So many relationships are based upon just feelings and not on a firm mutual decision-making process. I have spoken with many couples who were married for 50 – 70 years. They each shared the same bit of information when it comes to developing a long-term relationship.
Don’t go by emotion alone. Emotions wax and wane over time. They are influenced by too many factors to base an entire relationship upon them. Hormone levels, stress levels, and even how hungry you are at a given moment can change emotions. Emotions are certainly a component, but they cannot replace reasoned decision-making. Sexual attraction will fade over the course of a relationship (and in later years return). It is foolish to base a decision on sexual attraction. Emotions only serve to check a reasoned decision.
Work daily at the relationship. Everything gets weaker when you take it for granted and don’t work at it. Relationships, according to the married couples I know, require both people to mutually decide to love each other. People are full of both flowers and garbage. Daily we have to choose which we focus upon. Daily a couple needs to renew their wedding vows with how they treat each other. Compassion and acceptance take effort. It is easy to love when things are sunny; difficult when the storms arise.
Weather the storms. Strong relationships can weather any storm life throws. They don’t buckle under the least amount of strain because they are built on the solid foundation of friendship. Life will have trials. Emotions will fade; arguments will erupt. What matters is how people treat each other during those storms. A good relationship is a sanctuary to retreat when the winds howl; it isn’t a source of the raging winds. Conflict will arise, but they are not grounds for immediate divorce.
Communicate openly. This is essential to an enduring relationship of any type. You must be able to speak about everything and anything to each other without fear of making the other angry or upset. Without communication a relationship cannot last. Without communication conflicts and arguments will only fester and rot the relationship. Open communication is an act of trust between two people. In marriage, there cannot be secrets.
Be best friends first. This is the most important advice I have heard from 90 year olds. Without friendship people cannot love each other. Love is a mushy word that most often means sexual attraction. Remember, sexual attraction, like all emotions, will bounce from highs to lows. A good marriage requires the people involved to have similar interests and views. People with differing ideas may attract out of the novelty, but novelty is quickly silenced by day to daily routine. It takes daily work to be in a healthy relationship; without a firm friendship based on mutual trust and understanding, that work becomes herculean. Both people need to accept the roses and garbage within themselves and their partner for the relationship to endure.
Think not of yourself. Finally, in an ideal relationship neither person thinks about their own wants and needs. They think only of their partners. This mutual exchange draws people close together. Now, this isn’t co-dependence. Both people in such a relationship are independent people. They don’t need their partner to be “complete.” This is a mutual giving of what makes you an individual to your partner in order to help them. Likewise it is an openness to receive the same from that person.
I try to listen to my elders. They may come from a “simpler” time ( was there ever such a thing?), but they know what it takes to create a lasting lifelong relationship. It takes friendship, work, sacrifice, diligence, compassion, acceptance, and just simply being a good person each day. No relationship is perfect, but their advice comes from experience. When I see an older couple still deeply in love despite their hardships and a long life together, I am deeply touched by its beauty. Love isn’t the sex or the young couples plasters all over the magazines and televisions. Relationships are not dramatic or stimulating. True love is found in the wrinkled hands held by the old men and women in the park, in the nursing homes, and in the funeral homes after their long lives together.