For better or worse, right? It may depend. Here are seven tips on how to make a relationship last – I combined my own personal marriage experience with a few tips from couples’ therapists.
“I feel like my marriage is in trouble,” says Hurt on How to Cope With a Husband Who Criticizes You. “I don’t know how to talk to my husband anymore. We have been married for nine years; he is not the same man he was when we dated. He was affectionate, always told me I was beautiful and so on. Soon after we married it all changed. The first two years were terrible. Back then I was different. I had confidence, I stood up for myself, and wasn’t afraid to have an opinion. Now I shake and stutter when we visit friends or his family. Over the years I’ve learned in order to keep the peace, to say what I think he would want me to say…or say nothing at all. I try to do everything I can for him to make him happy and avoid arguments.”
So, the first tip on how to make a relationship last: decide if you actually want it to. The second tip: figure out what needs to change – and remember that the only person you can change is you. Below, I describe what this means in more detail, and I share a few ideas for taking control of the things you can actually change in your life.
Here’s a great quote from Ann Landers:
“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest,” she said. “Good [arguments] are healthy and constructive, and bring to a marriage the principle of equal partnership.”
These is one of those bits of advice that’s easier said than done! Sure, we know we need to learn how to argue in healthy and loving ways…but then emotions overcome us and our mouths get ahead of our brains. It happens.
And, learning how to make a relationship last involves forgiving each other when emotion overrides our common sense.
How to Make a Relationship Last
The most important and difficult thing to remember about making a relationship last – or saving a troubled marriage – is that you can’t do it alone. You need to recommit to your relationship, and encourage your spouse to do the same.
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1. Talk about your marriage (a “secret” of happy couples)
This seems like an obvious tip on how to make a relationship last, but it’s surprisingly difficult to talk about your relationship. My counselor taught me that simply talking about a relationship can actually improve it. Even if you don’t solve your problems immediately, the act of calmly discussing your interactions and history can bring you closer together.
Talking about your relationship also reveals how committed you both are. If your partner refuses or doesn’t make time to talk about it, then you’ve learned something new about your relationship. If your spouse is just plain mean or indifferent, then you need to decide how to take control of your life.
2. Recognize when you’re pulling away emotionally and physically
I know when I’m disconnecting emotionally and physically from my husband, and I know that it doesn’t help our marriage. To make your relationship last, my advice is to recognize when you’re pulling away and do the exact opposite. So, instead of retreating to your shell, tell your partner why you’re retreating. No blame or guilt trips: just honesty.
The reader who commented on my article about critical husbands hasn’t just pulled away, she is losing herself. She’s hiding. She’s scared. Bit by bit, her authentic self has eroded away. It doesn’t matter why or how this happened – what matters is her willingness and ability to bring herself back to life.
One of the best tips on how to make a relationship last is to stay connected with who you are and what your purpose is. Don’t lose yourself in your marriage, or you lose your authentic self. And if you don’t have you, then you have nothing real to bring to your relationship.
For help rediscovering who you are, read How to Be Yourself in Your Relationship.
3. Be honest with your partner about how to make your relationship last
Decide together if couples counseling will help your relationship. Couples therapy can be an effective way of building better relationships if both partners are committed.
You alone can’t save your marriage. This is one of my favorite tips on how to make a relationship last because it can bring so much self-awareness and insight into your life. Get an objective third party (a marriage therapist, pastor, or couples counselor) to help you resolve your problems.
Why is “get couples counseling” always a tip for making a relationship last? Because when you’re in the thick of things, you can’t see if you or your partner is being unreasonable (usually, it’s a little of both). A good objective third party – a marriage or couples therapist – can help by bridging communication gaps and helping you see your relationship clearly.
4. Figure out what you need and want from your relationship
To make your relationship last, you need to be clear about your needs and wants, your hopes and expectations. This involves examining what you believe about marriage and your spouse. Since your beliefs probably come from your childhood, you may need to stop and consider how you were raised. What beliefs did you adopt about marriage? How did you learn to be in a relationship with someone you love?
I grew up with a single mother who struggled with schizophrenia my whole life. I didn’t have a dad, and was in and out of foster homes. So, I had no idea what it meant to be married! But I knew that I didn’t know what marriage was supposed to be like – much less how to make a relationship last. I learned how to make love last in a long-term relationship by spending a year in counseling before I even knew who I was marrying.
And, my husband and I did some premarital counseling before our wedding. We’ve been happily married for 11 years, so we’re doing something right :-)
5. Decide what you can give to your relationship
Perhaps the best tip on how to make a relationship last — and one of my favorite bits of relationship advice — is about what you can give to your marriage. Instead of focusing on what you’re getting from your spouse, consider what you can give.
This tip goes back to one of my first statements: the only person in the world you can change is you. You need to be clear on what you need and expect from your marriage, but you also need to know where you’re dropping the ball. How can you improve yourself? What strengths and weaknesses are you bringing to your relationship – and are you actually contributing to a long, healthy, loving, committed marriage?
You can’t change your partner, but you can change how you respond to him. You can’t change who your spouse is, but you can look at your own expectations, attitudes, and beliefs…and you can decide what you need to do to get what you want out of your relationship.
If you have any thoughts on how to make a relationship last – for better or worse – please comment below. I can’t give advice, but you may find it helpful to share your ideas.