Before I met my boyfriend of almost three years, I always assumed that finding someone to love was the hard part and staying in love was the easy part. How wrong I was!
I learnt very quickly that relationships require an enormous amount of work and dedication. You have to be willing to work at them every day and always be on the lookout for new and ingenious ways to say “I love you” and be romantic and show your partner how much you care.
You have to want to work on addressing any problems, seeking out the solutions, and ultimately finding ways to make sure love never fades. If your truly love one another though, the work is well worth the effort!
1) Be a romantic
One of the top things on my list for staying happy and in love with your partner, is to always be romantic with each other. Since we first got together, my boyfriend and I have been doing a weekly “date night”. We dress up, put on perfume, walk hand in hand to a restaurant and then enjoy a lovely meal together. It’s always super romantic and leaves us feeling happy and in love.
We also make an effort to be romantic in small ways as well. We give each other massages, surprise each other with chocolates after a long day at work, snuggle on the sofa and watch a movie. As Susan Jeffers says, in her wonderful book Feel the Fear Guide to Lasting Love, splashes of brilliance and all well and good, but they don’t define the essence of a loving relationship. It’s the little gifts that really show how much you love your partner.
Richard Templar, in his book The Rules of Love makes a similar point. It’s not about expensive gifts but about effort, thought and care. It’s about using your imagination to do things that will surprise, amaze and delight them and show them the true depth of your feelings.
2) Never stop saying “I love you”
Along with showing your partner how much you love them, I think you can never say the words enough. My boyfriend and I joke that if you were to overhear how often we say it to each other, you’d think we’d only been dating a few months rather than a few years!
You may think that if you say it too much it loses meaning but this won’t happen if you slip in a few truly genuine “I love you’s” every now and again. Look into your partner’s eyes and really mean it and they’ll know you’re not just saying it out of habit.
3) Always appreciate your partner
If you’ve been with your partner a long time it can become all too easy to focus on their shortcomings rather than all the great things they bring to your life. While you’re fixating on the fact that they’ve left their dirty socks on the floor again you might just miss the fact that they made you a cup of tea in the morning again or that they reassured you when you were upset again.
Susan Jeffers, in Feel the Fear Guide to Lasting Love, explains that many of us withhold our thanks to our partner simple because we fail to notice the many thing they do for us. She argues, quite rightly, that recognition of all the beauty that our partner brings to our lives is an important ingredient to lasting love.
4) We are all lovers-in-training
Susan Jeffers made the brilliant observation, that when it comes to love, none of us are experts and we are all ‘lovers-in-training’. She explains that: ‘Commitment doesn’t mean you stop learning how to love. It is quite the opposite: commitment is where the really important learning needs to begin’.
I’ve really recognised the truth of this from my own relationship. We are constantly working out new things about each other, about how to make a relationship work, about how to overcome struggles together. We’ve already learnt so much but realise as well that there is so much more to learn.
5) Have alone time together
Another observation of Susan Jeffers is that busy couples often spend their weekends not spending time together. It can be surprisingly easy, I’ve found, to organise lots of things for when you’re free, only to realise that none of them include your partner! It’s obviously healthy to spend time apart but, as Susan Jeffers explains, when your relationship is your top priority, you’ll want to spend lots and lots of time together.
One of my top favourite ways of spending quality time with my boyfriend is over a lovely romantic meal during our date night. We make an effort to avoid mundane topics and have a really interesting conversation and amazingly, we’re still finding out new things about each other.
If you’re struggling to find topics to talk about besides work or money, my dad recently recommended an article he came across in the New York Time called ‘The 36 Questions That Lead to Love’. Designed as a series of personal questions, they are bound to lead to some interesting discussions (we’ve already tried a few questions and can definitely attest to this)!
6) Work on your relationship…by yourself
So what happens if you want your relationship to change but you can’t encourage your partner to make the effort? Another pearl of wisdom from Susan Jeffers is that you can work on improving your relationship all by yourself! She explains that whether your relationship needs some major work or only some fine-tuning, you’ll be amazed at how much relationship healing you can do by yourself.
I can definitely see the truth of this in my own relationship. I realised that whenever we had disagreements over something, I had a tendency to sulk and stew about it afterwards. The effect, is that a small problem would drag on and on for no reason. I started making a conscious effort to change my behaviour: I was more assertive about how I felt rather than giving the old silent treatment, I focused on the problem at hand rather than dragging in lots of other issues into the mix, I avoided all drama. Suddenly small disagreements were no longer an issue.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: ‘we must become the change we want to see.’
7) Don’t lose yourself in a relationship
It’s so easy, when you’re spending all your time with your loved one and enjoying the bliss of being in love, to forget about the rest of your life: about friends and family and personal growth and contributions to the world.
It’s important, as Susan Jeffers argues, to not define ourselves only in terms of our relationship. Instead, our relationship has to be one part of a rich and glorious life. You must nurture each aspect of your life and realise that though you and your partner are a team, you are also two separate people capable of standing on your own.
This means giving each other the space to be yourselves. Richard Templar, in his book The Rules of Love, makes this argument, explaining that it doesn’t matter how much you have in common with your partner, you’re still going to have separate interests and you have to give each other the space to do your own thing.
During university, while living in the same student house together, my boyfriend and I would decide on a chunk of time (usually an hour or two) where we would lock ourselves in our rooms and do our own thing and then come together after the allotted time to do something together.
8) Don’t stop talking
For me, good communication is the absolute most essential thing in my relationship. The ability to be able to have deep, meaningful conversations one moment; light and silly conversations another; and serious ones when they occasionally crop up, is how we stay close, connected, and up to date on how we’re doing.
Richard Templar in The Rules of Love explains that talking is especially important when you are going through a harder time. The aim is to always inform each other what you’re thinking and feeling so nothing important is left unsaid.
The problem with not talking, as Susan Jeffers points out, is that it in the case of married couples, there can be a deeper sense of loneliness than is experienced by single people. But we can use loneliness as a signal, she says, to remind us to tear down the walls and stop acting like two strangers.
9) Be your partner’s best friend
The thing I always admired most about my parent’s relationship is the fact that they were each other’s best friend. When I was younger, I remember asking my mum who her best friend was and was surprised when she replied: “your dad of course.” It hadn’t yet occured to me at that age that your partner could also be your best friend. What a revelation!
I’m fortunate enough to have found what my parents had, a boyfriend who is also my best friend, and I know that it will be our friendship above everything else that carries us through any difficult times.
Susan Jeffers explains that the most important question to ask yourself throughout your relationship is: “If they were my best friend, how would I be acting.” According to Richard Templar, who makes a similar argument, this means respecting your partner, treating them kindly, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and being able to laugh off mistakes or accidents. You have to learn to treat your partner better than your best friend (although of course the hope is that they are already your best friend).
10) Support your partner’s growth
Another point that Susan Jeffers and Richard Templar agree on, is that in a healthy and loving relationship, you must support your partner’s growth. Templar explains that if you love someone, it’s your job to help them fulfill their dreams. Even if this requires extra effort or hardship on your part, you must work to support them in their endeavours. Jeffers explains that the alternative, standing in the way of your partner’s growth, is the surest way to destroy a relationship.
My boyfriend and I are tackling this one as we speak. We each have our dreams and we’re trying to find a path for our future together that enables us both to follow them. It’s not easy, trying to find ways for us both to get what we want, but we realise how important it is that we try.
11) Accept each other’s imperfections
My boyfriend and I have a great saying we use often: “perfectly imperfect.” Funnily enough it came from a range of strawberries from TESCO that are labelled as “perfectly imperfect.” Funny shapes, different sizes, covered in lumps and bumps, the strawberries are indeed imperfect but yet they taste just as good as any normal strawberry.
We say it to each other: “You’re perfectly imperfect hunny” and it’s a recognition of the fact that we’re both human. We’re both flawed, and make mistakes, and have moments of vulnerability, but to each other, we’re still perfect.
I think if you can find a way to find your partner’s imperfections, quirks, and flaws endearing in some way, you’re going to have a much easier job of keeping the love alive.
12) Be a part of each other’s lives
I think one of the simplest ways to keep the love alive in long-term relationships, is to make sure that you’re always a part of each other’s lives. Richard Templar argues that you need to be involved with as much of each other’s lives as you can. This means spending time with your partner’s friends, family, and colleagues. In a bigger sense it means having a passion for your life together and never forgetting why you’ve chosen to be with this person.
My boyfriend and I have always taken an interest in each other’s lives. We get to know each other’s friends, we take an interest in each other’s hobbies and dreams, we spend time with each other’s families. Not only has this made us closer, but it also gives us lots to talk about which can only be a good thing!
– Tiger Lily –