It's surprising just how fast time goes by. One day you're crazy, madly, can't-get-the-other-person-you-just-met-out-of-your-head in love and the next you've been with with your significant other for so long it's hard to remember life before him or her. Some relationships blossom and deepen with age, others fizzle. Over the many lulls and peaks that define long-term relationships, couples face a lot challenges.
Photo by Barkaw.
Relationship problems don't necessarily mean you're not meant to be; sometimes they simply happen because you've been in the relationship so long, your significant other ends up playing second fiddle to the rest of your life. Here's a look at some of the most common reasons relationships fail, and ways you can work through them together to continue joyfully on your adventure called couplehood.
Disclaimer: I'm not a relationship counsellor or other such professional, just someone with a very keen interest in maintaining a healthy long-term relationship, having married my high school sweetheart and in the midst of planning our 10-year wedding anniversary for next month.
Problem #1: The relationship gets stale
Of course relationships are more exciting, breath-robbing and heart-pounding at the beginning. Most of us accept that long-term relationships have a different kind of passion -- hopefully an even a better, deeper one based not on unfamiliarity or that new relationship phenomenon but intimacy.
But it's also not unusual after a lot of time together to get locked into a kind of rut or stale pattern with your partner.
The Symptoms There's nothing really wrong, maybe, but no sparks are flying either. Maybe you've been tied up into a sort of routine with work, kids, chores and other responsibilities. Maybe you no longer share old common interests. Maybe you've just gotten used to each other to the point of starting to take each other for granted. Sometimes you don't even realise this is happening. This secret boredom is pretty dangerous, as studies reported by CNN show.
Solutions Shake it up. Just as breaking out of your comfort zone may be key to achieving your dreams, to revive a stale relationship, you need to shake it up. Try new hobbies or explore new interests together; make new memories that excite you. It doesn't matter if these experiences are practical (cooking classes), silly (karaoke), or you don't stick with them (P90x), just trying them together is a bonding experience.
Be mindful of the little things. Also, practice gratitude every day if you can; I say this as personal strength-building exercise in general. Thinking back over almost two decades of going through major events -- deaths, births, major illnesses and surgeries, financial crises, you name it -- getting through those things made us stronger, no doubt. But making the effort to notice (and do) the little things over the long term is where real relationship gold hides. I think not only of my husband refilling my coffee cup for me in the mornings or commenting on posts I write (he really reads them?), but my fond memories of my parents' relationship are also filled with similarly small, seemingly inconsequential and everyday acts of love.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Open Google Calendar right now or your preferred reminder app and set up some recurring reminders (let's say weekly) to send your significant other a compliment or kind word. If there are days when you know encouragement will be especially needed -- a big presentation or test -- mark those too.
- If you've got one of those SMS apps that let you schedule your text messages in advance, set up some love-y texts now instead if you wish (kind of like those motivational notes in a lunch box).
Problem #2: Not enough time or too tired for intimacy
The Symptoms One of the symptoms of stale relationships is a stagnant sex life. If you feel so exhausted most days that your bed has become a sacred place for sleep only -- no nudity allowed -- your relationship might suffer. (There are other causes for libido problems besides time issues or tiredness, such as health issues or having infants, but, if you're anything like me, you're just plain and simple tired and stressed out.)
Solutions Schedule date nights. As with anything else you want to get done, you have to set aside time for your important appointments. Make intimacy a priority by scheduling a date night at least twice a month. That doesn't sound as sexy as impromptu romantic trysts, but when you've been with someone for years, you know how often those turn up.
Mix it up. Who says you only have to be intimate at night when both of you are spent after a day of toiling at the office?
What You Can Do Right Now
- Send an email to your partner to decide on when your date nights will be and discuss possible plans.
- Make dinner reservations for the first night.
- Find a sitter if needed.
- Mark and share your calendar. (Previously mentioned Cozi is a good family organiser.)
- Order some romantic gifts, put on a romantic comedy, or whatever will set the mood for you both.
Problem #3: Money arguments or problems
Money problems are often cited as one of the biggest causes of divorce. Financial compatibility isn't usually apparent at the beginning of a relationship -- or it's just often overlooked. Tensions over how to manage and spend money, who controls it, and everything else can really ruin a relationship.
Solutions Communicate about your finances. When it comes to any problem or major issue, especially finances, communication is key. Even if you're not financially compatible -- you're a big spender, she's really frugal -- talking openly about money matters is essential to preventing major issues.
CNN has a quiz to find out if you're financially compatible with your spouse. Tools like these aren't very precise evaluators, but they help jump start discussions about money and your financial goals.
If it turns out you and your partner can't see eye to eye about your shared finances, definitely go see an advisor who can provide some neutral advice for the both of you to follow.
What You Can Do Right Now
- If you haven't already, use a financial management tool and get started wrapping your heads around your finances together, based on your shared financial goals. Use financial goal worksheets to identify your priorities.
- Create a spending plan together.
- If you've already tried things like that, consider making an appointment with a financial planner.
Problem #4: You've grown apart
Whether you've experienced a culmination of all these things, some of them, or none of them in your relationship, chances are, after all this time, you and your significant other have become two different people than when you first met. For some, this is a problem, but it doesn't have to be.
Solutions Embrace your changes, while keeping your rituals. Every year my husband and I buy each other some anniversary gift based on the traditional or modern wedding anniversary gift ideas (this year it's tin or aluminium, or diamond jewellery). It's cheesy, but it's a tradition, and I can look back on every one of these objects and remember each year and celebration. I remember the reasons I married him -- immutable, essential qualities that will always be there, even if my goals have changed or our relationship has. Establish rituals like these or reminders of the reasons why you first fell in love, then look to appreciate the new people you've become together.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Start making plans for your yearly trip or next celebration.
- Dig out some old photos or mementos. Update your wallpaper or screensaver with them.
- Start keeping a journal (or read your old ones).
It's a Marathon
Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right called marriage a marathon (actually, she said "it's a f**king marathon"). These long-term relationships take nurturing, but they're well worth it:
"Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable."
– Henry Ward Beecher
Do you have any relationship tips or advice for us? Please share them with us in the comments.