As the child of an unbroken home, there were times growing up that I felt like an anomaly. It seemed more common than not that my friends had two homes, a complex schedule of holiday events in various locations and double the amount of birthday presents. “50 percent of marriages end in divorce” was the anti-monogamy mantra of every commitaphobe of our generation, and there’s no disputing its validity. This is why the issue of marriage is a matter of glass half empty vs. half full. In other words, if half fail, then half succeed, and the odds of either happening to a couple planning to say “I do” are equal. So, for every failed attempt at long-term love, there’s a partnership that flourishes, one that weathers the storms and comes out stronger on the other side.
I bring up marriage in this issue’s column because as we enter our late twenties/early thirties, we reach an age where summer harkens the kickoff of wedding season. It’s here, and if you’re not one of them (“them” being a bride or groom), prepare for your Facebook feed to start swimming in invitations and destination wedding pictures.
With love and marriage in the air, one can’t help but ponder — especially when seated at a wedding and witnessing friends or family take the plunge with one’s own eyes — is it smarter to be a relationship optimist or a relationship pessimist? Do you think love and marriage can last, or is bound for failure?
With Jay Z and Beyonce’s commitment thrown into question by the Solange incident (kidding but really, what was UP in that elevator!?!) who are we to look to for confirmation that long-term love is a reality rather than a fairytale? As mentioned, I have a personal example (my own folks) of a marriage making it in the long run. Beyond just my lovely ‘rents, I have known a myriad of couples, young, old and in between, whose commitment to each other has proven time and again that it is possible to find your ride-or-die person and stick the landing.
All the examples of long-term successful relationships I have known have very few traits that can be seen as a pattern for success. Some never fight, while others fight passionately. Some are couples whose every interest mirrors the other, while others are drawn to each other by their many differences. The main takeaway I have found is that every relationship that works does so for its own specific reasons, but there are a few key things that you can do to help it on its way. In no particular order, here are the five tips that I have gleaned to be keys to lasting bliss.
1. Be a Team
One of the most amazing things about having that one person in your life, the one that is in it till the end, is that you have a consistent source of backup. When you drop the ball they’re there to catch it, and vice versa. When you’re in an awkward social situation, all you have to do is flash the private ear tug/nose twitch symbol you two have created and your partner is honour-bound to slide in for the rescue. This sense of teamwork is one of the main advantages of a strong relationship — we can all be bolder and braver when we feel like there’s a safety net.
To this end, that team is to be protected and strengthened by both people in it. To do this, there can be no dissention in the ranks, no eye-rolling your partner at parties, or airing private grievances in public. It’s one thing to talk to friends about relationship issues that are bothering you (sometimes you need to talk something through with trusted advisors), but it’s something very different to undermine your teammate by letting issues be known by all, weakening you both in the process. You only get the benefits of the team if you play fair.
2. Fight with Purpose
There’s no avoiding them forever — fights will happen in every relationship. Some couples have weekly, even daily, blow-ups that clear the air of any and all little issues, while others are normally peaceful with only an occasional burst of domestic storminess. How to ensure this natural by-product of living with a person day in and out doesn’t mushroom into an actual issue? Fight with purpose. Any dispute should serve an actual end goal: getting to the bottom of something that has been bothering one or both of you.
To achieve this, each fight needs to be it’s own stand-alone battle. It is counter-productive and straight-up maddening to take every fight as an opportunity to open Pandora’s Box of past issues, cluttering the message until the original purpose of the conflict is just another ember in the fire. Treat each fight as a clear problem, with the mutual goal of finding a solution that can satisfy you both. It may take hours, days or even longer to finally close the book on an issue that is causing conflict, but if you address it and it alone, you will end up stronger rather than weaker.
3. Never Stop having Adventures
Couples who have been together a long time will often develop routines and patterns that bring them comfort. The places they like to eat, the things they like to do when they get up in the morning, the ways that they can make each other laugh, even in the middle of a fight. Combine these habits with the likelihood that the couple will also have to work together to reach big goals — saving for a home or paying off debts — and you have a recipe for life to get dull for everyone.
To remedy this you need to continue having adventures. Not vacations — a yearly trip to an all-inclusive is as much of a rut as Sunday sushi take out. Adventures means going places you have never been for a day, a week or a month. It means shirking responsibility for an afternoon together, running around like kids in your own city. It means getting off the beaten path and discovering new things together. Comfort is important, but excitement is key to keeping a relationship fresh in the long run.
4. Be Prepared for Change
Nothing gold can stay. Change is a fact of life for every human being on a scientific, cellular level, so to expect your partner to stay the person you first met five, ten, fifteen years down the road is sheer madness. They will shift as they learn, experience and respond to life’s challenges. The things they go through will shape them into new forms. The same will happen to you.
There is good news. First, the core of who they were when you met will remain. We may grow into certain parts of ourselves but our values and character are ingrained. Beyond that the experiences that shape your partner’s changes will be what you are going through as well, so it is likely that the change you see will make sense to you, and even occur in you as well. There may be times when this process of shifting into each of our next iteration will confuse those who we love most. That said, if you know it will happen — that you both will grow in different ways at different points — you can be less surprised by it, and more ready to adapt.
If there is one take away that I have from watching my parents navigate over thirty years of marriage it is this: if you have respect for the person you have chosen, you can find your way through anything together. My parents are extremely different from one another, and often baffle one another with choices they will make. As a kid, there was times when they would seem like a cohesive unit, and other times when it was clearly a struggle for them to find common ground. That said, they also were always clear about one thing: they respect each other deeply as people. They each think the other is a wonderful person, whose heart is in the right place…even when the things they happen to be doing may seem bizarre to the other. .
Respect is rooted in trust — with no room for exceptions. If you choose someone who you trust to respect you, and who you in turn respect for their values, you have the ultimate key to surviving life’s foibles. Over a lifetime, there will undoubtedly be times that it is hard to like each other. If the respect is there though, you will find your way back to the rest.
Lasting love may be the most challenging, elusive thing any of us search for in this life, and it certainly won’t come without blood, sweat and tears. It is easier to be a cynic than a believer. That said, if you try these field-tested methods, you may find that it’s not as hard as you thought to picture forever. It may be an uphill battle, but here’s the secret, marriage — relationships in general — don’t have to be a fairytale. Preserve the happy, omit the fiction and enjoy your ever after.