15 ways to future-proof your relationship
Most couples in long-term relationships suffer problems at some stage - whether it's a breakdown in communication or periods of frustration, anger, conflict, or even mistrust. But one thing is certain, a strong, enduring and resilient relationship takes a lot of hard work. Our reporter gets tips on how to keep things fresh and healthy from psychotherapist Isobel Mahon, and psychologist Mark Duberry
Be prepared to talk to each other honestly. Give the other person a chance to speak without interruption or judgement. "So often we hear people say: 'If he/she would only listen to me,'" observes psychotherapist Isobel Mahon, who points out that much conflict can be solved in a relationship by one partner simply feeling heard. Sometimes she says, rather than listening, men tend to focus in on solutions and getting to the root of the problem. "There is a tendency when they hear a problem they need to fix it," she explains. However, she says, what many women may want at the time is to simply air the problem - and that she says can leave a gap in which somebody feels unheard.
2 Make time without the children
Of course family time is important, but try to carve out some regular adult time to give you a chance to check in with each other. This is immensely helpful in keeping a couple connected so the relationship stays current, Isobel believes. "A lot of people get lost in the duties of parenting," she explains, pointing out that babysitting is expensive, and an evening out can require substantial advance preparation, particularly if you have young children. "But the payoff of heading out to a gig or something can be great - it broadens your perspective because you move out of the functionality side of things and into a space where you can be adults together."
3 Sex is important on many levels for a couple
On a purely physical level, physical intimacy stimulates oxytocin, the hormone which affects bonding and provides a feel-good factor between the couple that extends far beyond the bedroom. "Sex is really important to stay connected," says Isobel. "It's important to try to prioritise that intimate tome together, as it creates an intimacy that extends beyond the bedroom. Regular sex is also, she believes, crucial to stay feeling attractive - and attracted to - one another!"
4 Deal with any difficulties sooner rather than later
If you feel like you're hitting an intractable problem, look for help from a couple's counsellor. We can't always solve our problems ourselves and help from an outside party can halt a pattern before the point of no return.
Sometimes patterns of avoidance can become part of a relationship - it is important to seek professional help to deal with any issues that threaten to destroy the quality of your relationship, for example addiction or aggression.
Habits of behaviour can harden and can be very difficult to change if left to harden, so the sooner you go for help the easier things are to resolve.
5 Deal with big issues outside of your relationship
Don't expect your relationship to solve all of your problems. If either person has serious issues stemming, for example from addiction or early life trauma, look for help. Relationships can sink under the weight of stuff like this.
6 Try to be an interesting person for your partner (and yourself)
Develop your passions and interests so you can be an inspiration for one another. People who are interested in life and have passions, says Isobel, are all the more interesting and inspiring as a result. Sometimes when people form a relationship together they easily settle into routine and stop growing - it is very important that outside the couple you stay interested in your own growth and your own friends. It's about staying alive in a relationship, she says: "Then your partner has an interesting friend to come home to."
7 Develop emotional independence
There is a difference between healthy attachment and emotional dependence. Healthy attachment is being able to bond, connect and share with another person in a healthy way but without losing your sense of self. Emotional dependence is more like merging with the other person, and not being able to make a distinction between their feelings - such as depression - and your own feelings. In other words the boundaries between you are blurred. It is important to learn to connect with your feelings and know what you feel.
8 Make a decision to stay together
This commitment-making applies to both marriage and informal relationships - in other words, that whatever happens you will stick with it and with your commitment to your relationship. Recognise that all relationship go through ups and downs and that you are both fully prepared to ride any problems out together.
9 Love is a choice
Falling in love with someone and staying in love with them are two different things. We think of love as a feeling, but in fact love is a choice and an act of will, says psychologist Mark Duberry. Love is active and you have to work at it, he explains. When the honeymoon period is over and normal life resumes, the loving ways you behave towards one another on a daily basis form the foundation of the relationship. "Sometimes couples feel that because they're not madly 'in love' any more, that it is the end of their relationship, but in fact it may well be just the beginning," observes Isobel.
10 Find shared goals and projects
Whether it's painting a room or booking a holiday, common goals/activities are a powerful factor in relationship bonding. Travelling and enjoying new experiences together help create memories. Creating memories in common is how we construct and nurture a life together.
11 Be tolerant of each other's quirks
Try to make the distinction between what's really a deal-breaker and what you can just let go. Don't try to win all of the arguments. It's not worth winning all of the minor battles and then going on to lose the war. "Very often the qualities that you find cute at the beginning of a relationship can become annoying over time, but the more latitude you can give each other to be the person they are, the more you can each grow in the relationship," Isobel says.
12 Practice kindness and generosity
Kindness is an underestimated quality but when all's said and done, it's the underlying structure of a successful relationship. Be the safe place for your partner. "It's not a complicated thing, but it is a crucial element in keeping love alive," she reminds us. Equally generosity doesn't have to mean coming home with a big bunch of flowers every night - it can be a word of support or a welcome expression of confidence in your partner at a time when he or she really needs it.
13 Laugh together
There's nothing more bonding and restorative than being able to laugh together at the problems and absurdities of life. Try to remember not to take yourselves too seriously - remember, at the end of the day nobody's perfect. Make an effort to have a laugh together - whether it's watching a funny film or seeing the funny side of life, it's all good. It's very important to have fun inside the relationship and to ensure that all the fun fun is not happening outside it.
14 Practice Self-Care
Look after yourself emotionally and physically. Healthy self-esteem on the part of both partners is crucial to a healthy relationship. Whether it's looking after your appearance or going to the gym, or reading a good book, the better you feel about yourself the more comfortable you are in your relationship.
15 Romantic gestures
It's so important amid the practicalities of life to show that you've thought about your other half and have taken the trouble to do something special just to make them happy. So often, says Isobel, it can be the small things that help so much to keep your relationship fresh in a busy world.
Health & Living