February. The month where supermarkets stock up their finest chocolates, florists rejoice and news agencies adorn their shelves with Hallmark’s finest pink and red. With Valentines Day (or what my more cynical friends call ‘Single Awareness Day’) most couples will be looking for a way to celebrate. And, generally speaking, the younger the couple and the relationship, the bigger and/or more expensive the celebration (think long-stemmed red roses and giant teddy bears a la Taylor Swift’s character in the 2010 flick Valentines Day).
But what if you’ve been with the same person for years? Or decades? Do you even bother celebrating Valentines Day? And if you don’t, how do you keep the spark from fading out amidst the everyday drudgery of the daily grind?
We interviewed couples whose relationships have successfully withstood the test of time – together they boast over 150 years of devotion – and we asked them to share how they keep their love aflame even through decades of sleeping with and waking up next to the same person, the challenges of raising children, overcoming fights and paying bills. Whether they’d been together 13 years or 30; their answers resonated a rather interesting message: while staying committed does require a lot of hard work and sacrifice… when you look at the detail, it’s all really quite simple.
The “golden keys” to long-lasting love
The advice from a century and a half of collective relationship wisdom
Even with an abundance of communication tools at our fingertips (smart phones, social media, email, video calls), it’s distressing to see just how easily couples forget how to talk to each other. But if you really want your relationship to go the distance, communicating openly and honestly is critical: every couple interviewed named it as one of their priorities. During the early stages of any relationship, communication flows freely: we are naturally attracted to and therefore curious about the other. But as life becomes routine it’s easy to forget to share the details: the simple accomplishments at work, the things people did to frustrate you, the goal that’s been in your head but not uttered aloud. Sharing your goals (for yourself, your family, finances, children and career) with each other puts you on the same page and gives you the ability to support each other. “Lay down all your cards, and always be true to yourself,” advises one couple, married almost 40 years. But, they remind us, that advice goes both ways and when it’s your partner’s turn, you need to listen.
Appreciate the little things
The longer the couples had been together, the less they tended to focus on extravagant displays of affection. Instead, when answering the question “what’s one of your favourite ways of showing your partner you love them?” most couples responded with beautifully simple gestures: packing them their favourite lunch, leaving a short note on the bathroom mirror, offering them the better slice of meat for dinner, a spontaneous kiss (or sneaking a feel!) in an unexpected place, surprising them with ice cream; even simply doing the dishes together. “Making them laugh” was, by far, the most popular response. Though simple, they were effective, because each couple had (and took!) the opportunity to show they loved their spouse every day. After 17 years together, one husband was still spontaneously buying his wife flowers. “After so many years it’s still nice to feel like you’re being courted,” she admitted.
Affirmation goes a long way
In addition to the simple surprises and gestures these couples all mentioned the importance of giving their significant other sincere compliments and gratitude. It is too easy to forget to say “thank you” for actions we come to expect: putting the shopping away, bathing and putting them kids to bed, picking us up on time. Yet these two words can make all the difference between someone feeling loved and feeling used. Offering a genuine compliment (about their body, outfit, opinions, or personal accomplishments) can build a person’s confidence but forgetting to say it one too many times can make them feel neglected. “He tells me I’m beautiful every day,” Said one wife, married over 15 years. “Even after we had kids, I felt sexy. And I feel like I can take on the world.”
Pick your battles
Even after years of being together, a relationship is still made of two, often very different, people. Disagreements are inevitable. The secret to overcoming them? Pick your battles. For one couple, they made a conscious decision when they first started dating never to fight about money. “You can always earn more money. It’s not worth having a crack in your relationship because of money.”
After years of experience, these couples agreed that fights simply aren’t worth the energy and emotion that go into them, and the only thing that fuels them is pride. “Pride is the culprit of most broken marriages,” said one couple, married for 27 years.
And if you do end up in a full-flight verbal battle with your significant other, end it before your day does. Two out of every three couples interviewed said how important it was not to go to sleep angry not to part ways without reminding the person they love them. “Choose each other, and choose to fix it,” said one couple, now in their tenth year of marriage.
Finally: invest in quality time
Many of the couples interviewed make a conscious decision to schedule in regular ‘date nights’.
“We don’t go as often as we would love to,” admits one couple who’ve been together 14 years. “But when we do, it’s dinner and drinks somewhere and if we can we stay in a hotel in the city and just roam around!” Whether it’s a night out in a new restaurant dressed in killer heels and smart suit, dinner at home, cuddling up on the couch to watch a movie after the kids are in bed, a visit to the local church for weekday Mass, or simply a long evening walk while holding hands, it’s the togetherness – the undivided, focused attention – that marks quality time as ‘date night’.
So, if we took all the advice from the couples interviewed, all you really need to do is:
1. lay down your weapons and call truce on any fights
2. organise alone time with your significant other
3. have a long chat about life, goals and everything in between
4. make each other laugh and pay them a compliment
6. say thank you
Pretty simple, right?