How to stay loved-up for the long haul – including advice from Harry Styles himself
How did your love life fare over the holidays? Were you snuggled up in front of some festive telly, or seething over the sprouts because your partner bought you an unacceptable/thoughtless/altogether rubbish gift?
January is Divorce Month, thus named because – as if it wasn’t already the most misery-inducing month – it’s also the one when solicitors see the biggest surge in divorce consultation requests of the whole year. In fact, they double.
Don’t want to be part of that statistic? Here’s how to stay in, or return to, the honeymoon period…
1. Ask the same questions you did on your first few dates
“Work on your ‘love maps’,” says Michaela Thomas, clinical psychologist and author of The Lasting Connection: Developing Love and Compassion for Yourself and Your Partner.
“Keep asking each other questions such as, 'what are you most worried about right now', and 'what do you dream of doing in five years?'”
“You think you know everything about your partner because you asked all the questions years ago, but people grow. The answers may be different now.”
2. Ditch the self-criticism
What Harry Styles said: treating people – your lover, in this case – with kindness is the path to a long-lasting relationship that still feels warm and supportive years down the line. But it starts with yourself.
“Soften that inner critical voice and it will be easier to also direct that compassion outwards. Partners with high levels of self-criticism often get into their threat zones. When you attack yourself, it can lead to attacking the other partner too,” says Michaela.
“The compassionate relationship you have with yourself has a positive ripple into making your relationship more compassionate, too. If you hate your body and criticise it when being intimate, it gets you out of lust and into self-hatred, which is the ultimate mood killer for sex. Embrace your flaws, and remind yourself that your partner probably fancies your body more than you do.”
3. Shake things up
“Long-term relationships lack the initial exhilarating infatuation hormones, like dopamine – so it’s less ‘drunk in love’ and more ‘safe and secure’. The brain thrives off this familiarity pattern, but things can feel repetitive and samey. To bring magic to the mundane, introduce novelty,” suggests Michaela.
“Travel to a randomly picked city and explore it, try introducing a new dish on the sex buffet, try meeting new friends together. It can liven you both up, breaking you out of stagnation.”
4 Don’t chase the impossible dream
“The paradoxical thing about happiness is that, the more we chase after it, the less happy we are. The pursuit of constant happiness in a romantic relationship makes you unhappy,” explains Michaela.
“The sooner you realise all relationships go through ups and downs, and surrender into that, the more fulfilled you’ll be. Couples who have weathered a storm together can feel happier together once the storm has settled, if they work as a team to survive the challenge.”
5. Look at your partner like a stranger
“You’ll be able to see things you’re not paying attention to – it’s like meeting your partner for the first time again,” says Callisto Adams, founder of hetexted.com, a platform to help those struggling with relationships. A good way to do this is by giving each other space.
“After a while, ‘invading’ each other’s spaces becomes so normal. Remind yourselves you’re independent individuals before you’re a pair. Having that space will allow you to see your partner from a different perspective, to see what they’re capable of, and can even give you a point of view from a stranger’s eye.”
Indeed, we’re told not to judge others, but do we include our nearest and dearest in that?
“Have a moment once a day where you stop doing what you’re doing, sit down, and watch them as they are. Look at them without forming an opinion,” says Callisto. “Often we forget to look, and we just pass by the traits we once admired so much.”
6. Work out what you need when you're upset
“Our relationships over time inevitably bring up unresolved childhood issues. You could have had the best childhood in the world, but you can still have a false belief in relation to love: I’m unworthy, I’m not enough, I’m unloveable, I’m unwanted,” explains Maxine Clancy.
“Our partner will disappoint us in similar ways to how we felt in childhood. If you had a parent who was busy or distracted, you felt unacknowledged, so the pattern may repeat in your relationship. Unconsciously you might act out or pick fights to get their attention.
“We all need to feel valued and respected by our partners. Underneath all feelings is a positive impulse, which will help you identify what you need – i.e. I am angry, and underneath, I need my partner to listen. Try to identify what you need when you’re upset.”
7. Choose love
What Wham! said (remember those T-shirts, 80s kids?): To sustain a long-term relationship, you have to actively choose love daily.
“When we first meet someone, it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of them and who we think they are. We focus on the person’s good aspects and we’re grateful to have them in our lives,” says Maxine Clancy. ”So instead of focusing on the bad, see where you can praise and acknowledge your partner.
“Areas to consider are the practical things that they do for you, their inner qualities, appreciation of the challenges they have and how they address them, and appreciating their energy and physical attributes (especially if that’s their love language).”
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