As some of you may already know, my boyfriend* and I have been together for almost 12 years now. We’re certainly not perfect, and we never will be, but I wanted to share some insights into what’s kept us happy this long (and hopefully for many decades to come!!).
*update – we’re now engaged!!! Plenty more posts on that soon….
Of course being fundamentally compatible is vital (by which I don’t mean liking the same sports, I mean having the same life goals, family priorities, money values etc) but I think that some really small everyday changes can make or break a relationship. Maybe you’re happy right now and these things are coming easily, but if you find yourself slipping into complacency, boredom, resentment, and unhappiness, these are a few things that could revive you. Or… get them right from the start and avoid those avoidable bad patches too (Disclaimer – some are unavoidable but at least you’ll be stronger to face them!).
Say Thank You
You might already think you’re doing this, but now take the time to really observe your day. Do you start to overlook things just because they’re small, invisible or happen every day? Do you not Thank when you feel it’s “something they should do anyway”? Does it feel like a loss of power/entitlement for you to be grateful to someone? I guarantee you that we are all missing chances to say Thank You to someone.
This is such a tiny, simple, and free thing to do but in my experience it makes a huge difference. It kills resentment, breeds more good deeds, increases feelings of love, and makes both of you happier. It’s a good way to incorporate mindfulness and daily gratitude without even realising. Just look for the kind things they are doing, whether or not it’s a sacrifice for them, and thank them.
Of course we don’t have any big secrets or massive lies, that goes without saying, but we also always say what’s on our mind. Nothing ever eats away at us or breeds resentment or anxiety, because we just say it. We make an effort to say things in a kind and constructive way rather than stabbing angrily or looking for a fight, but we always say them. This is not a free pass to say “I’m just being honest” and constantly nit pick (see point 1), but it is a chance for you to always air your feelings. Choose the timing, and be kind, but don’t let things well up inside you and grow out of proportion.
Big or small – “I’m scared we’ll never have children”, or “Please would you stop leaving your clothes on the floor”, everything is easier when you can tackle it together. Plus, if you’re already thanking for all the good things they do, then they’ll probably be more willing to take on feedback.
Now your mind will be spiralling at this point, but what I really mean here is everyday simple touch. Like holding hands when you walk down the street, snuggling up on the sofa watching TV, or even just touching their shoulder as you walk past at a party. Apparently it takes a ten second hug to release all the good chemicals of happiness and love etc, which is a lot longer than you realise!
I’m amazed how quickly these things can fall out of your habit – do your parents still cuddle up in front of the TV or do they have “their chair” that they don’t share? It’s easy to let these things slip away and then it starts to feel weird and vulnerable to reach out and make the effort again. So start today – try to increase whatever your current touch routine is, to add a bit more affection. It’ll definitely bring you closer, and make you personally happier too.
Finally, possibly the hardest one of all, don’t hold grudges or amass debts. I don’t know about you but I find forgiveness really hard. You don’t want people to “get off lightly” or “not learn their lesson” so you feel you have to punish them with guilt, angry words, and isolation. However, if the person is genuinely sorry then they’re already punishing themselves, and in theory won’t do the same thing again, so by holding a grudge you are only filling yourself with bad feelings and damaging the relationship.
I think this goes hand in hand with the honesty tip – if you have told them how you feel, and in future if you can bring up that you’re still unhappy or anxious, things are far less likely to repeat.
Of course the size of things to forgive varies massively. Originally I wrote this meaning all the small stuff, which can so often grow into daily resentment and negativity: forgetting to do your share of the chores, or getting home late, or accidentally saying something hurtful. All those things are tiny, and human, but can quickly become a debt counting war of who is worse than the other.
However, I also think forgiving big things is extremely powerful. I always think you have two options: leave them or forgive them. This kind of goes for everything in life actually: you can either accept things or move on. You can’t change things that are in the past, and you often can’t change things in the future either. So – is it bad enough that you’re going to leave them, or are you going to forgive them? Only you suffer if you hold a grudge.
Give it a try!
And that’s it! Just four simple things that I honestly believe underpin our happiness. Of course these may not be true for you, and as I mentioned at the start I don’t think they’ll cure fundamental incompatibility, but I’d highly recommend you give them a try. Any everyday change, like mindfulness or gratitude is very hard to make on the spot, so be patient with yourself, and your partner, as you work to improve.
I really hope this has helped someone! And maybe it’ll even help me to read back in a rough patch…
I’d love to hear in the comments what your happiness secrets are too!