My wedding anniversary with my husband, Daniel, is coming up on September 6, so it’s a natural time for me to reflect on all of the ways we’ve kept our relationship going strong through the years (and, when needed, where we can make improvements). I’m lucky in that I married my best friend, but great partnerships are not based on luck alone. It’s important for us to make intentional choices in this area of our lives—not only for our own happiness, but so that we can model what a healthy relationship looks like for my daughter and nieces who live with us.
In early love, when the hormones and dopamine are flowing, it’s easy to believe that those gooey feelings will sustain us forever. But when those subside and suddenly we’re left to face reality, it becomes obvious that love stays strong for years and decades through effort. In other words, a rock-solid, loving, lasting relationship does not just happen. It’s done through ongoing care and consideration. It’s done by facing our pasts—and knowing when revisiting the past is a definite no-no. It’s done by being pro-active and taking responsibility. And it’s fueled by daily practice.
Here are the 5 key principles we follow to create a relationship that enriches us more every day.
- Start with intention.
Daniel and I don’t leave our mutual love to chance. From the time we wake up every day, it’s based on intention. For example, we’ll go for drives on a regular basis to ask each other questions: “What do you want? What are your goals? What do you want to be intentional about right now?” We want to remain aware of what we don’t want, but we don’t focus on that; we focus more on what we do want.
Ultimately, just like happiness and forgiveness, love is an action, not a feeling—which means you have control over the love you have, because you create it. This means that, on those days when you’re not feeling particularly loving, that’s the time you have to practice it the most. Try it—you’ll be surprised at the magic that happens.Ultimately, just like happiness and forgiveness, love is an action, not a feeling—which means you have control over the love you have, because you create it. Click To Tweet
- Take responsibility.
First things first: Taking responsibility for your life does not mean taking all of the blame. Think of this word as two words instead—response ability, or the ability to respond. When you look back at past relationships that ended, what was your role in the situation? Maybe you had to end things because you were dating someone unhealthy and perceive that person as the one at fault, but take a look at how you contributed to the overall situation. Why did you choose that person? Why did you stay in the relationship so long?
By taking personal responsibility, you’ll manage to identify and break the patterns you’ve repeated and take back your power to change. You don’t need to be a victim of your past or repeat it over and over again. Instead, you can seek help (I did 2 years of EMDR therapy to help heal my own past trauma) so that you’re not lugging your trauma around and infecting every other relationship going forward.
- Learn your love languages.
It’s a great idea to discover your and your partner’s love languages. These are outlined in a book called The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In essence, people feel most loved in 5 different ways. Daniel craves physical touch and acts of kindness, while I thrive on words of affirmation and quality time (the 5th type, which no one in our household highly prioritizes, is receiving gifts).
When you know the types of behaviors that make your partner feel most loved, you can ensure that you’re demonstrating those behaviors, versus totally missing the mark and wondering why they don’t appreciate your efforts. For example, I had no clue how to cook when I met Daniel—my mom once told me, “You only need to learn how to cook in one room of the house, and it’s not the kitchen!” Now, I look at cooking as a way to show my love for Daniel and my family, because it helps keep us all healthy and is a time for us to connect.
- Invest in special time.
This is a well-known parenting tool, but it works with spouses, too. The idea is to give your significant other 20 to 30 minutes of time without nagging, complaining, or questioning, and doing whatever your partner wants to do. You may be saying, “But my partner doesn’t do that for me!” Put aside that thinking for the moment and try putting in the effort first.
Later on, perhaps you can ask for the same favor in return but do it with no strings attached and watch what happens. You will be amazed at how much equity this puts in your bank account of love and goodwill.
- Practice forgiveness and grace.
All couples argue at times, but it’s how we deal with that conflict that counts. Learn how to let go of past mistakes and move beyond them—which means not bringing them up, over and over, for years after the fact. Rehashing old hurts might make you feel better in the moment (and it might not even do that), but it’s not going to make your relationship feel better, that’s for sure.
My minister once told me that new love operates with half-closed eyes; you’re falling for someone and ignore all of the red flags. Then you get married and, suddenly, your eyes fly open. For a longer-lasting connection, try the opposite: Be aware and open before you get married, and afterward learn how to half-close your eyes to minor slip-ups, practicing grace and forgiveness instead. And, yes, these are both practices—meaning that they should be exercised daily.
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