The Secret to Successful Long Term Relationships

No one is perfect. The secret to successful long term relationships and happy marriages is that these couples tend to make light of their partner’s negative qualities or find them endearing or charming. I was coaching an author who thought she should tidy up her very messy office. I asked if her partner thought it was an issue. She said, “No.” Her husband saw the mess as some sort of primordial soup out from which her creative ideas sprang forth. Once she realized that her mess wasn’t necessarily a problem, she hunkered back down to produce another brilliant novel.

Another time, when I was travelling in Greece with my sister, we overheard a couple at the next table commenting on how much money they saved by ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. They seemed to delight in economizing while on holiday. After they had left, my sister and I agreed that we wouldn’t marry anyone who encouraged us to always order the cheap thing on the menu. But this couple was enjoying being frugal together. Your spouse’s frugality might exasperate you if you feel you have to do the same.

The secret is to not impose your values on your partner and to make sure you have compatible values before you get married. Financial arguments can quickly drive a couple apart especially once finances are combined. You might not have minded having your date show up in the latest fashions with her hair all done up when you were courting. But once married, does the expense of beauty now rankle? 

Happy couples also regularly engage in small gestures that reaffirm the positive qualities in their partner. For one week, experiment by avoiding all criticism. Instead only give your partner positive feedback. This can help turn things around if you’ve been riding along with the four horsemen. Spend some time reliving your positive memories. Watch your wedding video together or reminisce over a fun holiday you took together. One of our favorite memories is the three-week road trip we took across America on our honeymoon. I’ve recently dug up the mini scrapbook/journal we kept of our travels to remind us of the good times.

Apparently, most couples experience a decrease in feelings of love and appreciation after a child is born and increasingly so for each additional child. Raising children can take a toll on romance, as well, if one or another is feeling too exhausted to go out or for intimate moments. When I got pregnant, one elderly neighbor said, “Welcome to the tired years.” I had no idea what she was talking about, thinking that it was only the first six months of a new baby’s life that were difficult, but she was right. You may feel tired for years on end. My second child didn’t sleep through the night for an entire year. As a result, I walked around in a fog most of the time. There was very little energy left for anything other than surviving.

A helpful tip from the relationship therapist, Terrence Real, is to avoid telling your partner what to do. Your mate is a grown-up. So you don’t need to tell him or her what to do or how to do it. That is, of course, unless he or she asks you for your input and assistance. As a trained, professional chef, I have noticed I have a bad habit of coming into the kitchen while my husband is cooking and telling him how he could do it better. “Don’t cook the fish so long. I like it on the rare side.” Not surprisingly, he doesn’t take kindly to my helpful suggestions. I realized that I give more advice than is wanted and shouldn’t be upset if his curt reply is to suggest I cook the dinner myself. Try not telling your partner what to do for a week and see if that makes any difference. I have to bite my tongue quite a bit when it comes to cooking! Of course, my solution is to make dinner myself more often than not. But it is nicer to share this task, if only I could keep myself from meddling!

We’ve found it very helpful to have set domains of control. My husband, quite traditionally, has the domain and control over the cars. This means he keeps the insurance up to date, makes sure they are regularly cleaned and maintained, and so on. He also gets to pick the kind of cars we drive.

You can divide up the domains of control in the household so that no one gets overwhelmed by having too many tasks. I particularly like the game Eve Rodsky explains in her book, Fair Play. She only allows feedback once a week in the family meetings, which prevents criticism and nagging from happening throughout the week. You can read more about her technique for dividing the family chores and running of the household in this blog. Ladies, we naturally take on most of the housework thanks to cultural conditioning. You will love having a game to more evenly share the daily grind.

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