5 Key Ways to Make a Long-Term Relationship Last
Sharing my formula for building and nurturing strong, healthy and lasting relationships.
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Just the other day, my boyfriend Aidan and I celebrated our fourth anniversary. Four whole years together! In this time, we have seen each other through all sorts of major life changes. From high school graduation and prom, through our entire university experience, to entering the working world. We have watched each other grow into the adults we are today, and we have done it all together. To celebrate this milestone, I want to share the key ingredients that have helped us in building a strong, healthy and lasting relationship.
Aidan and I met around 6 years ago. We were friends before we started dating, but we weren’t especially close. Over the last few years, though, we have truly become partners. Although on a surface level we are very different people — I studied literature and philosophy, he’s studying mechatronic engineering — our core values and big picture priorities align perfectly. I think that’s precisely what makes us work: though our everyday reality may be different, we share dreams and goals and support each other’s visions. Most importantly, our relationship is rooted in mutual respect, care and support. Though we have our fair share of ups and downs, especially at times when life gets especially stressful, we are always able to work through things and come out on top.
Although compatibility, love, care and shared goals are crucial to making our relationship work, we would never pretend that there is no work involved. There are certainly some key elements we always keep in mind in order to nurture our relationship and make it stronger and healthier. Today, I’m sharing the formula that we have learned along the way to support each other and stay happy and committed over the last four years.
It goes without saying, but every relationship is different and has its own unique dynamic. Therefore, take my advice with a pinch of salt — what works wonders for us may not be your cup of tea at all.
1. Communication is key
Communication is everything. This may be a cliché, but not without reason. Your partner is likely to be your closest confidant, the person you most want to talk to when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed. They should also be the person with whom you want to share your happiness, your deepest hopes and dreams. In order for this to be possible, you need to have a solid communication system in place. Whether structured or unstructured, this system needs to be ready for the good, the bad, and the day-to-day times.
How much communication is needed varies between couples. Some like to check in regularly throughout the day, others prefer a little more space. If you don’t see each other every day or your relationship is long-distance, regular communication is likely to play a greater role. It’s important to discuss this with your partner and be sensitive to their needs.
Stepping up your communication
Dedicate time out of your day for your partner. Because Aidan and I don’t live together and only see each other once or twice a week, we’ve made regular catch up chats a priority. Our daily call is a ritual, something to look forward to at the end of the busiest day. Dedicating time to your partner this way lets them know that you are a priority in their life. It helps to create a mutual understanding, keep the spark alive, and build foundations for a shared future.
Actively listen. Make sure to not only talk, but also listen, to your partner. If you tend to get distracted in conversation, practicing active listening techniques might help you to engage. Make your partner feel heard and valued, and try to pick up on body language if something seems off.
Communicate your needs. Your partner is not a mind reader. Things that may seem obvious to you might completely fall off their radar. If something is upsetting you, try to make a conscious effort to share your needs instead of letting things build up and spiral in your head. Chances are, they might not have noticed something was amiss, and will immediately jump in to fix it.
Don’t take out your frustrations on your partner. On a bad day, or in a bad mood, it’s easy to channel your anger and hurt into every other aspect of your life. This might include your relationship. Remember to take a step back if you notice yourself misdirecting your frustrations — it’s not fair to your partner, and will only escalate your own negative feelings.
Good communication between partners can nip the vast majority of conflict and tension in the bud. But of course, it isn’t always rainbows and roses. So…
If you must fight…
If a fight is inevitable, then fight respectfully. Try to pick your battles, think before you speak, and put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Even when things are heated, think about their intentions as well as their words and actions. So often while we’re angry we say things we don’t actually mean, and fights are the prime territory for misunderstandings to occur.
Our golden rule? Never go to sleep on an argument. Prolonging conflict never tends to work out for us. If a fight has been dragging on late into the night, that’s all the more reason to get our heads together and work things out. It makes problem solving a necessity, and forces us to face the conflict from a realistic point of view. It also reduces the emotional weight of the situation, preventing anger and hurt from festering longer than they should. Unless it’s for these reasons, sleeping on an argument is just not the way to go — at least in my experience.
And another note — where possible, try to work things out in person or on the phone. Texting makes tone a lot more difficult to read, and you might end up completely missing each other’s points. Not to mention the auto-correct errors and related mishaps!
2. Understand each other’s needs
Apart from the importance of communicating your own needs, a central part of a strong relationship is understanding and anticipating your partner’s needs as well. A great way of gaining understanding into this is the method of five love languages, based on the bestselling book by Gary Chapman.
I highly recommend taking the free ‘Five Love Languages’ quiz to gain a better understanding of your own love language, as well as your partner’s. A love language is simply a preferred method of emotional communication, of showing and receiving love. The five languages are: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts and acts of service. When you take the quiz, these are ranked in order of importance. You and your partner can then compare your scores to better understand how to show each other love and care. Showing your partner love and affection in the way they most need will make them feel valued and appreciated. These little gestures of kindness can go a long way in the long term.
For instance, Aidan and I share a common primary love language: quality time. This means the thing we value most is spending time with each other, with no distractions. Real conversations, doing different activities together, and going out for date nights help us to bond and show each other the care and affection we deserve.
3. Support each other’s dreams and projects
Of course, in any relationship, it’s important to give each other room to breathe. Though it may seem counterproductive, some healthy time apart is often necessary to avoid feelings of suffocation. Remember, you are both individuals — that’s how you fell for each other to begin with.
Doing your own thing and needing alone time does not make you a bad partner. Instead, it allows you to look after yourself as well as caring for someone else. Taking time to pursue your own hobbies and projects as well as seeing your friends on a regular basis is a necessary part of the balance.
Similarly, supporting your partner’s dreams and projects is a necessary part of a loving and healthy relationship. Instead of shooting their dreams and ideas down, always be their biggest supporter. Show them that they can count on you in uncertain times like career changes, side projects, and wild dreams that don’t seem possible to achieve.
It goes without saying, but understanding your partner’s passions and interests is crucial to being able to provide support, encouragement and guidance. Applaud their progress, believe in their dreams, and compliment their successes — often! Raise them up when they are at their lowest and least motivated. Think of the big picture goals you can both achieve if you encourage and support each other all the way through. You will be unstoppable.
I can’t even count the times that Aidan has supported me over the years — through my dissertation days, my postgrad job search, starting this blog and many, many more. No matter what, I know that whatever crazy idea comes into my head, there will always be at least one person by my side, cheering me on.
4. Adventure regularly
Over the years, life can get pretty monotonous. A 9 to 5 job, the daily commute, dinner over the latest Netflix show every weekend — if you’re not careful, it can all get a little stale. This is where regular adventure comes into the picture.
I’m not just talking about big travel plans. What I mean by adventure is anything that falls outside your relationship’s comfort zone, or anything that breaks up the regular routine. The key is novelty: anything that feels new, fresh, extraordinary.
There are a million ways to spice up everyday life, and this will vary between relationships depending on the kind of people you are and how you like to spend your time. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Try a new brunch place
Visit a gallery or museum
Try cooking or baking something new together
Go for a swim or a kayak ride
Take a long hike in the mountains
Go for a road trip with no destination
Go out dancing or clubbing together
Share a bottle of wine and talk for hours
Go on a picnic in the summer
Take a long walk down the beach on a cold winter day
Take a cooking class or learn a new skill together
Make sure you are always making new memories and learning new things together. Expand each other’s horizons, and you will always be hungry for more!
5. Make plans and look to the future
All sorts of factors can make a long term relationship feel like it’s stuck in one place, never moving forward. This is entirely normal: life simply gets in the way. Sometimes we find ourselves settling for situations we don’t necessarily want to stay in. This can take its toll on any relationship.
For example: if you and your partner have wanted to move in together for a long while, but find it financially impossible, it can be tough to see the relationship as progressing and taking its natural course. I’ve found that the key to these situations is finding both short and long term plans that you can look forward to, and build shared rituals.
Whether it be a trip or a shared project, finding ways to research and plan something together can build a collaborative and engaging atmosphere. It provides the small steps you need to take while you wait for the big ones to open up. For instance, Aidan and I manage our expenses together with a shared account when we go on holidays. This acts like a practice run for the future, when we’ll be handling bills and bigger expenses together.
Some other things you could do:
Start going to the gym together and hold each other accountable
Plan a trip abroad
Make a shared calendar or to-do list for tasks and events that you can take part in together
Research places you would like to live or work; discuss your future plans together
Make a bucket list of things you want to do together and start ticking things off
Start up a shared hobby that will allow you to spend quality time together and continuously learn new things
If you look to a beautiful shared future together, you’re already well on your way there!
Always choose each other
I am by no means a relationship expert, and each relationship is as different as the individuals it involves. From personal experience though, following these five key steps can massively improve and strengthen a relationship.
My last word of advice? Make sure that you are always choosing each other, no matter how long you have been together. Check in on this regularly. Ask yourself: is this the person you want to be with? Do they share your values? Do they respect you no matter what? Is this relationship something you want? Is it making you happy? It’s important that both participants are on the same page when it comes to these key issues.
No relationship is smooth sailing 100% of the time. There will always be bumps in the road, and you won’t always be head over heels in love. You certainly won’t see eye to eye on absolutely everything — and that’s okay. As long as you are both choosing each other, sharing goals and aspirations, and treating each other with love and respect, chances are you’re doing an amazing job.
Are you currently in a relationship or enjoying the single life? Is there something in particular that you always look for in a relationship? As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments below, or drop me a message over on Instagram.
And while you’re here, check out my reset routine post — perfect for those times when you just need to get your life in order. Maybe it can be a new routine for you to try with your partner!
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