These days, the concept of a being with someone forever can seem daunting, unrealistic even. While the initial euphoric stages of romantic relationships are wonderful, Newton’s third law still applies here and for every action there's an opposite reaction. So, after the butterflies have settled and things start to get stagnant or stale, are there foolproof ways to make a relationship last?
The answer is yes … and no. Relationships are hard work and while there are plenty of couples out there who have been together for decades, everyone has their unique, respective secret sauce that keeps their love tank full. And, for all intents and purposes, it must be said that not all reasons for staying in a relationship equate to happiness or fulfillment — just ask Dr. Rachel Sussman, a NYC-based marriage and relationship therapist. “There are some long-term couples I’ve seen that are not necessarily healthy,” she explains. “Some people stay around because they’re afraid to be on their own or there’s a level of emotional abuse resulting in the loss of a sense of self.”
Fair enough, but back to the long-term couples on the healthier side of the spectrum — because there definitely is one. How exactly have long-time pairs made it work? To get to the bottom of it, couples with more than 20 years under their belts were tapped to reveal the major lessons and tips they picked up on their decades-long love journeys. Here are their major takeaways.
“When you go through the ups and the downs, remember that the things that drive you the craziest are also the things that you fell in love with,” says Craig Wsiclo, lead hair stylist at LuxeLab Salon in Santa Monica, California, who’s been with his husband Jamie Kelly for 30 years.
In terms of specifics, Wsiclo references his husband’s perfectionism and detail-oriented personality. “He directs and edits everything," he explains. "He’ll say, ‘This is the wrong shade of green’ or ‘We should move this a quarter of an inch.’” It’s when this focused attention is directed toward Wsiclo that things get interesting and introspective. “He’ll fine tune me and point out certain habits or behaviors I’ve never noticed or thought about — that makes me want to work harder.”
Respect Each Other
When you’re in it for the long haul, expect conflict and moments of frustration and anger. But being open to your partner’s point of view is key here. “It’s important to be respectful of each other and listen to one another,” says Dr. Sussman. “Be willing to compromise and negotiate.”
Kamilah Tibbits, CEO of Caravan Home Decor, who’s been with her husband Gaura for 23 years, adds another footnote to this notion of respect in regards to how you present your partner and relationship to other people. “Don’t slander in the streets,” says Tibbits. “Everyone doesn’t need to be invited into your relationship dynamic.”
Never Stop Working On Yourself And Your Relationship
Wcislo, a major advocate for therapy, says being proactive about self-care and personal emotional health is incredibly important in any long-term relationship. “Whether it’s therapy, yoga, meditation, whatever,” he says. “Both of you has to acknowledge that the relationship is a constant, working thing and you each need to bring tools to the healing aspect of your journey.”
You’ve heard it once, twice, a million times. Always communicate and make sure your partner knows how you feel and where you stand at all times. “Never lose your voice,” says Tibbits. “Many times in a relationship we feel like we can’t have healthy boundaries with our partner, so you must communicate your needs, wants, and desires ... Words have so much power in how we live and engage in our relationships and in life.”
Spend Quality Time Together
Even with the manic and panic that can come with life, work, children, and social schedules, quality time with your significant other is crucial to keeping your bond strong, says Dr. Sussman. “Make sure you’re spending time together outside of the family,” she says. "Date nights and alone time are very important to keep that connection. And make sure you don’t ignore sex.”
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
“If you’re really in it for the long-term, don’t argue about the little stuff,” says Wcislo. “I laugh about the things people argue about: how someone puts dishes in the dishwasher — who cares? I remember being in a counseling group and hearing a girl complain about how her girlfriend didn’t replace the toilet paper in the right direction. I thought, at least you have a partner that’s considerate enough to replace the toilet paper! The big issues are gonna be a lot of work and the little ones are nothing, but they can add up.”
“If you honor yourself first … you can walk through the valleys and mountains of relationships stronger,” says Tibbits. “All because you stayed true to who you are and did not get lost in the other person or expectations. The greatest lesson I have learned along the way is that the strength and authenticity of who I am is what attracted my husband to me and his caring heart, confidence, and pragmatic focus is what attracted me to him.”