Humans like to talk about love. Musicians make hit singles that blast from our radios about it, writers craft intricate stories about it that play out on screen or in the pages of novels, artists recreate the feeling on canvas using paints or pencils. We want to know what love is… and we want you to show us. Okay, bad Foreigner references aside, humans are emotionally intelligent creatures who are curious to find, and hold onto, this feeling of love, one that evokes admiration, safety, pleasure, respect.
But relationships ain’t easy. Love hurts, love scars!
The Loop asked Canadians in long-term, committed relationships to shed light on the fundamentals. The results are surprising, but also not. Many of the respondents had similar stories to share, which got us thinking: maybe there actually are some secrets to a partnership that stands the test of time.
Here are seven things that Canadians have said make for a happy and satisfying relationship.
Choose to laugh together
Humour was one of the most common things noted by our couples. And while it sounds like a lame line on a dating profile — someone who can make me laugh — the reality is, when your car breaks down on the side of the road in the pouring rain and your kid/pet decides to turn the backseat into a bathroom while waiting for CAA, you need someone who can turn your tears of frustration into something lighter.
“Complacency is the killer. Also — keep it silly!”
– Pam C., 15-years together
“My partner and I are not just ‘husband and wife,’ we’re best friends, truly. We laugh together like we would with any of our oldest pals. Don’t ever forget the humour, even in the darkest of days.”
– Chris T., married 22 years
Communicate, communicate, communicate
When you’re not seeing eye to eye, it’s easy to get lost in the moment of anger or disappointment or frustration. Maybe your partner just fessed up to a cigarette when they’ve been trying to quit — or worse, you discovered a hidden pack in their jacket pocket. Instead of biting your tongue and dishing out a heavy-handed serving of the silent treatment, talk. Communication, while uncomfortable or tricky to navigate at first, is critical in getting through certain situations. You’ll grow stronger once you find yourself on the other side of the dispute.
“Life, love and happiness are not built in the big moments, but in the everyday ones. If you can’t be happy with the little things, all the flowers and vacations won’t mean anything — they are just the cherry on top. But you need the rest of the cake to build your life together. Don’t be afraid of arguments, they’re a sign of a healthy couple (to an extent, obviously). Getting into a good argument means you still love each other enough to try and work through the things in life that can lead to the erosion of a marriage. Bottom line is, if it bothers you, makes you sad or mad, say it. Sweep nothing under the rug.”
– Kylie C., 13-year relationship
Have the same goals and work toward them together
Maybe you want to own a bed and breakfast on the beach in Nicaragua one day, but your partner never plans to get out of Dodge. Problems can arise when your life goals, which often change as you age and grow, aren’t in line. Check in often to ensure you’re working towards the same thing.
“You have to see yourselves as a team, not as adversaries. Even when you’re fighting. It’s not about winning, or one person getting the upper hand. It’s about finding solutions that work for both of you.”
– Kat T., 20-year relationship
“It’s about common goals. How we get there can vary for each of us, as long as we keep our eye on the prize. Acknowledge there’s work involved for sure – to keep each other engaged and on our toes.”
– Pam C., married nine years
Make time to explore and indulge together
It doesn’t have to be an extravagant getaway, but putting an emphasis on travelling or trying something new can go a long way. According to the Canadian couples we spoke with, travel builds lasting memories and strengthens the bond. That’s worth a cheers or two.
“Travelling at least once a year if not more and having dinners together on the regular are the main things that keep us together. Also, a little wine can’t hurt either.”
– Jacky M., nine-year relationship
“What works for us is travelling together and making memories. Trying and seeing new things together and experiencing them together brings us closer and closer. Whether it’s just a short road trip or a flight to another country, being able to share those experiences keeps us falling in love over and over again.”
– Tammy C., 8-year relationship
And appreciate that time spent together
Life gets busy. But pushing your partner further and further down your to-do list will only cause resentment and create distance. Even if a trip to Cuba isn’t in the cards, carve out time just for the two of you, and acknowledge and appreciate it for what it is.
“Do things for your partner that are meaningful to them (and might not necessarily be to you). Also, we try to make the most of the time we have together. We have five kids, and both work, plus all the regular household responsibilities… that’s not a lot left over, but it’s quality time.”
– Julia W., married 12 years
But acknowledge you’re still individual people
While you work together as one team, there are still two individual people that make up every relationship. Continue to improve yourself, whether that means signing up for a photography course or joining a running club, and acknowledge that having different interests will keep things interesting.
“Don’t compare your relationship. What makes one couple happy and healthy may not fit someone else. Just as we all are individuals in life, we’re also individual in marriage. What works for my partner and me may not work for another couple. He’s my other half for a reason–he does not fit into my puzzle, he’s a part of it. And trying to jam someone else’s path of success into your relationship puzzle is never the answer. We work as a team for a reason, so we trust ourselves, our love and our communication. As long as we don’t give up on these things we have always come out the other side as a happy couple. Perfection is not the goal, love is. Yup- that’s it, it’s that cheesy!”
– Kylie C., 13-year relationship
“Our relationship is based on understanding. She doesn’t understand me and I certainly don’t understand her.”
– David B., married 35 years
“As human beings we are constantly changing; I’m not who I was at 18 when my partner and I started dating. When you love someone, you accept them for who they are in that time. And don’t put expectations on each other. When your partner doesn’t meet them you’re left disappointed.”
– Koreen M., 13-year relationship
Have genuine respect and admiration for this other human
Couples who cut each other down in front of their friends and generally have nothing nice to say about one another, ever, likely won’t last. A long and fulfilling relationship means actually liking, respecting and admiring the person you’re choosing to share your life with.
“Don’t sweat little stuff. It’s okay to fight, sometimes. Hold hands. Listen.”
– Elle G., married 41 years
“We have supported each other’s dreams along the way and really encourage each other. For me it was going freelance and then later writing a book. For my husband it’s the T-shirt company that he started. We’re each other’s biggest fans! As two creative people, we try to have regular ‘creative meetings’ outside of the house to discuss ideas about our businesses. I have to admit we got this idea from another couple we know! We also have a mutual hobby: mountain biking. While we do ride separately sometimes (i.e. we join up with different group rides), we do love to throw the bikes on the car and set off on an adventure together. We share and understand the exhilaration of doing something we love.”
– Tara N., 18 years together
“You’re a team and it all comes down to love and respect. In your actions, how you communicate and how you inevitably will negotiate. You also need to recognize how your significant other likes to be shown respect and love–it might be different than what you think.”
– Amber R., 10-year relationship
Don’t neglect that little emotion called empathy
Putting yourself in your partner’s shoes goes a long way towards making a relationship last. Instead of considering only your own feelings, take a moment to imagine how your other half would feel in a certain situation.
“Our relationship is far from perfect, but we’ve also had a long time to see what works and what doesn’t. IMHO, words like “respect” and “communication” don’t really describe what has to happen between two people. They’re both important, but they mostly describe things that people do, and not how they do them. In other words, I can say ‘It’s really important to respect the other person,’ but if the other person doesn’t feel respected, you’ve failed. Likewise, you can say ‘It’s really important to communicate,’ but if the other person doesn’t understand what you’re saying, or doesn’t feel as though the two of you are communicating, then again, you’ve failed. My belief is that what matters most is empathy. You need the ability to *be* the other person, or as close to it as you can get. Because the passage of time in a relationship is like a callus that can build up between two people. It makes you tough, but it also desensitizes you. The only way to break through that callus is to keep asking yourself, ‘How would that make me feel if I were her? How would I like it if he did that?’ Etc.
“True communication happens when you speak to be understood, not when you speak to say what’s on your mind. And true respect only happens when you see your behaviour from another person’s point of view. Only empathy gives us the tools to do this. But it’s exhausting, which is why so many people don’t do it, or at least, don’t do it very often. When we’re tired and stressed, empathy is often the first thing to be tossed aside… In our relationship, for me at least, it’s empathy that has made me feel loved, made me feel respected, and made me feel like I’ve been understood. I can’t speak for [my partner], but my gut — hell, my experience — tells me she feels the same way.”
Simon C., 18 years together