This week, Gal and I celebrated 36 years of being together. We have known each other for 37 years, been a couple for 36, lived together for 31 and been married for 29 years. Every year, we celebrate our friendship anniversary instead of our wedding anniversary, because our wedding experience was not a very happy experience and we would really like to celebrate a happy thing in our life rather than an event we never liked.
We think our friendship is worth celebrating and our official commitment or social obligation is not. When we became friends, it was a quantum moment in our lives. It changed our path in life in a good way. When we moved in together, it was another quantum moment. Our wedding was not, because in our connection with each other, in our feelings and in how we organized our life, everything remained the same.
When I tell my relationship coaching clients that we have been together for 36 years, they are very surprised. In this generation, most people go through two or three long-term relationships within 36 years. My parents have been together for over 55 years and Gal’s parents were together for over 45 years, until his mom passed away. It probably has something to do with the time we grew up in.
The previous generation was more about “stay and fight to make things better” and the new generation is more about “life is short, so if it’s hard, we jump ship”. I would not want to judge which one is better, but when kids are involved, there is no doubt that the old-fashioned attitude was better in most cases (although not in all cases). Kids who grow up with divorced parents are more likely to divorce as well.
I have a relationship philosophy that worked very well for me over the years. I am happy that my philosophy, together with Gal’s, brought us together to this anniversary. We still fight. We still disagree on things. We are very different in many ways, but we are still friends who love each other and care about each other greatly.
In my sessions, I share with my clients my formula for happy relationships. After each session, I send them a summary of the topics we covered, so they can reflect and work on their relationship. I have decided to include them here with the hope that many more people will use them to reach happy, supportive and loving relationships.
How to have a great relationship
- Happy couples understand that in every relationship, there are two individuals. Remember that you are not the same person and you will never be. Let go of the “we are one” illusion. It only highlights how different you are and brings disappointment. Have your own hobbies and friends. You do not have to share everything and do everything together. I love to do artwork and Gal loves to play African drums, so we do these things separately. Expecting your partner to enjoy everything you do bring only pain and misery. Give each other space to nurture your individuality.
- Happy couples know each other. It sounds trivial, but it is not. We all change over the years and it is good to get to know your “new” partner every year. It is good to take the time to share thoughts, beliefs and desires and it is OK to change them from time to time. We evolve as human beings and living together does not mean we know each other. Use your anniversary as an opportunity to take stock of your relationship and share your changes.
- Happy couples know that love can only be experienced if we know how to love ourselves. Love is not just a feeling. It is an act of kindness. Kindness is a ripple, which always starts from the center. Our partner is a reflection of who we are. They are our mirror. When we love ourselves, we can truly love them (and others around us).
- Happy couples know that it is impossible to love someone and want to change them at the same time. If there is anything you want to change in your partner, find your attachment and get rid of it. Everything you are unhappy with is in your mind, so you must change it in your mind. Being with someone and spending your energy in an attempt to make them someone they are not is not love. It is abuse, and the cure for it is acceptance!
- Happy couples do not judge each other. They respect each other and are not busy with boosting their own ego with judgment. They do not expect their partner to live by their own standards. They understand that the other person is separate to them and has the right to think, do and be whatever they want to be without judgment.
- Happy couples avoid criticizing each other. Do not criticize your partner. It is a tool to try to change them and it only highlights what is not working in your relationship. If you use this strategy too many times, it will make a gap between you and increase it until you cannot find a good answer to “Why are you still together?”
- Happy couples take responsibility for their feelings. Our partners do not make us happy or miserable. They project our own happiness and misery back to us. Never blame your partner for your feelings!
- Happy couples are each other’s greatest fans and they are not jealous of each other. Find out what your partner wants to do or be and encourage them to go for it. Be happy for their happiness, success, discoveries and stretches, because this will project immediately on your relationship.
- Happy couples understand that neglect destroys relationships. Never give your partner the feeling that work is more important than they are. Many couples I see share the pain of neglect. Neglect creates a feeling of loneliness and immediately makes people think of themselves outside the relationship. Feeling so lonely makes the relationship useless and it is very hard to heal from this feeling.
- Happy couples work on their relationship continually. It gets boring really fast to be with the same person for years (trust me, I know!). So you must reinvent yourself again and again and fall in love with each other every day. Have a weekly date night. Leave the house without your kids – rain or shine, tired or not. Busy? Then your date night is even more important! Make it mandatory once a week. Do not be tempted to watch TV at home together or have a romantic dinner at home. Go out! Get dressed, leave your regular surroundings and make an effort. If you have kids and you think babysitting is expensive, consider the cost of breaking up or getting professional help for your relationship!
- Happy couples know how to fight. If you want to be together for a long time, learn how to fight! Think of it as a moment of insanity. Your primitive brain takes over and in the primitive brain, every word is a snake or a lion. Notice that you are there and move away from what seems so threatening. Everything you say will leave a scar, so take time out. Disconnect! Go away! Leave the room! Go back to the discussion later!
- When facing problems, happy couples do not use friends, other family members or bosses as mediators. The only third person that is acceptable as a mediator is someone who is professional and not emotionally invested: life coach, counselor or psychologist.
- Happy couples do not lie to each other. Every relationship is built on trust and once it is broken, it is very hard to heal. Happy couples are honest with money management, with their sexual relationship and with feelings. Liars must have good memory and when you start with one lie, you get into a spiral of more lies. It is best never to start. Do not break the trust. Broken trust is like broken bone – it never fully mends.
- Happy couples are kind to each other. They understand that a relationship is an exchange of energies. The more you give, the more you receive. They focus on giving, not on taking. Taking comes from lack, while giving comes from abundance. When they do something or say something, they ask themselves, “Am I taking or giving?” They know that taking creates a cycle of taking that drains everyone of love and energy.
- Happy couples compliment each other. They express love towards each other with words and understand that words are another from of energy. They say good words. They use words of appreciation, gratitude, encouragement, caring, support and comfort. They use their words wisely. They say “please” and “thank you”. They say “I love you” every day. They follow the rule: If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all!
- Happy couples show their love for each other with touch. They kiss, hold hands, stroke each other with care, hug and make love. They understand that the physical connection is important in their relationship. They remember it as the years go by, invest in their sexual relationship and make it enjoyable, interesting, fun and fulfilling for both. One of my client said to me that she thought she lost the “butterflies” in her sexual relationship because this is what usually happens to people when they are together for one year. I told her that I still have the butterflies and I think she can too.
- Happy couples forgive each other. Since we are talking about two different people, it is only natural for us to think, believe, see, love, fear and be able to do different things. We have difficulties and it is not possible to be happy, encouraging, accepting and caring all the time. When we are stressed, we make mistakes and say and do things we should not. It is important to “carve the good things we do for each other in stone”, but “write the bad things in the sand” and forgive them. We all do the best we can with what we have and it is important to forgive each other every day, for everything, because anger and contempt ruin relationships over time.
- Happy couples do not expect each other to fulfill all needs. Your spouse is not a substitute to a friend, a psychologist, your mother, your father or your lost sister. It is unrealistic to think that one person can do and be everything you need. I have heard many people say that their partner should be the parent they never had, that their partner needs to listen to all their problems or that their partner needs to find solutions for their problems. No, they do not! A partner that fulfills all my needs is an illusion. We need to fulfill our own needs. Our partner can help, but it is still our responsibility to be happy.
- Happy couples are committed to each other. They do not leave the relationship when there are problems. Difficulties are tests of strength and character. They can make us better or bitter. Commitment guarantees making things better. Running away is not an option in such cases. Someone once said to me that staying at all costs is not good and I agree. There are cases, like when abuse is involved, when it is better to leave. However, when you have a problem and you do not sort it out, you usually bring that problem into your next relationship, so working things out is a better option.
- Happy couples do not focus on the past. They care more about their future together. When we recall a memory from the past, we tend to magnify it. If it is a bad incident, we make it worse and if it is a good event, we make it even better. We continually justify the feelings we have. In conflicts, it is best to leave the past where it needs to be – behind us – and only talk about the future – the good, optimistic, happy, loving future.
- Happy couples love unconditionally. Every time we put conditions on our love, it becomes harder to love us. The other person feels that their love cannot be real and true, but needs to fit into someone else’s standards, and this puts pressure on the relationship. It is a condition to say, “I love you when you do that”. It is different from saying, “I love it when you that” or “I’m happy when you do that”. We love our partner even when they cannot do the things we expect of them. We can be upset with each other, angry and even furious, but still love each other.
Some work needs to be done to reach this state. Gal and I have been doing it for 36 years and we still have a long way to go, because this is long life journey and it never ends. I wish for us another 36 years of evolution as human beings and together as a couple.
I hope this list helps you.