Milestones often cause us to pause and reflect on what we have learned over the passage of time. This week marks our 35th wedding anniversary. Given that the statistics for divorce are so high – 40% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages don’t last, I think we’ve done pretty well to have spent the past three and a half decades in a happy relationship.
Thirty five years.
That’s a long time for lots of things, but particularly for a marriage. It got me thinking about what I have learned in that time about navigating relationships with a significant other. It also provided an opportunity to ask my husband to share his thoughts.
So here’s our best advice for anyone wanting a happy long term relationship, married or otherwise:
Your partner is not supposed to complete you.
Maybe it works in the romantic comedy movie world, but in real life you and your partner are complete and whole individuals on your own. You complement, encourage and support each other, but you are not two halves of the same whole. Thinking that you need another person in order to be at your best diminishes who you both really are.
Thinking that you need another person to complete you diminishes who you both really are. Click To Tweet
Sometimes you go to bed angry.
Never going to bed angry sounds good in theory but in practice sometimes you are ticked off when you go to bed. Sometimes you need a little time to process something, to be willing to let go of it and forgive. Setting an arbitrary deadline like bedtime encourages us to sometimes sweep things under the rug only to find they show up later on.
What’s more important is that you don’t spend your time storing up little resentments and irritations. If you aren’t waking up happy on most days, then you need to deal with whatever is bubbling under the surface.
Children change things.
Anyone who has said having children won’t change their relationship didn’t have children when they said it. Of course children change things. You can’t add other human beings into the mix and expect that nothing will change. Children do change the dynamic of a relationship – mostly for the good. But they also require that you figure out how to co-parent. You might not agree on lots of stuff – everything from which sports to play to how much screen time is okay to whether your kid should be allowed to get a piercing.
The way you navigate those changes is by putting your relationship as a couple first. I know that’s a challenging concept for some people who believe kids come first. I disagree. If you don’t have a strong relationship as a couple, the family will never be strong. You need to take time away from the kids without guilt.
You won’t always be on the same page.
It’s highly unlikely that you and your partner will go through life in perfect step. We grow as individuals at our own pace. Sometimes we are one step ahead or two steps behind our partner. When that happens we need to recognize where we each are and be willing to create enough space and patience to allow ourselves to get in sync again.
Just because we have been together for a long time does not mean that it gets easier as time goes on. All relationships ebb and flow. Having an expectation that there is not ongoing work involved sets relationships up for failure. Commitment means sticking with things even when it is challenging.
Being right isn’t the most important thing.
Who doesn’t like being right? But where relationships are concerned needing to be right causes unnecessary friction – especially when we are attached to the right way to do mostly insignificant things. How to load the dishwasher, which way the toilet paper roll goes or where to squeeze the toothpaste are not worth correcting your partner about, let alone starting an argument.
When we are super attached to how things should be done, it’s more about us than it is about our partner. Let it go and save your energy for negotiating things that are really essential.
Everything matters including the little things.
Every day through our actions we send a message about how important we hold our relationship. It’s especially through the little things we do that signals to our partner, “I’m thinking of you.” It might be something that is no big deal to you but to your partner it makes a difference. It’s those little gestures that keep the positivity level high in a relationship.
Affection is as important as sex.
And sex is as important as affection.
They go hand in hand no pun intended. Sex without affection can become disconnecting. Affection without sex can seem platonic. You need to find the right mix that keeps the passion burning.
You need to talk about the difficult, messy and uncomfortable stuff.
If you are avoiding talking about something, that’s a pretty good sign you need to be talking about it. Often we don’t want to talk about all the stuff that is challenging for some reason – money, kids, sex, habits, chores – because we fear a confrontation. Or it’s embarrassing. Or some other reason that encourages us to pretend there isn’t a conversation waiting to be had.
Just because you don’t talk about it doesn’t mean that it isn’t an issue.
How much you make each other laugh is a red flag.
If you aren’t making each other laugh on a daily basis, there’s something amiss. I think it’s the canary in the relationship coal mine. If you are not smiling and laughing every day, then you are likely taking things way too seriously. Laughing at yourself and each other in a loving way releases tension and builds positivity.
You need to keep current.
Things change. When we were married in 1981, clothes, hairstyles and music were different than they are now. What was the in thing then now seems a little dated. People change too. When you begin to believe that you know everything about your partner, you are in trouble. There might be lots that you do know, but over time your partner is changing and growing just as you are. What was once a favourite thing might no longer be your first choice. Beliefs and attitudes we once held evolve. The only way to keep current is to have conversation about hopes and dreams and fears and preferences.
On our wedding day my grandmother gave me a little solid advice about marriage.
She said to pause and remember all of the wonderful qualities that had made me fall in love with my husband. She said that in the course of any marriage there would be times when it might be easy to forget those qualities and focus instead on sources of irritation or challenge. Being able to recall the best would allow me to shift my perspective in a positive way.
Apparently that advice it worked.
What ‘s your best relationship advice?
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