Ten ways to maintain a long-term romance

Do you ever watch silver-haired couples who hold hands and still have a twinkle in their eye for each other, and ask yourself how they do it?  How do they stay happy and romantic over decades?  Do you wonder if you can be lucky enough to have a relationship like that? Well, my hair isn't yet silver, although there are more strands of gray popping up every day, but I am happily married to a silver-haired man with a serious eye twinkle, who still loves to hold my hand.  Today marks twenty (twenty!!!) years of marriage for us! 

wedding with cake
wedding with cake

We recently returned from a magical anniversary trip to Costa Rica, and on the plane ride home, I asked my husband, "What's different about us and our relationship compared to when we were on our honeymoon?"  and "What do you think we've done that's allowed this to last so long?"  He probably started with a joke - he always does and I love him for that!  But then we got serious and wondered.  Interestingly, our relationship isn't all that different.  We started on really solid ground. Here's what we concluded has allowed us to be so happy for so long, organized into ten tips you can use in your own romance.

1. You trust each other.  If you can't trust each other, there's no sense of safety.  If you can't trust the other person to open up and be your real self, then you're having a "pretend relationship", as Martha Beck says, because the other person isn't seeing the real you.

2. You appreciate each other in little ways, all the time. There are at least a hundred opportunities to say thank you to your partner, every day.  Thank you for mowing.  Thank you for picking up shampoo.  Thank you for cleaning the litter box.  Thank you for folding the laundry before I got to it.  Thank you for listening to me.  There are a thousand opportunities to reach out with a touch, a look, a special word.  We don't take for granted all the little things each of us do to keep a household running.  We leave notes for each other, with little hearts on them.  We tell each other we love each other, over and over and over.

3. You make everyday activities a treat.  A sliced strawberry garnishing the pancakes. A rose cut from the garden and put by the bedside table.  A bath outdoors in the clawfoot tub.  Sitting in the grass with the cats, just chatting.  Sunset bike rides.  We tend to prefer our treats small, inexpensive or free, and prolific.  Neither of us is big into large elaborate gifts - we almost always choose experiences.  And we generally don't save those up for once a year blow outs.  We choose lots of little treats every day.  Don't wait for Valentine's Day or anniversaries to share a treat, or create a special experience around something small.  That also includes all kinds of physical intimacy - don't wait.  Enjoy it, in brief stolen moments and long languorous hours together.

4. You share your own secret language, stories and intimacies. Silly names.  Funny lines lifted from a movie. We have a special signature for texts and emails and what the abbreviation means is only for us. These tiny intimacies comfort and connect you together over years of shared experiences.

5. You confide in them first. Whether the news is good or bad, your partner is the first one you want to tell.  When you're trying to figure out what to do, you want to know what they think. Sure, you might still consult friends or coworkers or other family members, and value their insight and support as well, but ultimately, your sweetheart is the one you go to.

6. You want the best for the other person, and you'll support them to live their dreams. It's exhilarating to see them try new things and succeed - to cheer them on, to watch the magic happen.  And you're there when things don't go as smoothly either - when it's scary, when it's overwhelming- you're there to let them know you can still see the possibility of their dream.  I recently cry-talked like Mary Tyler Moore on the Dick Van Dyke show about some fearful setback that really wasn't that big a deal, and my sweet husband reminded me of all the ways he sees my success, that everything is working out, and that all is truly well.

7. You want to end a fight more than you want to be right, and you don't bring up ancient history in the middle of an altercation.  If both of you care deeply about each other, then neither one is happy when you're fighting.  Sometimes it takes a few attempts, but it's really hard to fight with someone who is listening, trying to understand, trying to come to a resolution, and making sure they're heard too. Remembering that, "oh yeah, you're on the same team" starts to kick in and things settle to the point you can actually talk instead of yelling. Oh and that part about don't go to bed angry?  That's a good one too.

8. You are generous with humor. Laughter solves so much!  My husband wins in this department.  He's the funny one.  Many a tense moment has been diffused by a well-timed joke or silly voice.  I would laugh a whole lot less often if he weren't in my life.  And if we can't laugh about it now, we usually can in a week or two.  Humor relieves, it heals, it bonds.  Sprinkle it everywhere.

9. You have "space in your togetherness." I believe that's from a Kahlil Gibran writing on marriage - the one often read aloud at weddings - "Let there be space in your togetherness."  Well good old Kahlil has a point.  You don't have to love all of the same things.  You don't have to do everything together.  Each of you can pursue your passions and the other doesn't have to come along for every minute of every experience.  While my sweetheart and I love to climb into our little sedan loaded down with camping gear and a cooler and go off on an adventure together for weeks at a time, we also do plenty of enjoying life on our own.  He may go to a music event without me.  I went and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail without him.  It works.  Especially because of #1, trust.

10. You are each other's biggest fans.  There's nothing worse than going home to someone you know is going to be critical, who sees you as a work in progress, who wants to improve or reform you.  Sometimes this can be done under the guise of love, but there's a difference between supporting each other to be your best selves and believing the other person needs fixing.  We tell each other how much we admire each other on a regular basis.  We truly believe in each other.  We see the best in each other, and we tell each other about it.

20 years later. Same location, same bakery made the cake. He is making me laugh!
20 years later. Same location, same bakery made the cake. He is making me laugh!

Sometimes I discount our good fortune.  We haven't had much trauma to test our love.  We haven't lost everything, although we thought we might have in the first days of Katrina when everyone believed that all of New Orleans was gone forever.  We haven't suffered from serious health issues, deaths, or other losses.  We pretty much only have ourselves and our cats to worry about.  So maybe our circumstances have made it extra-easy.

Nevertheless, these tips are solid.  They'll work in good times and bad.  They'll work as long as both of you are loving, honest, caring people who are enjoying the journey together more than apart.

There's so much more that makes for a happy, lasting relationship - what are your favorite tips? I would love to hear them! Let's keep the conversation going in the comments!

anniversary ribbons
anniversary ribbons