Maintaining A Happy Long Term Relationship

Monday you can fall apart
Tuesday, Wednesday, break my heart
Thursday doesn’t even start
It’s Friday I’m in love

I was listening to this song (the Phoebe Bridgers cover is excellent, in case you’re interested), and it made me think about how life can be really sh*t sometimes, but it can also be made a lot better by having someone who makes you happy. Not that you can’t be happy and single, of course, but having someone who feels like an extension of yourself can be all kinds of amazing.

Relationships aren’t always easy things. They can be a source of extreme frustration, anger and sometimes sadness. But all those things are usually balanced with extreme happiness, comfort and support; as with most things in life, it’s all about the balance. I thought it might be worth writing something that may be helpful for all you gals and guys who are in relationships; whether you’ve been together one year or one decade, or even if you’re just starting out in a new relationship.

I’ve been with my boyfriend for over 4 years now (he was actually gently snoring away next to me as I typed this, but he just took some time out of his busy lie-in schedule to poke me and say ‘can you take that bloody key-tapping into another room please?!’), and the more I think about how we live day-to-day, the more I often wonder if there’s a secret to keeping our relationship a (mostly!) happy one. Whilst all relationships are wildly different, it’s crossed my mind that the longer we’re together, the more things I think get figured out. We’re constantly changing and re-evaluating; trying to find new ways to encourage and support each other, and on the whole I think we make each other better people.

Some of these things just fell into place naturally without us even thinking about it, others took us a long while to figure out, and there’s always new things we find out about each other and things we can work on together. But I’ve found that as long as you’re both making the effort, you can’t really go too far wrong! So, before I let myself ramble on any more in this introduction, here’s a list of a few things that really can (in my opinion) make the difference when you’ve been together a while.

01. Make time for each other.

It can seem obvious, especially if you don’t live together, but spending actual time together is a fairly big chunk of a relationship. Even if you are doing long distance, skype is probably your best friend! I find this is even more important for us now that we do live together, as even though we see each other every day it’s often easy for us to not really pay each other a huge amount of attention. We often get up at different times in the morning, so the only interaction then is usually him kissing me goodbye before he heads out to work. We then come home in an evening after work to a high maintenance puppy (still cute though) who usually needs her second walk of the day, then we tackle the chores and eat dinner whilst watching something on Netflix; all before we inevitably either fall asleep with the dog in a big pile on the sofa or get distracted by our phones until bedtime. I work shifts that usually mean I’m there at least one day out of the weekend, whilst Felix works a pretty standard Monday-Friday week.

All this means we don’t often spend a huge amount of time actually focussed on each other and our relationship, and this is often (when combined with tiredness and sometimes hanger!) the route of arguments, sometimes under the guise of other smaller issues. Our main way to tackle this is to plan activities for our rare free days, and fight the temptation to veg out at home instead. We aim to have specific date nights once every month or so wherever possible, and carve out time for getting out the house together to avoid cabin fever. This is something we’re not currently great at, as when budgets get tighter date night is usually the first thing we skip on; but we’re getting better!

02. Celebrate the little things.

This is one that’s particularly important for me. I grew up with a family that really took any excuse to celebrate – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, exam results, any kind of achievements: there was usually a dinner or a gift to celebrate them all. Felix’s family are largely the opposite – it’s not that they don’t celebrate things per se, it’s more that they are much more laid back about occasions. So this is an area we can struggle with, but are always trying to work on.

Now, I’m not saying you need to buy champagne and roses for a monthly anniversary (I remember my teenage days when ‘monthly-versaries’ were a big deal – oh the drama!), but making the effort to congratulate your significant other on achievements can really make a big difference to how supported you feel in a relationship. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, but try to acknowledge occasions in some way – and it will often be reciprocated.

You can take this another step further if you’re super extra and proud, like me (*insert eye roll from my boyfriend here*). I make an effort to sometimes celebrate for absolutely no reason other than to show my appreciation for my boyfriend’s existence; I plan a nice dinner, a day out somewhere just us, or buy him something he’s mentioned in passing (this one’s my favourite!) and surprise him. Surprises are always nice!

03. Communicate.

Alright guys, time for the big one. I know it can be hard, but you gotta talk to each other! Literally about anything and everything, just keep talking it out. When you’ve been together a long time, there are often periods of comfortable silence (and that’s also great!), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk as much as possible about what’s on your mind. I can be particularly terrible about talking when I’m upset, and not closing off or shutting my boyfriend out can take a lot of effort on my part; but when I do talk to him about difficult things, I’ve learnt that they often get resolved much faster. Most couples can offer each other advice, different perspectives and sometimes just a sympathetic ear to almost any topic – and if nothing else, talking about everything can make you even closer as a couple.

Not that all communication has to take the form of an in-depth conversation about the meaning of life; some of our best conversations have stemmed from stupid ideas for crazy schemes, or from little comments that turn into in-jokes. We also try to step away from our phones for at least some of every evening, and at least check in with each other if we aren’t really up for a big heart-to-heart. We are often (fondly, I hope!) referred to as the couple who bickers amongst our friendship group, as we do disagree with each other on a lot, but it also means that we do communicate our feelings on most things. I think of Felix as my best friend as well as my boyfriend, and so it really does mean that nothing is off-limits or too weird when it comes to topics for conversation. And really, there’s nothing better than being weirdos together!

04. Take the good with the bad.

Felix and I have always been pretty good at being there for each other when one of us is having a tough time, and it’s something that just seems to happen on its own; when one of us is down and out, the other one steps up. Even when things are bad for both of us at the same time, we seem to have a well-functioning support system for each other. But this doesn’t mean we always handle every hiccup perfectly, and I know for some couples – particularly if you’re much more independent or have been single for a long time before beginning your relationship – this can take some work.

The good times are great, and having fun together should hopefully be the majority of your relationship, but every relationship has its bad times. Whether it’s an issue between you, or something one of you is going through outside your relationship, being considerate and patient with each other can really make the difference between working through the bad times and potentially calling it quits. Obviously, you should still be able to tell someone when you think they’re wallowing, or if their prolonged individual issues are beginning to take their toll on you too, but I think being supportive for each other during difficult times is pretty key to a healthy relationship.

What do you think makes the difference in a relationship? Is there anything I’ve missed that is really important to you? Let me know in the comments!

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