When you have been in a relationship for a long time, it can be difficult to keep the relationship healthy. Either you or your partner may lapse into bad habits that cause arguments. Communication is key to a healthy relationship, and both partners should be equally invested in the relationship to ensure its success. While relationships can be hard work, they are also incredibly fulfilling and worth the effort.
Communicating With Your Partner
Express honesty and openness. When you talk to your partner, tell them about your day. Be completely open with what bothers you and what you enjoy. Be specific about your emotional wants and needs. By opening yourself up, you’re expressing vulnerability and trust in your partner. Furthermore, by being so open with them, you invite them to be just as honest with you.
- If something is bothering you, express it in a gentle way, but you should make your voice heard. For example, you can say, "I love you very much, but sometimes, I feel frustrated when I come home to a dirty house. Can we come up with a solution?"
Empathize with your partner. When your partner expresses a secret or insecurity, they are entrusting you with a very deep part of themselves. Don’t laugh at your partner or dismiss their problems. Express empathy. You may hug them, or reassure them that you still love them. Tell them that you understand, and thank them for being honest with you.
Appreciate your partner. Make a daily habit to thank your partner for what they do. Compliment them on their strengths. When they do something for you, thank them. This will make your partner happier, and it will make sure that neither partner is taken for granted.
Listen actively to your partner. Communication is a two-way road. When your partner speaks, listen and remember what they say. Active listening requires your full attention on your partner. Keep steady eye contact, and do not interrupt them as they are speaking.
- Occasionally, you may repeat back what they just said to reaffirm that you were listening and that you understand their problems. For example, you may say, “I understand that you are frustrated at work” or “What I am hearing is that you have been depressed lately.”
- Folded arms may indicate that they are defensive or insecure.
- Lack of eye contact may mean that they are bored, ashamed, or evasive.
- Turning away from you can be their way of ending the conversation.
- If their voice becomes louder, they may be thinking that they are not being heard in the relationship, or they may be trying to escalate an argument. If their voice becomes softer, they may be uncertain of something.
- “How do you feel about your job?”
- ”Where do you see yourself in five years?”
- ”If there is anything you could change about this house, what would it be?”
Keeping the Romance Alive
Go on dates. Even if you have been together for a long time, it is important to still plan activities with your partner. Ideally, you should have one night a week that you spend together, but if you have children or other responsibilities, this may be difficult. Try to have a date night at least once a month.
Surprise each other. Relationships can become routine quickly. To keep the spark going, you may have to think of fun and creative ways to surprise your partner. Surprises can include fun activities, small gifts, or even a romantic night together. Some ideas include:
- Cook their favorite meal
- Buy their favorite treat after work
- Give a romantic massage
Do household tasks together. The healthiest relationships are ones in which there is an equal distribution of household work. Unfortunately, in most relationships, chores and household tasks fall disproportionately on one partner. Try doing your chores together to make it less of a burden and more of a couple activity. When there are bills to be paid, sit down and go over them together. By enforcing responsibility between the two of you, you will increase trust and strengthen your bond while spending quality time together.
Spend time apart. Being in a relationship does not mean you are glued to your partner permanently. Balance your time spent together with time spent apart. Go out with your friends; engage in personal hobbies; read a book. Most importantly, encourage your partner to do the same. The time you do spend together will be so much more precious, and you will not grow bored of each other.
Talk about sex. No matter what stage of the relationship you’re at or what your sexual situation is, you should be honest with your partner about your needs, desires, limits, and expectations. Encourage them to tell you as well. While this may seem awkward at first, it is an important aspect of every relationship.
- Sex should never be withheld as a punishment, nor should either partner engage in sex if they don’t want it.
State your expectations. Do not assume you and your partner have the same idea of what trust means. It is good to establish what each of you would consider a violation of trust. Some, for example, would see physical cheating as a breach of trust but not emotional cheating, whereas others believe that emotional cheating is as bad as physical cheating.
Maintain boundaries. Set certain boundaries and parameters for your relationship. These can be sexual, personal, social, or financial. Both partners should agree on these boundaries and respect them. By talking through such limits, you will avoid conflict, and if someone does cross the line, you will have established a basis for discussing it. By respecting your partner’s boundaries, you are signaling that you trust them completely to act on their own without betraying you.
- Common boundaries include understanding each partner’s expectations and limits on intimacy, public displays of affection, and confidentiality.
Avoid lying. Even small “white” lies can create a rift in your relationship. Start a habit of being completely honest with your partner. Even if you don’t want to bother them with your problems, it is healthier in the long term to be upfront. Encourage them to be just as honest.
Let go of grudges. Holding onto anger or conflict only worsens the problem. If they did something to you months ago, you should forgive them for it and move on. Don’t use what they said or did in the past against them.
- If you having trouble letting go of something that happened in the past, remind yourself of the good things they are doing now. Purposely focus on the nice and pleasant things they do instead of the things that annoy you.
Respecting Your Partner with Family and Friends
Avoid complaining about your partner in public. While there are things you may find annoying about your partner, it is not helpful to tell everyone you know about it. While you may have a confidant or two outside of your relationship, you should not complain at work, social events, or family gatherings. Your partner might find out, and it will hurt them, damaging the trust they have in you.
Keep your partner’s secrets. If your partner has told you something confidential, you should not share it with others, even your closest friends. While they may swear to never tell, you have already broken your partner’s trust.
Respect their parents. No matter how difficult your in-laws are, they are still your partner’s parents. Partners can feel defensive when their parents are insulted, and it could sour your relationship. Try to accept your in-laws’ different way of life. You do not have to let it intrude on your relationship, but you should understand that they have their own special relationship with your partner.
- If you do not get along with your in-laws, discuss the problem with your spouse in a gentle manner. Do not insult your in-laws or call them names, but do point out which behaviors are troubling you and why.
- Should family members call before they visit, or can they drop by unannounced?
- Which holidays will you spend with which members of the family?
- Are you comfortable with taking in any of your parents when they grow old, sick, or feeble?
- What kinds of gifts are acceptable for family members to give your children?
Debate, do not fight, in front of your children. Children are extremely receptive to their parents’ behaviors. Disagreeing or settling a difference of opinion calmly in front of your children can teach them conflict resolution skills. That said, you and your partner should never raise your voices or physically fight in front of your children. This can hurt your children and impair their social development. If you do fight in front of your children, be sure to apologize in front of them as well to show them how healthy reconciliation occurs.
Honor your partner’s parenting style. If you disagree with how your partner parents, you should not undermine their authority in front of the children. If your partner has already told your children one thing, do not disagree and tell them another. This only reduces the authority both you and your partner have over your children. When alone with your partner, bring up the questionable tactic. Tell them why you’re uncomfortable with it, and ask them if they are willing to avoid it in the future.
Find a private space. Arguing in public will only worsen your conflict. You or your partner may feel embarrassed, and you may not want others to overhear sensitive topics. As soon as possible, try to find a quiet, private space where you can both discuss your feelings openly.
Handle the issue when it occurs. Do not let your anger stew inside of you. It is important to confront conflict as it arises. Bring up the issue to your partner in a calm, level tone, and ask them if you can take a few minutes to discuss the issue before you go on with your day.
Maintain a calm demeanor. Arguing can be emotional, but to avoid escalating your fight, try practicing some calming techniques before and during your argument. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply. Visualize a calm, happy place. Step back from your partner to create some space between you. Slow down your speech so that you have room to breathe and think.
Avoid blame and name-calling. It is key to remember that you are arguing about an issue, not about each other. While your partner may have contributed to the issue, it is unproductive to blame them for the issue. This will cause them to become defensive, and they may blame you right back, instead of working to solve the issue. Furthermore, do not call your partner names like “slob” or “idiot.” This will only make both of you angrier.
Cooperate to find a solution. Both you and your partner should submit ideas for a solution to the problem. These solutions should be practical steps both of you can take to solve the problem. Both of you must commit to these solutions. Do not place the entire burden on either yourself or your partner.
- If your partner is being hesitant or stubborn, ask them open-ended questions to draw out answers. You can try asking, “What would be an ideal solution for you?” or “how do you think this would be best handled?”
- After the argument, let go of your anger. If you both have reached a solution, honor your promise to do better. Don’t go to bed angry!