A Young Couple’s Guide to Growing Old Together
I was always able to see [us] as this little old couple sitting on a park bench. When things are bugging me, I think… Will I still care about this when we’re sitting on that park bench? If not, then let it go. But if I will, then it is worth talking through.
- Kelly Allen
Married to husband Matt since 1991
We live in a disposable culture. Things generally aren’t built to last … sometimes we don’t even want things to last. Otherwise, we might miss out on the latest, greatest version. It is easy to transfer this same mentality to our intimate relationships. But enduring, loving relationships are one of the best investments we can make. Good relationships do not lose value—they only become richer the longer they last.
Still, it can be easy to lose sight of the true worth of your relationship. So how do you prepare your relationship to go the distance—and achieve the dream of one day being that little old couple, happily sharing a park bench?
How to Build a Love That Lasts
First, you must believe
Most of us have messed up more than a few relationships. We’ve all seen marriages fail—our parents’, our friends’, perhaps even our own. Despite all this, most of us continue to long for lasting love. But many of us have lost confidence—in ourselves, in our partner, or in both—to actually pull off a long-term relationship.
In today’s culture, marriage (or even a committed, long-term relationship) seems like a leap of faith. But faith in your ability to build a healthy, lasting relationship is a prerequisite to actually achieving this goal.
Keep in touch with reality
Confidence is not the same as ignorance. While embracing your potential to have a lasting relationship, don’t ignore warning signs or chronic problems. Be aware of the forces that can pull your relationship apart—addiction, excessive debt, inappropriate friendships with members of the opposite sex, etc. Then set healthy boundaries to keep these factors in check. The goal is not to restrict your freedom (or your partner’s) but to protect the good thing you have together.
Build your bond
Pet names. Kisses on the forehead. Snuggling. If you are starting to squirm, brace yourself: little expressions of affection are vital to building your bond as a couple. By showing your vulnerable side to your partner, you affirm your trust in him/her. We all need to be nurtured. So whether you are a steely rationalist or a hopeless romantic, find ways that build your emotional connection as a couple.
Pick your battles wisely
Some people are energized by a little drama; others are completely drained by it. If you want your relationship to last, however, you and your partner both need to be emotionally healthy. Don’t weaken your partner by constantly lashing out verbally. A constant barrage of petty fights can do as much damage as one significant one. Ask yourself if twenty years from now, this issue still matter. If it will, patiently work through the issue with your partner; if not, hold your peace.
Learn what love means to your partner
We are naturally inclined to give our partners the kind of love that comes naturally to us. Perhaps you are a hugger, so you smother your partner with constant physical affection. But your partner may feel more loved by another expression of love—say talking or spending time together. Make sure to also express love in the form that is most valued by your partner.
Make peace with the fact that you can’t control everything
By committing ourselves wholly and exclusively to another person, we admittedly put our hearts at tremendous risk. Even if we achieve the impossible—being a perfect partner to our mate—there is no guarantee that our partner will always reciprocate the favor. The thought that your partner could betray or leave you can prompt you to beat him or her to the punch by sabotaging the relationship. But there is no shame in having done a relationship well.
Draw strength from others
Seek out relationships with others who also value commitment—whether among your peers or among older couples. Your relationship is more likely to thrive when you surround yourself with people who exhibit relationship-strengthening traits like honesty, loyalty, respect and kindness. If your relationship is struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When we are sick, we visit a doctor. But for some reason, when facing hardship in one of the most important areas of our lives—love—we are often reluctant to ask for help.
Relationships don’t always end up where we expected. However, if you begin your relationship with a clear destination in mind, you are much more likely to reach your final goal: lasting love. Work together with your partner toward the vision of the little old couple on a park bench. Then buy yourself a bench, carve your names on it, and enjoy reflecting on lives well lived … together.