I’ve been married to the same magnificent lady since 2005, and there are so many things I wish I’d known back then that would have made the path smoother and easier. But I’m glad that we have the chance to love each other each day, and I hope that everyone either in or starting a relationship has the opportunity to build something great, something wonderful and empowering. Your partner is the one who is the source of your strength, not a promoter of weakness. This is something you want to last for years and years, so here are a few ideas that experience has taught me, and if you focus on them, expect amazing things in your relationship
1) Plan, plan, plan!
Consider this a 20-year process. Do you honestly think you can start a 20 year process with no form of plan in mind? Yet that is exactly the mindset of most people getting into a long-term relationship (LTR). Think of every great achievement or success in your life – did they happen by accident? Even small achievements? Can you bake a cake by throwing some flour and sugar in the oven and hope for a cake at the end? Your LTR needs both of you to sit together, with a glass of wine if you want, and put together, on paper, the principles that guide your relationship. These are the big goals, the things you both want today, and will want in 2, 5 10 and 20 years time. They are timeless and don’t change from day to day. This takes some thinking about, together, at the beginning, when everything seems possible. Don’t just drift along like a rudderless boat. You’re a cruiseliner which refuses to deviate from its course, with both of you at the helm.
2) The individual plan.
There are reasons you selected your partner, why they are the one who stood out from all the others. Are those reasons based on solid character, or flimsy behaviours that can disappear like mist? Make a list of all the things that make your partner ‘the one’, and keep it somewhere safe and accessible, so when the going gets tough, and it will, you can pull it out and know that you’ve made the right decision to stick with him/her. You love them for what they stand for now, not for what they might be in the future. Do you want a partner, or a ‘project’? (Hint: Don’t choose the latter.)
3) Love is a verb, not a noun.
Doing love is not the same as being in love. How many couples, especially new couples, regale you with stories about how ‘madly in love’ they are, yet if asked what they do to create that love, they’ll often look blank, with the best available response being, ‘do? Uh… it’s just there.’ Love is about doing the things needed to create love. It is not a feeling. How you feel can change within minutes, seconds even, never mind years. Do you think you can sustain a ‘feeling’ of love for 20 years? Feelings change, but the ‘actions of love’ endure. Your partner will change, and so will you. Ever hear a woman say, ‘He’s not the same man I married’? Of course he isn’t! And they’re not the same woman either. Do you think you’re the same person you were 5 years ago? Last year? You must prepare to fall in love over and over again, to a different person wrapped in the same, subtly developing shell.
4) Be together.
You may find this astonishing, but couples who stay together, do stuff together. There’s nothing more important than nurturing your life together. Do as many little things together you can, even if it’s ‘boring stuff’, you can make anything interesting with a special person beside you. It’s more important than the big things. Reinforce sections 1) and 2) with each other often, the promises that you made at the height of your love, because you want them to stand for something, for always.
5) Know the boundaries.
You may think this is obvious, but not necessarily. Whether either of you have been in a relationship(s) before, I guarantee you do not know where the line is unless you have discussed it. Don’t wait, and don’t gamble. The currency of any relationship is trust, and once lost is the hardest thing to get back.
6) Never, ever assume.
Communication is more important than any other factor in your successful LTR. To have one, you must change your mindset from ‘I want this…’ to ‘We want this…’ and you cannot know what you both want unless you have sought to understand your partner. Listen, listen, and listen some more. You cannot choose your own opinion as more valid than your partner’s, and you must not assume that you have understood. Don’t believe me? Plan a conversation lasting less than 5 minutes, where both parties have 5 key points they each want to get across to the other, that the other party doesn’t know about. Then 30 minutes after the conversation, write down what you think the 5 points were that your partner really wanted you to know. Then compare. And prepare to be really disappointed. The key here, is always say what you mean, and always mean what you say.
7) Problems, problems.
It is said that life is a series of problems punctuated by crises. Don’t hope to avoid problems. Expect them. Now you don’t have to face them alone. Be supportive of your partner, because their problems are your problems, but together your joint solutions will be better. You’re a team. You’re in charge of the ship together. Little problems will not blow you off course, and crises are the storms which you’ll weather together.
8) Never, ever, badmouth your relationship outside of the relationship,
no matter in what shape or form. You might think it’s a small ‘joke between friends’ when you put your partner down, even in the smallest way, but it’s a cancer that will grow and grow. Don’t let this happen. Remind everyone instead of the things you enjoy each other, the little things that make your relationship special. Not as a form of one-upmanship, but as one of the acts of love described above. Warm words warm your heart when it needs it the most. Even if they’re not with you, act as though they are. It’s the ultimate respect for your relationship.
Relationships are tough, they are a marathon, not a sprint. Work on your fitness every day if you want to win the race.
Have a great day, everyone, and love the relationships in your life.