There are not many aspects of life more challenging, and more rewarding, than maintaining a successful long-term relationship. Through time, struggle, and compassion, you and your partner can forge a deep and lasting union—a combining of two lives into one. That’s why I often describe a relationship as “a journey from me to us.” But forming a consistently happy relationship requires ongoing attention and effort, especially if it is going to last for a lifetime. Each partner must learn to give and take, so that you can grow and change together. All of us can all use as much help and guidance as we can find along the way.
Here are 5 tips that you may find helpful as you progress in your own journey from me to us:
1. Talk about money, and do it early.
One of the worst mistakes that a couple can make is to avoid discussing money. This includes how you deal with your shared expenses (whether you’re living together or not) and your general financial philosophy (are you a saver or a spender?). And if you aren’t clear about money early in your relationship, a conflict is sure to bite you later. After two years of marriage one couple I knew bought a home. It was then, for the first time, that the wife discovered her husband’s credit history was terrible, and even though she had an excellent job they could not qualify for the loan. To avoid an unpleasant surprise later, talk about money early.
2. Be clear about your core values.
Each of us has core values – issues which are important and which we will not compromise. For example, perhaps you would not live with a partner who either smokes or abuses alcohol. If you don’t agree on a fundamental issue, such as whether or not to have children, it’s important to know this sooner rather than later. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but you certainly need to know as soon as possible the important issues on which you have a serious difference of opinion or values. And you then need to develop a plan to deal with those differences. But don’t expect your partner to change their position on a core value.
3. “Yes” is the best word.
Over the course of your relationship, you will receive thousands of requests from your partner for everything from attending a friend’s wedding to picking up a few groceries on your way home. I’ve found that in any relationship, but especially in a long-term relationship, it’s helpful to say “yes” whenever you can. Your partner wants to feel valued, just as you do. When you say “yes” quickly, and often, your partner will be happier with your relationship and will most likely respond by saying “yes” to you more frequently.
4. Learn how to say “no.”
In order to say “yes” with a full heart, you also have to be comfortable in saying “no” when the need arises. “I would love to help you out, but I can’t do that today” is a lot better than, “You know I’m super busy and you should have known better than to even ask.” It’s also better to say “no” than to say “yes” and fail to perform.
“Yes” is best, but “no,” when necessary, is equally important.
5. It’s a Movie, Not a Snapshot.
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture during a moment of emotional strain and conflict. But this is exactly the time during which you need to remember that a relationship is more like a movie than a snapshot. A relationship is a series of events and memories, like a movie, not just one instant in time like a snapshot. And just as in a movie, a high point will often follow the low. It’s important to keep this perspective in mind during a time of stress, and remind yourself that this is just one of many moments that make up your relationship and there are new and positive experiences just up ahead.