This coming January, my boyfriend and I will celebrate our 10 year anniversary, which seriously blows my mind. I can’t believe it’s been that long. He’s my high school sweetheart — we got together when we were 17 years old and have been together ever since. Although we by no means consider ourselves relationship experts, we’ve learned so much over the years about what it takes to really make a relationship not just work, but thrive. Here, I’m sharing five of the top lessons.
1. Never Go to Bed Angry
I know this tip is totally cliche, but I swear it’s one of the things that’s made our relationship so strong over the years. I’ll admit that in the early years of our relationship, whenever we got into a fight my first instinct was to just walk away — literally and figuratively. I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted space, but he’s taught me that not talking about the problem and giving each other space doesn’t serve our relationship.
It’s so much healthier to talk about how we’re feeling, address the problem, apologize if needed, and come up with a solution then and there instead of avoiding it and letting it linger and build up.
The goal isn’t to never fight, because — let’s face it — that’s impossible. Couples fight. It’s inevitable. The goal is to have a fast comeback rate, meaning you have the fight, talk it out, and move on quickly rather then letting fights go on for days, weeks, or even months.
Also, whenever you find yourself getting angry or frustrated over little things, ask yourself: Is this going to matter a year from now? I learned this from the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s been a real game changer because it makes you realize that 99% of the things you’re fighting about (i.e. one of you not cleaning up your mess) are so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
2. Focus On What You Love About Each Other
As many couples do after the honeymoon phase of the relationship, we hit a rough patch. We became so fixated on trying to change each other. I wanted him to be a certain way. He wanted me to be a certain way. This was so toxic for our relationship. The fact that your partner isn’t what you want them to be is not what causes pain. Not accepting and loving them for who they truly are is what causes pain in the relationship. We learned this the hard way.
You see, you can’t make other people change — but when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
When I made the conscious decision to focus on and feel gratitude for all the things that I loved about him instead of fixating on his “flaws,” everything changed. I saw him in an entirely new light, and that changed the dynamic of our relationship seemingly overnight.
I focused less on what he needed to be to be the perfect boyfriend I wanted him to be and focused on how I could be the best girlfriend I could possibly be. And the more I was showing up as the best girlfriend, the more he showed up as the best boyfriend he could be.
The moral of the story: Focus on what you love about each other, and everything else will fall away.
3. Compromise From a Place of Love
They say the secret to a happy relationship is compromise, and I 100% agree. However, only if the compromise is coming from a place of love. In Stranger Things 2, Chief Jim Hopper explains the meaning of the word “compromise” to Eleven as being “halfway happy.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be just halfway happy in my relationship. That’s not fun. That doesn’t feel good.
Compromising from a place of love, however, feels totally different. It doesn’t feel like you’re depriving yourself of something you want so the other person can have what they want. You actually feel total bliss by simply knowing that the other person is happy. And this applies to big and small things (like deciding what you’re going to eat for dinner).
Compromising should feel really good for both partners, not just halfway happy — and it comes down to what you’re focusing on. If you focus on not having what you want, you’ll feel deprived. But if you focus instead on the joy the other person is experiencing and get high off of that, then it feels really good. It feels like you gifted them that joy — and who doesn’t love that?
4. Learn Each Other’s Love Languages
Full disclosure: Neither myself or my boyfriend have actually read the book The 5 Love Languages, but you can basically get the gist by reading the back cover and taking this little quiz — which is what we did years back. It was a big game changer.
Basically, we all speak different love languages. Some people feel loved when they receive gifts, while others feel loved by just by spending quality time together. So it’s important to understand how you and your partner feel the most loved.
My boyfriend’s love language, for example, is physical touch, so I always make an effort to play with his hair, hold his hand, or rub his back — it’s those little things that make him feel connected. On the other hand, I like actually hearing words of affirmation, so he expresses his love verbally because he knows that’s how I receive love.
5. Share Your Authentic Self
One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced is just being able to be myself with my boyfriend. It may sound simple, but it’s truly life-changing. My boyfriend’s unconditional love has held this space for me to just become more of who I really am over the years.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and share your truth. When you share your heart and your most authentic self with another person, you give them the opportunity to fall in love with you — the real you.
Getting to know each other on this deeper level makes you fall deeper in love and strengthens you as individuals and as a couple. I speak for the both of us when I say that we have made each other better human beings by just creating a safe space for us to be our true selves.