Grown-up relationships are complicated. Christina Roberts shares the 14 tips she has learned on how to make love last, from controlling your inner child to letting people change
Have you noticed how many of us so-called adults have no real knowledge of how to be in a grown-up relationship? I have.
First of all, there is myself. My husband of 24 years and I were so backward we actually had to take a marriage course a little while ago.
Second, in my little control group of friends and relations, no one seems to have a clue how to make commitment work for them any more. It is like you get to a certain point in life and the rules run out.
So, since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, I’m taking the chance to offer up some of what I have learned as a student of this subject. I have also taken input from some of my wisest associates. Here is the list we have come up with:
1. People change. Let them. If we want long-term relationships to last, we need to be prepared to re-marry each other (figuratively speaking) every decade or so.
2. Relationships are not about saving, rescuing, fixing (listen up, Chris Martin). As long as there is the teeniest part of you that is waiting for your partner to make everything OK or even a little bit better, you are missing the point.
Your spouse was not put on earth to act as your, handyman, cook, banker, nurse, dad, mum or travel agent. They have their own life to lead. You are a grown-up. You must do those things for yourself. (I’m still working on this one.)
3. Problems with sex or money are never about sex or money. They are about intimacy. Intimacy is the Holy Grail of adult relationships.
4. Intimacy is not sex. It is a magical state where you are each aware of yourself as a separate adult, but are prepared to defend and protect the most vulnerable parts of your significant other.
There are levels of intimacy, which makes it a very fulfilling (and possibly lifelong) quest.
5. Even if you think you know your partner, you don’t. Long-term relationships can make us reductive: he’s the messy one who likes football, you are the controlling one who likes wine.
If you want to put the mystery back into your relationship, up the quality of your listening. Real listening means clearing the decks, getting all your stuff out of the way so you can fully take in another person: no judging, no fixing, no interrupting.
When my husband and I learned how to do this it blew our minds. The single best relationship tool ever.
6. Meet each other’s emotional needs. When people talk about emotional needs, they are talking about being heard, being respected and being valued.
The paradox is that these needs will only be met by your partner if you meet them in yourself first.
7. Partnership as therapy: nothing is going to get you to your wounded bits faster than setting up house with another person.
The flip side of this is that the best way to understand yourself is by observing what triggers you. Explore your fear of being told what to do, explore your need to be right, explore your need for clutter free surfaces…
The deepest, most effective personal work is done through our relationships.
8. Don’t let your inner child run your relationship. No matter how bad things get, remember that the part of you that wants to lash out and get good and vindictive or melodramatic or even physical is actually your seven-year-old self.
Lasting relationships are for adults. Walk away. Resume the conversation when you can talk like a grown up (usually a minimum of 20 minutes). I forgot this one last week.
9. The oxygen mask rule: If you live with children, get one weekend alone every five weeks.
Always have something to eat when you come home from work. If one of you is a stay-at-home parent, you both need to acknowledge that this is a caregiving role that needs extra support. You both need to learn about boundaries and self-care.
10. Be different. It is even OK to have different sexual needs. When you got married, you agreed to love and honour one another, not become one another.
11. Lighten up. Neuroscientists have discovered that touch and play are the ultimate feel good drugs. Indulge daily.
12. Express yourself. For ages I thought that the secret to a long marriage was to keep my thoughts to myself.
It’s the opposite. Tell it. Just remember, blaming is for babies. Grown-ups talk about what they think and feel.
13. Put in your love lenses. As Maya Angelou said, we never forget how a person makes us feel.
We all have access to the full spectrum of human qualities: good, bad and ugly. When we choose to see the best in our partner, our own faults disappear. Try it. It works.
14. Get better at it. We live in a day and age where there are an infinite number of tools, workshops, books, and scientific studies that can enrich our understanding of how relationships work (we are all remarkably similar).
I am constantly stunned by how ghettoised this information is. There is life-changing stuff out there. Go look for it.
Happy Valentine’s Day.