How did you picture relationships when you were a kid?
Did you imagine the fairy tale of falling in love, making a commitment and living happily ever after? If so, join the club. Disney has a lot to answer for when it comes to preparing kids for real life.
Stories about falling in love always end with “I do” – but we all know that’s where the hard work begins.
Relationships need nurture and care; not just in the first flush of romance, when you’re falling in love, or on your honeymoon. Forever. Relationships are hard work, even the happy ones — especially the happy ones.
Here are 5 practical ways to keep things fresh.
Don’t Treat Your Partner Like Part of the Furniture
Picture this: when you and your partner are at home by yourself, how do you behave?
Do you act as if you were on your own, reading your phone as you slump in front of the TV without talking? We all want to feel comfortable, but there’s a difference between “relaxed” and “lazy and indifferent.”
Your partner is not an extension of yourself. They are not a fixture of your home. They’re the person you found interesting and exciting enough to share your life with. Don’t ignore them.
Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and do the things you can only do with another person – have a chat, play a game, or make something together – whatever floats your mutual boat.
Keep Trying to Impress Them
There’s no point in cooking a nice meal, being witty and interesting, dressing well or bothering to make yourself sociable and agreeable when it’s “just” for your partner, right? Wrong.
If there’s one person you should be trying to make happy, make laugh, and make proud of you, it’s the person you’re planning to spend the rest of your life with.
When you’re willing to make more of an effort for just about anyone else in the world than for the person you love, you’ve got a long, miserable future of resentment, jealousy and hurt feelings ahead of you. Plus, you risk your partner forgetting what it was they liked so much about you in the first place.
Go on dates. Travel. Keep an eye out for shows or exhibitions that you know your partner would love. Pop open a bottle of wine and talk, laugh, debate, make up – whatever keeps the sparks flying for you.
Make sure your free time together is spent creating shared memories, not just ticking off mundane tasks. You didn’t fall in love by spending your Saturdays bickering over which bedsheets to buy in Ikea, and you won’t sustain your love that way, either.
Make Your Thoughtful Gestures Little and Often
One of the biggest mistakes that people (especially men) make is this: they let things slide until their partners get upset and say they take them for granted, are never spontaneous, or that they don’t made them feel special.
Then they panic and try to make amends with some grand, expensive and totally unnecessary gesture – a gift, a holiday, even (true story) a marriage proposal – before reverting to exactly the way they were before.
Here’s the thing: “thoughtful” doesn’t mean extravagant. It means that, once in a while, you bring your partner a cup of tea in bed, or you do their share of the housework before they get home, or you surprise them by popping by their office to take them for lunch.
It means picking up some flowers or a bottle of bubbly to celebrate an achievement, or remembering to text them before a big presentation to wish them luck. These are the things that make a relationship richer and stronger in the years to come.
Don’t Make Your Relationship Your Emotional Dumping Ground
Your partner is not your psychiatrist, neither are they your parent. They don’t have to listen to you rage or moan indefinitely, and chances are they won’t choose to.
This doesn’t mean you should hide your feelings when you’re hurt or unhappy, nor does it mean you shouldn’t tell your partner when they’ve done something to upset you.
But a lot of the time when we’re in a bad mood we’re not emotionally vulnerable nor have we been wounded by our partners; we’re just in a grump. And if you drag that toxic waste into the sacred space of a relationship, you poison the thing that should be your sanctuary from all this day-to-day crap.
Rather than launching into a rant, imagine when you walk into your house that you’re at a friend’s birthday party. Take a deep breath, shrug off the mood and focus on being the warmest, kindest, most fun and generous-hearted version of yourself.
By the time you get around to talking about that shitty thing your boss did (if you still care), you’ll find you have far more of a sense of humour about it, anyway.