Craig and I have been together for 17 years this July. I think that’s longer than most marriages (for the record I googled it after I wrote this, the average marriage in the US is 8 years). We aren’t married (personal choice) but we’ve been in a committed relationship for a long time. The day we went to take these photos was actually our 17 year anniversary, which neither of us realized until after the fact, but it got me thinking about what makes a healthy and happy relationship work? And what makes a relationship last?
What Makes A Relationship Last?
Over the years we’ve gone through hard times together and we’ve been through great times together. For a whole host of reasons, the last year/few years have been particularly HARD. A hard pregnancy and postpartum, a baby right before Covid, losing our dog to cancer, endless illnesses, we barely left the house all winter, and then finally this spring all of us getting Covid. I know our situation is not unique.
It seems like it has been tough (relationship wise) for a lot of my friends (quite frankly ALL of my friends). Pandemic fatigue, the stress of parenting and work with the general state of the world. Focusing on my relationship has been the absolute farthest thing from my mind. I’ve been short-tempered, annoyed, and just generally burnt out. Craig too. A lot of the time we just felt out of sync.
I wish I could say there was some magic fix. There wasn’t. But one day recently I realized, things feel a little easier again.
Which leads me to the question, what makes a relationship last? And what is the key to a healthy and happy relationship?
It’s probably a bit different for everyone. I imagine any healthy relationship has ebbs and flows. Craig and I met when we were 20. I definitely didn’t know what I wanted in a life partner, and I certainly wasn’t looking for one. At the same time, when I met Craig, something just clicked.
I was with my grandfather recently, he’s 92, and he was married to my grandmother for 66 years. She passed away a month after Marin was born. They met his senior year of college as he was heading into the Marines. My grandmother was in nursing school. He said after their first date, that was it. I asked him what he thought was the key to their 66 year marriage. “When you know you know. And I just knew, and so did Helen,” he said. “We were always incredibly devoted to each other and our family,” he said.
They had 7 children. They worked as a team, prioritized spending time as a family, but also took opportunities to get away just the two of them when they could. Later in life they shared a love of golf, and had a strong group of friends that they spent a lot of time with. Mostly, they loved each other’s company, and as he shared stories and spoke of my grandmother while tears streamed down his cheeks, it was clear how much he misses her.
After we talked, I sat down to write what I thought were some of the elements of a lasting partnership and I found myself coming back to the following:
I once said in a conversation with someone who was struggling in their relationship, “if you don’t have trust, you don’t have anything.” Trust is the foundation for everything else. If you are with someone you can trust, you feel safe, you can be yourself and you can speak your mind freely.
No one is a mind reader. Communication is so important for any relationship to work. I think we’ve worked hard to learn one another’s communication styles and to be better at communicating. When we argue it’s usually because we’re not communicating well. I’ve learned that I have to share what I need and vice versa. And the same goes for being a good listener.
Honestly the fact that at 20 years old I met someone who shared so many of my core values (without knowing it at the time) just feels like really good luck. Or maybe as my grandfather said it’s that gut feeling, when you know, you know. I don’t recall talking politics or fundamental beliefs when we met, but they form a huge part of our relationship and who we are as people. I can’t imagine being with someone that I did not align with on those things, especially now that we are raising a child together. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but to me, sharing core values with your partner is an essential part of a strong relationship.
Every relationship is different, but a healthy one has to be a partnership. That won’t look the same for everyone, but it will take compromise and effort on both sides. We’ve both made sacrifices for one another and work to have an equal partnership. It’s not perfect but we both put in the effort to make it work.
maintain a sense of independence
Everyone needs different things from, and in their relationship, but to me maintaining a sense of independence is so important. Maybe it’s spending time with your friends, having your own hobbies or spending time alone. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own happiness. Maintaining a strong sense of self is so important.
Pretty simple right? I must confess I can be bad at this. It’s not that I am not appreciative, but I forget to say it. A simple thanks for cooking dinner this delicious meal or doing all the laundry goes a long way. Whether it’s saying thank you or stepping in to do a chore that you don’t normally do it’s a nice way to show your appreciation.
make time for you as a couple
It was a lot easier to do this when it was just the two of us. As soon as we had a baby EVERYONE said “don’t forget to make time for just the two of you.” To the point where I was rolling my eyes and getting a little bit annoyed. It can be really hard to do, and when we first had Marin there was also a global pandemic, alone time was pretty much off the table. We’ve had to get creative with what our alone time looks like, but we do prioritize it and it makes a big difference. When we make time just for us, there’s no shortage of great conversation and laughs, and I love that.
DON’T HOLD GRUDGES
Every relationship will have conflict. Having an argument with a partner is a normal part of a relationship. There’s no such thing as a couple that “never fights.” That’s ok. We are human beings with complex emotions, but we also have to be able to resolve those arguments and conflicts in a healthy way. Holding a grudge helps no one. You don’t have to know how to perfectly handle resolving conflicts or moving on after an argument. It takes work and practice. As long as you’re both willing to do it, that’s the key. My grandfather said, “never go to bed angry.” I’ll admit I’ve done that. I’m a work in progress.
A healthy, happy relationship requires work and commitment from both people. It’s not always simple or easy, life never is, but as my grandfather said, sometimes, when you know, you know. I feel lucky that 17 years ago, something told me I knew.
I’d love to hear, what do you think is the key to a happy lasting relationship?
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