Today my boyfriend and I have been together for eight years. It's one third of my whole life and pretty much all of my adult life. Though I will not claim to be a relationship expert by any standards, I figured I would share some of the things that make our long-term relationship work.
Just a fair warning, this is not a particularly mushy post. If you want a lighter read, I will direct you to your nearest women’s magazine, or to this old post on love. Grab yourself a cup of tea and sit down somewhere comfortable, because this is a long post.
Distance is good
Usually when people hear we spent almost five years in a long-distance relationship, the reactions vary from shock to “I could never do it.” However, in hindsight I am very glad we did the long-distance thing, especially because we were both so young when we met (not that I would have agreed with that statement at the time).
Having a relationship but not spending time with my boyfriend all the time gave me the time and the space to figure out who I am as a person, on my own. I got to experience some of the single life, living on my own, having a lot of time for friends and family, having time for myself, not having to take anyone else into consideration with my plans. That all the while I was of course in a committed (exclusive too, for those wanting to ask the standard question) relationship which gave me a lot of emotional support and comfort.
So, my tip for anyone getting into, or already in, a long-distance relationship: take this chance to really focus on yourself and enjoy that time of being on your own. Whether it’s for a year, or five.
Distance is good also applies when you are living together. Give each other the space to do your own things.
Trust is crucial
This is a thing that absolutely made it possible for us to have a long-distance relationship for so long. Jealousy, while some find it endearing and a sign of affection, is toxic to a relationship. Neither of you can do your own thing if there is no trust. And trust is not just the absence of jealousy. It’s also the continuous trust in the relationship and that you can make it together.
Stand your ground…
Especially in a multicultural relationship where the other person has had to leave their home country, it is extremely important to maintain a balance. You can’t sacrifice everything you hold dear for the relationship, because that will only lead to resentment. So, hold on to some of those things that are important to you and stand your ground. For me some of the important things are speaking English at home (I will write another post on the language question), and more recently being able to live close to my friends.
… but also let go
Not every battle is worth fighting, nor should you always bring up whatever sacrifices you have made for the sake of the relationship. Granted, this is where I struggle a lot, but in the long run it is better to let go of old hurts and things that don’t really matter. Also, you can’t stand your ground and expect your partner to let you have your way if you are not prepared to do the same for them.
Don’t compromise too much
This is related to the previous two points, but there is a difference. Compromises are great in situations where there aren’t many emotions involved but in other cases they don’t work. When both of you feel strongly about something, the ideal situation is not the one where both of you give up some part of the things you wanted and together settle for something that isn’t great for either of you. So, rather than compromise, find something else entirely. Something both you can feel excited about.
Make sure you want the same things in life
You don’t have to have the same hobbies and preferences, or even the same culture or religion, though it does help to have things in common. The most important thing, however, is that both of you are on the same line about your future plans, about the really big things like (not) having children, (not) getting married, pets, location and lifestyle, among other things. If you can’t agree on those, it is hard to build a happy long-term relationship.
You are not responsible for each other’s happiness
Coming to terms with this may give your relationship a better chance at lasting through the rough patches. You are only responsible for your own happiness, and so is your partner. If you rely on the other person, or your relationship, for your happiness, it won’t make much sense to stick through the times when that other person and/or your relationship is not sparking much joy. Both of you should find other sources of happiness, and so both of you can be happy and bring that happiness to your relationship.
In a long-term relationship there will be good times, tough times and a whole spectrum of stages in between
No relationship is absolutely wonderful all the time, especially when it’s a long-term relationship. There will be really tough times that can make or break your relationship. Then there will be the times that your relationship feels stale and boring. That’s also normal. It will pass. The good times will come again, and it will be amazing again. Or just steady and comfortable. Basing the value of your relationship on its highest or lowest points isn’t really practical as there is a whole spectrum of life in between.
And just a disclaimer, this is assuming that the lowest points of your relationship aren’t abusive.
Without maintenance, things will break
Related to the previous point, the best way to keep your long-term relationship in a nice, comfortable stage is relationship maintenance. This can of course be regular date nights, flowers and the more stereotypical mush of a romantic relationship, but more importantly, it’s about reconnecting with your partner. For me that’s discussing where our relationship is at, what we want out of it and where it will go. For my boyfriend, it’s regular displays of affection. Combined, that’s our relationship maintenance strategy. You need to find the right type of maintenance for your relationship.
At the end of the day, it’s all about choice
It is obviously easy to choose to be in a relationship when things are going well. It gets a lot harder when your relationship hits a rougher patch. Sometimes it can feel easier to throw in the towel and let go of the relationship. On the other hand, you might feel that you should stick with your long-term relationship because breaking up would complicate your life so much more. Whatever you choose, it is that choice that will give you strength. Strength to work hard on solving the issues of your relationship, or strength to start rebuilding your life on your own.
I hope that this advice will help your long-term relationship. I would also love to hear your thoughts and opinions on them. Do you agree with them or did I miss the mark completely?