“We are a work in progress with a lifetime contract.” ~Phyllis Koss
The priest at our wedding advised us, “It’s not enough to say, ‘I want to marry you’ just today. You’ve got to be able to say that every day.”
Problems and challenges in life can be like the wind, which blows unpredictably. You can’t control the wind, but you can learn to set your sails and to make repairs.
We’ve now been married for thirty years. Life, with all its ups and downs, has taught us a few lessons about building a lasting romance.
Here are ten tips that seem to help. They’re probably relevant whether you’re just starting out or have been together for decades.
1. Keep developing yourself.
I used to be keen on improving my partner. Then I decided to try and develop myself. That helped.
The more I cultivated the skills of living in the present moment and calming myself when distressed, the more our connection flourished. The more reliable and conscientious I grew, the more romantic our connection became.
Nobody’s perfect, but we can all grow steadily beyond our unhelpful habits. If your partner sees you trying to learn and grow, it encourages them to do the same. It also infuses your relationship with hope, whatever the problems and challenges.
Seeing yourself as a work in progress makes you more confident about acknowledging mistakes and apologizing. Apologies carry healing power.
None of us is set in stone. Scientific research shows that what we choose to do regularly can change even our brains. Developing yourself may be one of the best ways of nurturing romance.
2. Cultivate compassionate love.
It may be tempting to snap at your partner when you feel annoyed. However, you can communicate your feelings without being rude.
Compassionate love is the opposite of impatience, rudeness, and anger. You’ll enjoy more intimacy and get more worthwhile stuff done if you recognize that your partner has a mind, desires, and struggles of their own. Even if they can meet a request, they might take longer than you’d like.
When I’m on the verge of erupting, I like to visualize a bridge over troubled water. That helps me to be more patient.
Every relationship is like a perpetually young sapling that requires constant protection. Treating your relationship as sacred can boost your motivation to grow in patience and kindness.
3. Be responsive.
Being generally supportive is helpful. However, the most powerful form of support is providing what your partner requires in a particular situation.
For example, when my partner was panicking while racing to meet a deadline for a Master’s thesis, I tried to assemble scattered manuscript pages and was generally helpful and encouraging. Those little, responsive acts brought us closer together.
It’s an attitude of “What do you need from me in order to flourish?” That nurtures romance.
Likewise, ask for what you need. That’s better than expressing irritation. Your partner deserves a chance to try, even if they can’t always meet your requests.
4. Learn to tolerate unpleasant feelings.
Practice observing your own unpleasant feelings, whenever they occur, without letting them throw you off balance. Try focusing on your breath, instead of your unhelpful thoughts, until you feel calmer.
Unpleasant feelings are often produced by chemicals, which come and go. If you learn to recognize and tolerate the temporary chemical spurts, you’ll keep your balance better. Once you’re calmer, you can more easily look beyond your immediate, unhelpful thoughts.
It also helps to remember that our partners aren’t wholly responsible for our unpleasant feelings. It might seem like their actions are the sole cause, but sometimes their actions merely trigger some greater pain from our past.
Calming yourself when you’re distressed is one of the best gifts you can bring to your romance.
5. Adjust your expectations.
I was once approached, out of the blue, with an amazing job offer in another country. However, it was a bad time to uproot the kids. After we discussed the pros and cons, I declined the offer.
Life can throw up many areas of disagreement: handling finances, philosophy of life, cherished values, major one-off decisions, household chores, leisure, careers, friends, and more. The more flexible each partner can be, the better the chances of agreement.
Forging a consensus is more helpful than holding grudges. It’s also okay to agree to disagree on less-than-crucial points, if that helps you get on with the rest of life.
6. Focus on what makes you feel lucky.
Don’t seize every opportunity to criticize or blame your partner, lest you drive them to extreme defensiveness. Share how a particular intolerable problem makes you feel and what behavior you hope for instead. But ask without becoming too shrill or raising the temperature unnecessarily.
If you find yourself feeling frequently annoyed by little things, it may be a sign that you need to address underlying issues in your relationship. The sooner you discuss this, the better.
Treat your partner’s mistakes as you would treat the errors of a good tennis player who’s just played a bad shot. Don’t rush to damn the whole person. Be quick to apologize for your own errors and even quicker to forgive an apologizing partner.
In our relationship, we now tend to overlook shortcomings that might be apparent to others. We focus more on what makes us feel lucky about having the other. For example, I love how adventurous my partner is, how resilient, encouraging, optimistic, and forgiving. Express appreciation at every opportunity.
A forgiving and appreciative mindset helps nurture romance.
7. Look after your health.
Our minds and bodies are closely intertwined. Our bodies help us express romantic love. You deserve as healthy a version of yourself as possible, as does your partner.
Eating nourishing meals instead of grazing on sugary or packaged snacks, taking frequent stand-up breaks during prolonged sitting, and exercising regularly can all help transform your health. When you’re good to your body and brain, your well-being becomes a gift to your relationship.
Of course, age eventually erodes health. Romance can, and often does, survive the challenges of ill health. But a few simple practices can keep you healthier for longer.
8. Reassure yourself.
Reassure yourself so that you become more secure in yourself. This helps to foster mutual respect. Reassure yourself with kindness and forgiveness for mistakes.
Becoming secure in yourself also helps you to see your partner with new eyes, with less critical glasses, as appreciative outsiders might see them. When you learn to soothe yourself, you’ll probably like yourself despite life’s unavoidable ups and downs. Then the electricity of romance will more easily flow between you.
The kinder and more forgiving you are toward yourself, the more readily love and positivity will overflow into your relationship.
9. Feed each other intellectually.
Exchange ideas, discuss and debate interesting things, do an occasional joint project, share stuff that makes you laugh. Give your partner the heartwarming gift of your undivided attention from time to time.
There are times when we’re talking and gazing attentively into each other’s eyes when I become acutely aware of how lucky I am. It’s like souls touching.
10. Make time to play together, often.
Date nights needn’t be major productions. Just a little time together, temporarily shielded from troubles and challenges, can help. We have pleasant, relaxing mealtimes several times a week.
Here again, the ability to calm yourself is invaluable. Then you can show up as a playful individual, fully present in the moment, eager to express affection and passion.
When we were newly married students, we used our meager savings for a trip to Brazil. The adventure created priceless memories. We still love to travel together or to go hiking nearby.
Shared adventures bring surprises and excitement, helping to boost romance. You don’t have to go to Brazil. You can set aside a little time throughout the year to explore nature and activities near you.
Your relationship might be far from a fairy tale. That’s normal. We’re all just human beings, trying to make life sparkle despite all our flaws and shortcomings.
Think of your relationship as a boat on the sea of life. Storms will happen; winds will blow where they will. Do your bit to learn and grow, treat yourself with kindness, ask for what you need, be responsive, be playful, forgive, make repairs whenever necessary, and stay hopeful.
The tips here have helped us nurture a thriving romance, through thick and thin, for thirty years.
Lasting romance is one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. It’s possible, and it’s totally worth reaching for.