So, you had yourself a valentine on one of the most commercially exploitative celebrations of the 21st century, V-Day. Congratulations; you’re in the rate race. But while you’re here, you might also be wondering what happens when all the chocolates, fancy dinners, and love making is done. Getting laid after a shower of cultural pampering is a great, but it doesn’t do much in terms of building a long-lasting and genuine relationship. How does one nurture true love and survive its trials beyond the material placation that—quite literally—buys you one day of romantic perfection?
SO GLAD YOU ASKED.
Before my fiancé, I went through a series of experiences with love and relationships not unlike those of many young American males. My early twenties featured the classic train wreck of emotional highs, lows, and thrill-seeking misadventures that could only be afforded by a culture where swiping right means you REALLY like someone you’ve never met.
Between online “dating” and friendly referrals, the hunt for love in this day and age is practically a guerrilla bloodsport. Perhaps the only thing more puzzling than the process itself is the culturally popular rhetoric that feigns ambivalence about wanting to find love. The perpetual disappointment of techno-dating has silently lulled young generations into an existential philosophy of “fuck it, (but not really—just in case it’s still possible to be happy with someone).” In this way, the search for bonafide unconditional love continually teeters on the brinkmanship of dying alone and “just one more shot.” It’s quite exhausting—even to watch from the sidelines where I currently reside.
Yet, finding love and keeping it are two separate issues. What good is finding love if its easily lost? You might as well stop wasting your time altogether and put all your efforts into getting rich, just to prove the Beatles wrong (this just in: An age-old adage falls today as social scientists conclude that, yes, money CAN buy you love). While we may never fully understand exactly what kind of love was for sale in those famous lyrics, we might conclude that even if it were on sale today, the majority of Americans could never afford it. That being said, it may be prudent for those lucky enough to find love, to learn a few tricks on how to keep it.
Below are the top five rules I and my fiancé have employed for over three years that have helped sustain a healthy and happy romance. And now, I pass it on to you.
#1 Words Do Hurt You
Sorry to break it to you: that childhood nursery rhyme is bullshit. While sticks and stone still break bones, words absolutely hurt you. This is a hard habit to put to bed, as classic American sarcasm can feature cutting words even in the absence of malicious intent. Early on, it became apparent to me that name calling and four-letter words were to be erased from most communication with my partner, and I’d have to find healthier and more efficient ways to convey my feelings. It seems childish at first: we imagine that adults should understand, and therefore, be able to distinguish between words at play and words meant to hurt. But it’s simply not true. Calling your partner a bitch or an asshole—even in a joking manner—begins to erode the trust and specialness of your relationship. Over time the name calling and cursing can build the kind of silent contempt and hostility that has been proven to be the number one predictor of why relationships end.
We all get enough harsh regard from the outside world; making sure our relationship is void of degrading language is an easy way to create a sense of safety and build trust. So, if you’re someone who curses a lot and are fluent in American sarcasm, you’re going to have to tone it down if you want your partner to stick around. It’s as simple as that.
#2 Compliment, Compliment, Compliment
If you’re stubborn and have a strong ego, this could get rough for you. Really rough. Look, no one likes to examine their own behavior and realize that they’re coming up short. But when it comes to having long lasting love, the extra effort is worth it. That extra effort means making sure you let your partner know how awesome they are—no matter what.
Compliments and a display of appreciation for one’s partner has been identified as a huge predictor of whether or not couples stay together. If the majority of the language in your relationship is critical, with too few compliments and praise, that’s a big red flag. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and valued, and compliments help make this a daily reality.
When people come to me and begin talking about the problems they have with their partner, one of the first things I look for is: how many times have they mentioned something that their partner did right? When someone is unable or unwilling to identify efforts made by their significant other, it’s a big problem. Solid relationships are built on a sense of partnership, teamwork, and shared goals. If you’re not complimenting your partner at least ONCE per day, you may have some homework to do. Compliments can range from, “Wow babe, you look really hot today,” to “Thanks for taking care of the house cleaning for me, I was really exhausted.”
So while there will always be room for critical language, go easy, and use it sparingly. Don’t make it a habit of trying to find something to complain about every time you open your mouth. Let go of perfection and find more ways to compliment your lover and they are more likely to reciprocate for years to come.
#3 Sideline Your Ego
I used to be a bit of a hothead—stubborn as a mule and as useless as the guy riding it. When it came to apologizing, I had only one policy: NOPE. But then I grew up, learning faster than ever that ego will get you nowhere in a serious relationship. In a stalemate, nobody wins.
One of the most important challenges people will face in an argument with their partners is whether or not their personal goal is to fix the problem, or stay angry. You’d be surprised at how often a solution is present, easily agreed upon, but the anger remains. Somehow our egos can only be satisfied completely if we can stay angry and punish our partner for just little bit longer. In this way, we choose to serve our ego and staying angry becomes more important than moving on.
Things are worse in the heat of an argument. OH MAN ARE THEY WORSE. Especially that moment when you stumble upon reasonable doubt about whether or not you were really in the right. And then, all at once, it hits you: you screwed up. You were wrong the whole time. What you do from here makes all the difference: do you stay the course, build an emotional wall between you and your partner, and insist that even water-boarding couldn’t persuade you to apologize? Or do you immediately drop your guns and guard and say: You’re right, I shouldn’t have done that, I’m sorry…
Being able to apologize when you’re wrong establishes a sense of justice and equality between you and your partner, where abandoning anger and ego the moment you realize your error can encourage your partner to do the same when it becomes their turn.
#4 End Every Argument With Kinder Words
Picture this: you’re in a blowout fight on a weekday morning right before heading out the door to work. YOU. ARE. STEAMED. This person you love doesn’t seem to get it. They’ve got their idea about what went wrong and you’ve got the opposite idea. All you want to do is leave home in peace, and now this. You’ve both come down from the peak of shouting and are ready to storm out the door and never look back, leaving the other in the dust. Let them choke on this for 8 hours, and then they’ll be sorry, you think to yourself.
Not so fast.
When arguments get heated, people tend to turn on their high beams, close the blinds over their eyes, and hit the gas. When our egos get involved and we’re frustrated, there’s that temptation to want to stay angry. We want to leave our partner with this horrible image of how angry we are with them, in hopes that they will see things our way later. But it’s not a good idea.
Leaving an argument with uncertainty of where your relationship stands can breed insecurity, contempt, and anxiety among couples who don’t have enough milage behind them. One successful strategy I’ve employed involves ending arguments with a reminder that the relationship is more important than the argument.
As a rule, my fiancé and I will always end an argument with “I love you”. This makes for an awkwardly comedic challenge when each of us are trying to maintain a stone-face. What you’ll find—as I have—is that saying it often times breaks the tension and can even result in laughter that defuses all the bad feelings.
Ending an argument with kinder words is a key component to a healthy and long-lasting relationship. Saying “I love you” and letting it be known that your goal is to get back on track breaks the hold that blind anger can have on us and reminds both partners that the relationship is the goal—not being right.
#5 Be Careful What You Say To Others
It’s hard not to want to run to your closest friend and vent right after an argument with your significant other. We want someone to see the situation from our point of view; we want to feel like we’ve got support when our partner isn’t seeing things our way. But I’ve found it best to observe some caution before dumping all the details of your relationship on someone else’s ears. To be clear, we should always be able to confide in others who we feel may be insightful about issues that arise in our relationships. What this rule means is that we should be careful to process and filter what information we share and how we share it.
One problem that commonly occurs is bad mouthing. Unfiltered venting about one’s partner can create the impression that the relationship is not strong and may have little value. The people we confide in may take this as a sign that both your partner and the relationship aren’t very important to you. In this way, you may invite a different kind of advice that encourages you to get out of the relationship, hurt your partner, or simply ignore them. This is all very bad advice for someone trying to maintain a healthy partnership with their lover.
Another problem happens when we realize that we cannot guarantee the confidence of our venting to others. Not everyone is trustworthy in keeping your business private, and this can turn into a larger issue if loved ones start treating your partner differently based on what you’ve said during a highly emotional state. It’s often the case that the raw emotions we express to friends about our partners don’t accurately represent how we feel about our relationship as a whole. But once we’ve talked badly about our partner, there’s no taking it back. We may feel strongly about something our partner did today, only to realize it was all a silly mistake the next day. But others won’t easily forget the things you’ve said and the words you’ve used.
So how can we strike a balance between confiding in our loved ones about the troubles of our relationship?
One simple strategy is to avoid running to a loved one for every little thing wrong in your relationship. If you’re thinking about confiding in a friend or family member, sit on it for a day or two and see if it clears up on its own. And lastly, if you do decide to confide in someone, use careful language. Choosing kind language helps to remind confidants that our partner is to be valued and respected at all times. Always lead with praise: I really love her/him and she’s/he’s usually great about these things, but this past weekend I just felt that she/he wasn’t listening very well.
Have something to add to the list? Comment below and tell us what you’ve found works.