What if a couple isn’t surrounded by fantastic relationships?
What are they supposed to do? They could make new friends, but in the meantime, let’s look to the veterans for inspiration. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by exceptional marriages, both in my personal life and in my work with clients, and I’ve noticed some patterns. There are a few subtle but profound mindsets that separate newer relationships from those with many years in a happy, committed union. But reaching big milestones isn’t a requirement to adopting those mindsets right now. When a couple does that they’ll experience some of the same things…
- Fewer fights
- Calmer, shorter, and more productive arguments
- Less stress about the little things
I’m not talking about complacency. I don’t mean tolerating unacceptable behavior because that’s “just how they are.” I’m not giving awards for miserable marriages or long-term relationships in which both people have pretty much given up but keep celebrating anniversaries. I’m referring to the smart couples who have an easy time overlooking what doesn’t really matter that much.
Here’s what they do differently.
Hold grudge or let it go?
In the first few years of a relationship, everything seems so important. We work overtime monitoring each other and making sure our partner is contributing their fair share to the dishes, vacuuming, and electric bill. Each small infraction feels like it needs an entire conversation, so we continually bring to each other all the little irritating habits and behaviors we want to see corrected. It’s exhausting and causes argument after argument or, if not handled, resentful silence after resentful silence.
People in longtime relationships let a lot of that go. They fall into a happy rhythm of who does what and there’s less of a focus on fairness. They’ve learned that the tension and stress of keeping track isn’t worth the cost to the relationship. When we have the really big picture, like the expanse of a lifetime, a little complaint seems pretty insignificant.
Red flag relationship or the real deal?
My clients in newer relationships often have a high level of stress about disagreements. That declines dramatically the longer two people have been together, because they stop seeing things through the lens of Oh no, is this a sign?!! Relationship problems are just relationship problems, not a predictor of the relationship ending.
When we stop viewing every difference as a scary red flag, it brings more perspective to arguments. Even more, successfully navigating years of disagreements is confidence building. They trust one another. There’s no question that the relationship will survive, and calmness is easier when it doesn’t feel like the end of the world.
One thing contributing to that peace is the past becoming more and more distant. When we’re well into the long game with our partner, exes and the problems we had with them become irrelevant. The high alert system gets turned off when we stop comparing what’s happening now to a past dynamic with a different person. This relationship becomes the only relevant history.
Demand change or free to be me and you?
Relationship expectations are important but as people log more years together, they become more realistic about what’s reasonable. For the most part, they accept each other’s authentic selves with all their quirks and shortcomings. And when they finally realize the other person is never going to keep the inside of their car clean or show up on time or book the date night reservations, they let it go.
In the early years, we sometimes ask the other person to change because we’re influenced by the people around us. Our friends, families, and social media get in our ears about what a partner should or shouldn’t do. But decades in, we don’t care so much anymore. Our relationship has the mileage to prove it’s working pretty darn well for the two of us.
Anyone can make these mindset shifts.
It doesn’t take twenty years of experience to ease up a little bit, be intentional, and have some faith. We’ve got everything we need to shortcut our way to more harmony, less stress, and a lot more time supporting and loving each other.
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