By Anna Trevelyan
I’ve been pondering on this topic for many months. I am certainly no expert. I have my own theories about what I have learned after being in a relationship for over 11 years, but I wanted to ask an expert panel (A.K.A some helpful friends and family) about what advice they might give when it comes to keeping a relationship happy, and ultimately, successful. Here is what I found out:
Arguments will happen…
Some people that I asked cited arguments (and how to deal with them) as one of the top issues in a healthy relationship. Hannah (in a relationship for 9 years) said ‘have a time-out space to go when an argument gets too much; somewhere to calm down’. Her partner, Andrew, said ‘have a good argument every now and then as it gets it all out of your system!’. Jasper, in a relationship for 22 years, said to ‘make an argument about the issue not about the person. Try to stay calm during an argument and see if you can find common ground rather than trying to beat the other person in to submission’. My Mum (together with my Dad for 50 years this August!) referred more to the bigger picture: ‘it’s important to ultimately agree on things, large or small, to avoid any bad feelings.’
Sleeping habits seemed another important part of a relationship. One person went as far as suggesting you sleep in separate beds, whilst another suggested buying the biggest bed you can afford, to ensure you get your own space. Mrs S (together for 14 years) said it was important to ‘try not to go to bed on an argument (even if you just agree to disagree and call each other silly names before bed)’. Becky (in a relationship for 13 years) also gave me her top tip: ‘If your man falls asleep on the sofa late at night, leave him there snoring and just go to bed yourself. If you dare to wake him, he’ll be so grumpy!’.
Embrace your differences
I have personally learned that celebrating your differences, rather than using them against one another, is something that is important in my own relationship. The people that I asked seemed to suggest a similar stance. Fran (married for 15 years) told me ‘if you look at relationships that seem to struggle, there is often an element of competition (such as whose job is the hardest, who sees their friends less etc). I’m naturally a very non – competitive person, so that helps, but I also appreciate [my partner’s] differences to me and don’t find them annoying. If you find your differences annoying then they are probably not the person for you!’. Emma (together for 5 years) said ‘embrace the differences in one another; keep learning from each other and consciously work at your relationship’. Jasper warned ‘never undermine your partner in public’ and my Mum said she often observes ‘[other couples] having a dig at their partner, which is very demoralising for the person involved [and is] very bad for a relationship.’ Finally, Becky gave me a great example of how her and her partner differ, but how she has learned to accept this: ‘It took me nearly 10 years to realise this one but when [my partner] gets in from a long day at work, I give him 10 minutes to ‘de-work’. I used to waffle all about my day the minute [we both] walked in the door and it drove him crazy!’.
Have some time to yourself
One person that I spoke to said that ‘a partner who doesn’t like you doing anything without them isn’t the partner for you’. A handful of people mentioned that having your own interests and hobbies was key to their relationship, allowing you to consciously choose spending time together. Helena (married for 36 years) said to ‘enjoy some different spheres of interest’ and to spend some time apart: ‘my husband goes off to South Africa for three months each year. At first I greeted this venture with disbelief and horror, but there are some advantages. It has taught us to survive independently, especially me.’ She summed this up as ‘allowing the other person to have existential freedom without whinging.’
You partner’s family was a hot topic for many people. One said it was ‘vital to get on with their family’ and Helena agreed, citing an important shared enjoyment of others (particularly family and friends) around them. Another said it ‘isn’t essential to get on like a house on fire with all their friends and family but to at least make an effort with those who are important to them’. As for your own family, my Mum mentioned that: ‘once children are on the scene then it’s vital that you both hold the same views about how they should be brought up/disciplined etc as children* – precious though they are – can put a strain on any relationship!’. (*I know you don’t mean ME though, Mother!). Jasper also said ‘always present a united front, especially to the children if you have them’. Very wise words.
Needs, wants and loves
Big romantic gestures, flowers or presents were not mentioned by a single person that I asked. Instead, making an effort to show how much they mean to you was a much more important point that most people spoke about. Jasper said: ‘tell them you love them!’, Mrs Z said ‘take time for just the two of you each day’ and Mrs S said ‘be best friends’. My Mum suggested ‘to put the needs of your partner before your needs are important, also to demonstrate your love rather than just assume that he or she knows.’ Fran also mentioned that ‘I think our relationship works because we are not trying to be in competition with each other’.
Some final wise words from the experts:
- ‘Always operate an open-bathroom-door policy!’
- ‘Laugh together every day’.
- ‘Try to see the big picture and take the long view’.
- ‘Know what your roles are’.
- ‘Cook them steak, with chocolate and red wine’.
- ‘Get a cat’.
- ‘Having roughly the same level of education helps’.
- ‘Learning from previous relationships is important as they teach you what’s important to you in a life partner. For me that was a person who is not moody or jealous!’
- ‘Never complain about loos and baths. I just clean them in a robotic-like way!’
- ‘[when I met him over 50 years ago] I just wanted to be with him and no-one else. That feeling is still with me, all these years later’.
There appeared to be key themes that some people agreed upon, but the only thing 100% of people agreed to, when asked, was that humour was indeed one of the most important parts of a strong relationship. (Rumpy-pumpy-related advice was few and far between, but perhaps that was due to politeness – and, considering our relationship, was probably just as well really). Clearly though, every relationship is unique. And, crucially, both partners within that relationship are different. It seems your partner won’t always agree, or see things in the same way that you do, but embrace this difference and I’m told you will be (if not happier) then calmer; and when calmer, you can focus on the bigger picture and enjoy all the good things that certainly exist between you.
Thank you to all the lovely people who gave me their advice for this piece! I have learned a lot from you, and I hope your tips help get us to the 50-year mark as well! x