Not Just A Long Relationship — Long And Good

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

Longevity can be a virtue unto itself. Consider the professional who spent 40 or 50 years honing their skills, accumulating expertise gathered in no way other than through experience. Or reflect on the member of the armed services who’s spent a lifetime fulfilling their duty. Or a clergy person serving selflessly for decades. In each case the honor they’re awarded at the end of a long career is well deserved.

At the same time, dig only slightly deeper and you may find a professional who simply put their career on auto-pilot. Or a service member who rose only so far through the ranks and hit a dead end, only to spend their last years simply putting in time for a pension. Or the clergy person who has lost faith and wonders what they have truly accomplished in life.

Spending long years at any endeavor is only a worthy goal if you find meaning and satisfaction in the process at the same time. Which brings us to long-term relationships. Certainly, couples can have several wonderful years together and then settle into a pattern of routine that may not stifle growth, but does not encourage it. A relationship that is not bad enough to end it, but not good enough to foster any meaningful growth of either partner.

Reflecting on this problem, Louisa Kamps, writing for Oprah Daily, says, “What does it take to build and maintain the health and vitality of a relationship over time — to have not just a long marriage but a good and strong long marriage?”

She pursues that question and finds five tips from experts in the field for building not only a long relationship, but a strong and long one.

“Remember that you’re a couple first and co-parents second.” If a couple agrees that they would like to start a family, they have confronted and agreed upon probably the most momentous decision in their lives. Good for them. That’s an exquisite time in the relationship — they know where they want to go but are not burdened by any responsibilities. Then, a baby or two later, reality sets in. Raising a family is hard work and time consuming. “Married people frequently stop paying close, kind attention to each other after kids arrive, creating a void between them that can fill up quickly with darker thoughts about the relationship,” writes Kamps. “Conversely,” she says, “couples who continue to prioritize their partners — even if it’s just by creating enough time and space to discuss their daily challenges during the most demanding years of parenting — are more likely to maintain trust and intimacy.” In short, if you want to develop a truly long-lasting relationship, acknowledge that you’re working on a common goal together — raising kids — but your relationship needs attention.

“Forget perfection — and own up to your imperfections.”  A little humility goes a long way in a relationship. You can see that your partner is not perfect. Now look in the mirror — neither are you. How can you incorporate that self-awareness into your relationship in a positive way? Kamps offers some advice, based on talks with therapists: “New moves you might try include listening non-defensively; making a concerted effort to do small things for your partner that they appreciate, such as cooking them their favorite pasta dish or praising them for handling a difficult situation with good humor.” That’s a start. Now think about what you can do in your relationship.

“Co-create your own culture.” Although this advice is a bit nebulous, the principle is sound: jointly agree on the rules you live by as a couple. Consider the idea that you’re committed to the idea of being a couple above being an individual — easy to say, hard to do — and then paradoxically find that you are able to thrive more as individuals when you do.

“Accept and respect core differences.” Opposites attract, the old saying goes. And that may well be true. But is the attraction lasting? “Sometimes the contrasting personality traits that attract people to each other — his risk-averse way of booking complicated travel itineraries months in advance; her ability to throw an impromptu dinner party with a few frozen pizzas — can start to grate after a few years of marriage,” says Kamps. The trick is to honestly admit that differences exist, and that one train of thought is not better than the other.

“Fight respectfully.” What a note to end on, but the good news is: research shows that couples who disagree respectfully actually develop stronger relationships. This is a complicated subject unto itself, but the essence of the matter is: be civil to one another even when you disagree.