Every relationship has its peaks and valleys. Sometimes, the valleys seem so deep and wide that it feels like you’ll never get out of them.
Some couples never do.
They either choose to go their separate ways, file for a divorce or have a legal separation. A long-term relationship is definitely one of the most adventurous journeys that anyone will ever willingly choose to travel, but we do so because the rewards at each peak are tremendous.
My spouse and I have been married 13 years and together 17 years. Like most couples, we have experienced many challenges over the years. She’s Catholic, I’m not. I’m an extrovert, she’s not. If given the choice, I’ll watch science fiction. She’ll watch cop shows endlessly.
We are two very different people who have come together. Most people who meet us for the first time wonder how we’ve managed to craft a long-term relationship.
Above all else, if there is only one piece of advice that could be offered, it would be this: relationships are investments, not trades.
Trading, in financial terms, looks for huge profits in a short amount of time. It takes more risk and the chances of losing everything are much greater. Investments, on the other hand, grow slowly over longer periods of time and are a virtually guaranteed way to grow your wealth – assuming you’re willing to keep putting new funds into your account.
That’s what a long-term relationship is all about. You’ve got to put in deposits, make smart investments, and only take a withdrawal when absolutely necessary.
Having a love that lasts a lifetime is a little more complicated than just a banking metaphor. You need to create a strong foundation for a long term relationship so that it can withstand the pressures of a career, debt, children, funerals, and all of the other stresses that come with the modern relationship.
A strong enough foundation can even help a couple survive infidelity, if both parties are willing to keep working at their relationship.
My goal is to spend 70 years with my spouse. I plan to be one of those people who share a room at the nursing home well into my 100’s, holding hands with my loved one. It’s not going to be an easy journey to walk. We both know this. We’ve also learned some lessons over time that have helped us craft a stable foundation upon which we can always rely when times get tough.
Some of these lessons might seem like common sense, but there is a tremendous difference between reading something and experiencing something. Sometimes you’ve got to learn things the hard way to really grasp what the words you’ve read really mean.
You have to work on your relationship every day
In today’s culture, we tend to stress the big occasions. Large gifts at Valentine’s Day, Mother’s or Father’s Day, and especially Christmas become a point of emphasis to show meaning in a relationship. The only problem with this is that having 3 days per year to show how much you love someone isn’t good enough.
Love must be experienced every day so that it can bear and believe all things.
It’s the little things in life that show love. Opening a door for someone, giving up the baked potato from your meal because your loved one wants it or spending an hour watching a cop show you can’t stand all show love. Flowers are nice, but time is better.
It’s not up to them; it’s up to you
There are days when it feels like you’re the only one putting in work into your relationship. Sometimes,that one day of solo work stretches to feeling like a week or two. The truth is that a relationship might be one unit, but it is made up of two people.
People need space sometimes and that space sometimes requires a person to take time for themselves.
The goal is to love others as much as you love yourself.
You cannot love your partner fully if you do not love yourself fully. A relationship or a marriage will never last if you don’t spend time on yourself. It also won’t last if you don’t put your partner first sometimes. It can be a tricky balancing act but it’s an important one to have at the forefront of your relationship.
It’s not up to the other person but it’s up to you. You control what you do and you can choose to be happy. You can choose to love.
It is important that you make these choices every day so that you relationship can last. After all, the choice to stay in a relationship is also something you decide every day.
Communication must happen
Nothing frustrates me more than when my spouse comes home three hours late from work without letting me know. First of all, the kids are clamoring about when they’re going to see their mother. Secondly, the dinner I’ve made doesn’t taste as good in the microwave as it does when it is freshly made.
There’s also this realization I made one day: I was brought up in an environment where not communicating something like this meant that you were unloved.
We must communicate with each other to make a relationship last. Having too much communication will always be better than not having enough. I’ve talked about how it makes me feel when I don’t know she’s going to be late. She’s talked to me about how she’s not used to communicating these things because in her family, it was common to just come and go as needed and grab food when you had time.
When you have all of the information available, you both can make a better decision for your relationship that works for both of you. We have two nights where she guarantees she won’t be late so we can have dinner together as a family. I don’t take it personally if that doesn’t happen.
There must be a spiritual component to your relationship
I’m not going to spout some religious dogma about prayer, meditation, or the amount of time you spend in your preferred faith. I will say that the amount of time you spend together exploring your spirituality is important, even if you come from two very different faiths.
There is always room for compromise, but there is no compromise on the need for spirituality.
I’ve gone to mass and made a fool out of myself more than once. Apparently not being Catholic means you don’t take communion? Didn’t know that at first. She had a similar culture shock with my faith. What we do, however, is study our faiths together at the same time and ask each other questions that we believe are important.
• What does love mean to you?
• How can we come together to help others?
• Is there a way we can continue to grow.
Let me be clear: when I speak of faith, I also speak of atheism, agnosticism, or even a reliance on scientific evidence only. Your relationship has a soul, just as you do. Feed it and you will build a firmer foundation.
Make sure there is time to have fun
Some weeks I put in 70 hours at the computer. There are weeks when my wife puts 70 hours at work. Even though you might be tired, it is still important to emphasize the lighter side of life for your relationship to flourish.
Schedule time to spend with your partner or spouse if necessary to make sure you have time for fun.
One of the best ways to have fun is to experience something you both have never done before. Go visit a new national park. Book a table at a restaurant you’ve never tried. Take a drive somewhere you’ve never been. These all work.
We also define “fun” as making sure we go to bed at the same time every night. Even if we’ve been apart all day, this still gives us a chance to check-in with each other, bear each other’s burdens if necessary, so that the two components of our relationship, her and I, come together at least once per day.
Has it been an easy 10 years? Not always.
We have had our joys and our sorrows over this time. By making sure we’ve built a firm foundation for our relationship and that we keep working on that foundation every day, we will experience many more joys and sorrows if fate allows.
You can do the same thing.
Is it hard work sometimes? Yes. Does it get lonely sometimes? Yes. Are there moments when anger will flood your soul and make you wonder what you were thinking? Yes.
In the end, however, we’re all left with one question: Is life better in a long term relationship or is it worse?
For me, life will always be better with my partner, even if we’re stuck in a deep valley. At the very worst, at least I’ll have someone with whom I can share the darkness.
See Also: 10 Tips for a Long and Happy Marriage
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Author: Luke Glowacki
Luke Glowacki is an avid fan of meditation and contemplation. He hosts a website at http://meditationbrainwaves.com where he writes about meditation, lucid dreaming, brainwave entrainment and more.