Bridget Jones refers to those in relationships as ‘Smug Marrieds’ but, having spoken with a bunch of friends – men and women – while researching my new book, I can assure you that long-married couples are anything but smug.
There is no room for complacency when it comes to lengthy marriages and partnerships. These relationships work because those involved work at it. They prioritise and place great emphasis on their ‘couple’.
So how do you sit down to dinner opposite someone you may well have been with for well over two decades and know that you still love them and look forward to growing old with them?
In no particular order, here are some non-negotiables for a long and happy relationship:
To actually like and be friends with your partner is the very foundation. It sounds obvious, but it’s often where marriages start to fall apart; when we not only stop loving someone but actually start to dislike them. Best Friends Forever.
Allow the other to do the things they love to do. That may well mean being happy while one watches sport all weekend
Sense of humour
Lots of laughing together. Seeing the funny side to life, not taking oneself too seriously, being able to laugh at ourselves and be teased. These are vital.
It’s the key to a successful relationship. Remember that your spouse is not a mind-reader, even though you might have been married for twenty-five years.
Ask for what you want, talk about what’s bothering you and never go to sleep on an argument or disagreement.
We do become more set in our ways as we get older, but give up on trying to change your partner. Love them as they are, accept things, discuss what you believe matters to you and decide what’s really important.
Book time in the diary to do things together, even if it’s just walking the dog, having a bike ride, or going to the cinema at least once a month.
It’s vital and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Cook a lovely meal at home, tell the kids this is mum and dad time and sit and talk (no TV allowed).
Make time for sex
Yes, it’s important and yes, it gets better as we get older. Be prepared to be spontaneous in your sex life. Living with small children, teenagers and boomerang kids is not conducive to easy bedtime sex, so grab it when you can.
Book a night away a couple of times a year or arrange sleepovers for your children so you can have the house to yourselves for the night. It’s so easy to slip into the habit of not having sex and it’s not difficult to come up with all sorts of excuses.
Be playful, flirt, keep that fire burning – remember back to the time you first met.
Make space for each other
Having your own interests and friends makes for a strong relationship. Allow the other to do the things they love to do.
That may well mean being happy while one watches sport all weekend so do your own thing, get on with your own stuff. Show interest in what your spouse loves to do without necessarily getting involved.
Take one couple I know: he’s a passionate cyclist and she’s a whatever-the-weather golfer. They show interest in each other’s sport yet feel no need to take it up. They appreciate their differences.
A claustrophobic relationship is asking for trouble. Trust and understanding make for a healthy relationship.
Childproof your relationship
We love our children very much, this goes without saying; yet one day they leave the nest and you’re left with one another.
Successful, respectful marriages seem to be those where the couple comes first. This is not about neglecting the children – it is more about valuing and treasuring the relationship that created the children.
Kiss your spouse first, hug them and cuddle them, let the children see the importance of the relationship. Never be afraid of closing the bedroom door.
When you come in from work and your spouse and children are already at home, speak with your spouse first – the children’s demands and clamouring (especially if they are little) can surely wait five minutes.