatever the reason, it’s important to avoid building walls or coloring the truth when it comes to how we’re feeling. You put your partner at an unfair disadvantage if you are withholding information on your emotional state.
5. Have healthy conflicts.
Surprise—conflicts can be healthy in relationships! If you go into a relationship expecting never to fight, then your first fight could very well lead to the end of the relationship. Instead, learn strategies for healthy conflict resolution, and talk about them with the other person beforehand.
Also, when a conflict does arise, start by highlighting how much you care about the other person and the relationship. Talk about both the facts and how you feel about them. Avoid the blame game, and instead be as generous as possible when interpreting the other person’s actions. Be open to changing your mind if you discover you made the mistake, and apologize quickly and profusely. Avoid focusing on the past and instead orient toward better behavior in the future. At the end of any conflict, focus on reconnecting and rebuilding emotional bonds strained by the conflict. My wife and I have found these techniques to be so helpful in resolving tensions between us!
6. Know that nobody ever “wins” an argument. When the focus of an argument becomes more about “winning” than resolving the issue, both of you lose. It’s much more conducive to a positive outcome to say early and often in a disagreement that the goal is to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. That can be difficult, but when it is, refer to item No. 1 above!
7. Understand how your partner expresses love. Even for couples who have been together for many years, it’s easy to forget how their partner tends to demonstrate love. Taking time to recognize and appreciate those expressions is the best way to keep them coming.
8. Refuse to use the silent treatment. While we may try to tell ourselves that it’s better to remain silent than to say something hurtful, the truth is that receiving the silent treatment can be just as painful, and it can be just as damaging to a relationship. What’s more, there are more than two options in that scenario. A third would be speaking your mind but refraining from using angry, emotion-laden language. Carefully chosen words can go a long way toward resolving a conflict.
9. Give them space. For some people it almost feels unnatural to be apart. But the truth is, we all need our space, even if that need doesn’t ever or often make it to the level of consciousness. And, absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.