Balance, compromise and attention to detail may all sound like simple and effective relationship tips but how easy are they to actually put into practice when you’re tired of one another’s snoring and nagging?
We consulted relationship experts about the issues most long-term couples face – and how to weather them well enough to get to the other side still holding hands.
From accepting change to being at the forefront of it, here’s how to solve the problems that may make the huge difference to your relationship.
Are you ready?
You’ve probably heard the theory that couples begin to look like one another the longer they’ve been together? That’s because after so much time your mannerisms actually start to mirror one another’s. But while that’s all fine and good, it’s the emotional co-dependence that can become unhealthy.
A healthy relationship exists when you do not expect your partner to make you happy
“Couples of any age can be in danger of entering into co-dependency which takes love out of healthy boundaries. Real love in couples should not include co-dependency,” according to life coach Elisabetta Franzoso.
While that’s easy to say, when you’ve been together for most of your adult life, it can feel almost impossible to not rely on one another for your emotional well-being.
But, Franzoso insists, “A healthy relationship exists when you do not expect your partner to make you happy. Happiness should come from within first and foremost. And, if you really value your partner you should not expect them to change in order to prove their love to you.”
Do what it takes to stand on your own two feet, whether that’s taking up a new hobby or spending more time with friends. Your relationship will thank you for it.
Money is a hot topic in relationships – and the leading cause of marriages falling apart, according to a poll of over 2,000 British adults by legal firm Slater and Gordon. Discuss it while things are good, suggests psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Becky Spelman.
“It can be stressful for both when one person earns a lot more money than the other,” she says, “or when one is financially dependent on the other.
“Rather than letting these issues fester, it’s important to discuss financial matters calmly – and not when emotions have got heated.”
Before any issues arise, have a conversation about expectations: what happens if one of you has a career setback? Whose career will take the back seat if you decide to have children? What are your hopes for your future (is saving and buying for a house important to you both or is one of you happy using your savings on travel)?
Forgetting To Connect
We all know how packed life can become, juggling kids, careers, finances – oh, and your relationship. While it may seem like you’re physically in the same space as one another a lot, how much of that time are you actually connecting like you used to?
It only becomes more important to carve out time for each other when more and more things can get in the way.
Trade 15-minute massages – get creative with what you can fit into a short period of time
“Start small by scheduling ‘micro-dates’ with each other – a half hour before bed (when the kids are asleep), for example,” Adam Lewis, CEO of vibrator company Hot Octopuss, suggests.
“Agree to put aside all other distractions and focus completely on each other for this short period of time – even if you just make each other a hot chocolate and say how your day has been.
“Alternatively, you could agree to trade 15-minute massages – get creative with what you can fit into a short period of time and see if it has an impact.”
We’ve all been in a relationship that starts to feel more like an obligation than a love interest. That’s just what happens over the years as mortgages, kids and lots and lots of poo cleanup comes into play. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important to take turns (one of you on baby duty, the other goes to brunch) and not to spend every single second together.
It’s important to carve out time for both parties to devote to their own interests
Dr. Spelman says it’s important to strike a balance between time spent together, and time devoted to your own interests.
“Early in a relationship, couples often want to spend as much time together as possible, but over time, this can be stifling. It’s important to carve out time for both parties to devote to their own interests and hobbies.”
Because we’ve all heard the rumors that marriage kills libido.
Sexual satisfaction peaks six months into a relationship and declines within a year
“All relationships go through periods when there’s a lot less sex than usual,” says Dr. Spelman. “Having a dry spell is perfectly normal, and there’s no need to worry unless the situation becomes chronic.”
Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour based on 2,800 straight individuals in relationships, aged 25-41, found that bedtime satisfaction peaks six months into a relationship and declines within a year. So it’s perfectly normal to go through dry spells.
“When it comes to reconnecting on a physical level, the most important thing is to start with communication. When there’s good communication, and attraction, the sex will inevitably follow,” says Dr. Spelman.
Communication can be tricky amongst two people who’re newly dating and only have each other to think about (hello 45,900,000 Google search results for “what to say on Tinder”), let alone all the obstacles (ahem, kids) that emerge down the line to make communicating more difficult.
Real love is not merely an emotion but also a choice and then an action
But, in long-term relationships it becomes the most crucial element of success.
“Communication is key to a successful relationship,” states Franzoso. “We should continue to be honest and authentic communicating our needs to our partner while accepting that his/her decision may not meet our needs as he or she might not be ready for change.
“But, real love is not merely an emotion but also a choice and then an action. We act on our feelings and to endure this can take hard work and commitment.”
Dr. Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare says: “If something’s troubling you when it comes to your partner, take a mental time out and ask yourself whether it’s better to raise it with them or to just let it be, and see how things progress – it could just be a ‘blip’ after all!
“Every situation is different but potentially delicate. So, when it comes to experiencing difficulty with partners, counseling might be a worthwhile option for you both but listen to your head as well as your heart – and be realistic about where you can go but also visualize where you want to be.”
“People often come see my because something dramatic has happened,” reveals marriage guidance counselor Christina Fraser.
“It may be that one of them has had an affair, one of them says they don’t want to stay in the relationship or one of them has pulled the relationship into a crisis because it really needs a shakeup.”
The message here? To be cognizant that life happens – and when sh*t hits the fan, you, and your partner, will need to accommodate any changes that come your way if you want to get through it, whether that’s an affair or a family trauma elsewhere that affects your relationship.
Not Being Heard
“The most common thing that people generally get most upset, anxious, angry or shutdown about is when they don’t feel heard,” reveals Fraser.
They interrupt rather than trying to understand why their partner feels that way
“Most couples finally will come to the understanding that they don’t have to agree and absolutely they don’t, but what they have to do is say to the other one ‘I’m listening to you. I really understand what you’re saying, I can understand where it’s coming from. I don’t necessarily see it from that point of view, but I’m going to give you the space to talk about it and to listen to it’
“But people find it really hard. They just can’t. They interrupt rather than trying to understand why their partner feels that way.”
The conclusion? No matter how strong your love for each other felt at the beginning, people are complicated and lots can get in the way.
“Over time, relationships – both romantic and platonic – can fizzle out,” admits Dr. Mark Winwood. “As you grow your interests and priorities change, especially as you go through life’s inevitable phases. You may no longer feel passionate about the things that brought you together, or passion for each other.
“Not all relationships last forever, but it’s a big world out there and you can find enrichment and authenticity with people from all avenues of life.”
The good news?
“If the relationship should end remember life never ceases to offer opportunities if you invest in – and develop – your sense of curiosity and adventure,” Dr. Winwood reassures us.
“Breaking bad relationships will free you to nurture those bonds with people who value you and enrich your life – and forge new friendships with those you’ve yet to meet.”