At only 28 years old, my 10-year relationship with my romantic partner has lasted for more than a third of my lifetime.
We’ve made it through the awkward Glee-style high school years, including all the cringeworthy drama and antics we faced.
We’ve survived university, managing to make it past the craziness of constant partying, temptation, and attending lectures while still hungover.
We’ve lived together for over four years in three different homes across two different cities.
Most exciting of all? We just got engaged at an old Spanish bar in Barcelona that’s been around since the 1870s. It was beautiful!
It’s been one hell of a journey, but like any trip worth taking, it’s had some serious lows to accompany the amazing highs.
The experience has changed me for the better. I was a boy when we met, but she’s done the unthinkable by turning me into a man.
So, to celebrate 10 years together, I’d like to share with you what I believe to be the most valuable lessons this beautiful human being has taught me thus far.
1. Opposites Really Do Attract
“What’s your favourite film?”
“Oh my god, that’s my favorite too!”
Many people believe the secret to building a successful relationship starts with finding somebody who shares your every interest and passion.
But when you and another person agree on absolutely everything and love all the same stuff, isn’t that boring?
A big reason my relationship has lasted for a decade now is that my partner and I are two different people. She is the yin to my yang. We don’t like the same movies. We don’t like the same music. We don’t have the same opinions.
And you know what? I love this about us.
It keeps things fresh. Her influence forces me to open my eyes to new ideas and new perspectives. From simple things like trying exotic foods to adventurous things like embarking on all-new experiences, being with somebody who’s interested in different things than I am has made my life far more exciting.
Don’t hold out for someone who likes the exact same things you like. If you do, you’ll set yourself on a one-way train to Boredom Town. Find someone whom you share some common ground with, but make it a person who also isn’t afraid to stay true to who they are.
Rather than trying to avoid differences, embrace them.
2. Think Less About “Me” And More About “We”
“ I want to be there for you, but you never tell me what the problem is.” — My fiancé
I’ve been guilty on occasion of viewing my problems as mine alone, never considering the impact this might have on my better half. This has led to some serious fallouts over the years.
With hindsight, I can now say I get it. My problems affect her. My bad moods upset her. The more I kept “my” issues to myself, the more our relationship suffered. Not sharing my struggles with her made her feel useless and disconnected from me.
I understand now that a key part of maintaining a successful relationship is being able to work together as a team.
You need to think less about “me” and more about “we”. This comes down to the power of partnership, which, when used correctly, can help you achieve so much in your relationship and in your life more broadly.
Things become easier to deal with whenever two minds come together to act as one.
3. Choose Memories Over Materials
“I’d rather go on an amazing holiday together than give each other expensive presents” — My fiancé
Relationships built on materialistic foundations are only one wrong Christmas gift or Valentine’s Day present away from failing.
It’s an unhealthy situation no matter how you look at it.
Any relationship founded on the belief that tons of money must be spent at every birthday, Christmas, anniversary, and Valentine’s Day is horribly misaligned from recognizing the true value of a romantic partnership.
In the current climate, where our precious social status is everything, it’s clear to me we’ve lost sight of what really matters. Instead of trying to accumulate material things, we should be pursuing meaningful experiences with the people we love—experiences that will live on forever as memories.
By all means, buy and give gifts. But why not focus more on what the gift means to the two of you? That trumps the price tag every day of the week. Use the money you save to create memorable experiences together. Visit beautiful cities, explore different cultures or cycle to remote spots and enjoy a picnic together.
When you look back on your life together, you won’t remember the presents you gave each other that Christmas. But you’ll both remember all the amazing things you did together, no matter how small or insignificant they seemed at the time.
4. You Need To Constantly Evolve As A Person
“I always knew there was potential in you somewhere.” — My fiancé
The truth is, when I first met my other half, I was an idiot.
And when I say an idiot, I mean a total idiot.
I was immature and aimless. All I ever thought about was skateboarding and hiding in the park after dark to partake in some underage drinking. Even when I began university, I was so far from being grown up that it’s embarrassing.
It took a while—a long while—but I finally gained a sense of responsibility, commitment, and direction in my mid-20s. I’m genuinely surprised my fiancé stuck around long enough to see it happen.
The truth is, she made it happen.
She already had her head down, working hard. She left her teenage wildness and naivety where it should be—in the past. She knew where she wanted to be and how she was going to get there. She was going to be successful.
She knew how she wanted us to be too, and it would have been wonderful.
I was just too immature to see it.
Our relationship has only worked because I finally decided to be more like her. I was inspired by her. And her encouragement (or demands) have made me continuously evolve as a person, from a boy into a man. Now I’m on a mission to go from “man” to “better man.”
I have no doubt my fiancé has played a serious role in this.
Evolution works only if you accept that you need to change and if you willingly embrace that change. If you refuse to see your flaws, correcting them remains impossible.
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, huh?
5. Life Won’t Be Perfect (And It Shouldn’t Be)
If I were to summarize how much of my 10-year relationship has been “perfect,” the percentage would be low enough to lead some people to ask why I’m still in it.
Here’s the thing, though: perfection can’t exist as a constant state in a relationship. Perfection comes and goes in small doses.
My partner and I have undoubtedly shared many perfect moments together, leading to perfect memories that will last forever. And there will be many more such moments to come—times that we’ll look back on ever so fondly.
But the day-to-day “running” of a relationship can be, and often is, mundane. Truthfully, some of it is just plain boring. You both get home from work, put on the TV, make something for dinner, chat for a bit, and then call it a night, knowing you’ve got to do it all over again the next day.
What I’ve come to realize is that, ultimately, it’s all about perception. How you define “perfect” will influence how perfect your relationship actually is. No arguments and endless s*x—if you expect this kind of perfection, you’re destined for disappointment.
You need to come back down to humble ground. Never take the mundane for granted. The fact that you have someone to share your daily life with is amazing. Don’t ever forget that.
To see continued success in your relationship, you have to work to appreciate each of the small things that keep you and your partner together. You also have to really live the perfect moments whenever they arise.
6. Sometimes You Need To Say What You Really Think
“I’m so mad at you. I hate you.” — My fiancé
Fallouts are inevitable whenever you spend so much of your daily life with the same person. What I’ve learned over the years is that how you deal with such fallouts is the key to maintaining a happy relationship.
Relationships can become quite tense.
Sometimes, things simmer in the background, gnawing away at you. Many couples allow this to transform into constant bickering, which, of course, resolves nothing because the problem is never identified. Each person is always on the defensive, and the essence of the issue is never truly confronted.
Stupid things get said and both people get hurt.
For better or worse, my fiancé and I don’t bicker and we don’t really argue. We do, however, seem to have biannual meltdowns.
These meltdowns have actually done wonders for us, since they force our problems to come out into the open. Once the dust settles, we always lay out our causes for concern and we discuss how the guilty party can act more respectfully or responsibly going forward.
I’m not suggesting you should mimic us by arranging summer and winter showdowns with your lover. However, you do need to get things off your chest from time to time.
Indeed, relationships only work if they’re grounded in honesty. Arguments and fights will happen, but they’re pointless unless they lead to an identification of the problem and to one or more potential solutions.
7. Sometimes You Really Need To Shut Up
“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” – My fiancé
To maintain a relationship, you’ve got to know when to bite your tongue.
I’ve found out the hard way that not every situation requires my “wisdom”, opinion, or judgment. In most cases, these were the last things that were required.
The best bit of advice I’ve received from my partner is this: If you’re about to say something negative, stop for a second and think to yourself, “What will be gained from saying this?” If you can’t answer the question, you know what you should do: keep your mouth closed.
Regardless of your intentions, little gibes and sarcastic remarks serve only to break your partner down emotionally and psychologically. They cannot only ruin their day but also result in cumulative trauma, harming their self-confidence and happiness. Ultimately, they can end your relationship.
Embracing the above-described thought exercise has been a life-saver for me. During our early days, I would make stupid comments, verbalizing unkind thoughts that did nothing but upset my partner. Hurting her wasn’t my intention, but I should have known better than to say such things.
Fortunately, I do now.
8. Be Careful About Making Time For Each Other
“I’m going out with the girls tonight. You okay spending the night alone?” — My fiancé
“Yes!” — Me
You know what’s really healthy in a relationship?
A ton of personal space!
Relationships need variety. They need things that the two of you can talk about, new things to excite the senses and mind. To get this excitement, you have to spend time apart from each other.
Spending every waking second in each other’s company is a terrible idea, no matter how much you love each other. What could there possibly be left to talk about after a certain point? And what about the habits they have that drive you insane, like how loudly they breathe? Don’t you need to take a break from these things from time to time?
The healthy answer to these questions is “yes.”
It’s perfectly normal—beneficial, in fact—to take breaks from each other. The experience of being apart can actually make you long for each other more than if you were never alone.
We tend to talk about the experience of missing somebody as if it were nothing but a painful or uncomfortable thing, but that little kick you get in your heart whenever you finally see the person you’ve been missing is one hell of a high.
Personal space also applies to the time spent physically next to each other. You’re not joined at the hip—there’s no reason you can’t learn to sit in the same area doing one thing as they do another without either of you feeling guilty. Surely, you can work on the computer while they read a book, right?
If this isn’t possible, you’re making too much time for each other. Take a break already!
9. Yes, You Should Sweat The Small Stuff
“I made you your breakfast” — Me
My relationship is built on small gestures of kindness.
The simplest way to be kind towards your partner is to always try to give more than you take. Instead of constantly asking for things, why not try to offer them first?
Trust me when I say: the small stuff really matters in a relationship.
For example, do you:
Make your partner a cup of tea in the morning?
Notice when they’ve had a hard day and then make them dinner to try to bring their stress levels down?
Bring them home little presents from time to time “just because”?
Kiss them goodnight on the forehead?
Do you even tell them you love them anymore?
This kind of stuff sounds very obvious, doesn’t it? But so many people take their relationships for granted, assuming that as things progress these gestures are no longer necessary because their partners already know how they feel about them.
Newsflash! Even if they do know it, they still want you to show it again and again. These gestures make them feel wanted, loved, and appreciated. They’re the glue that keeps your partner willingly stuck to you.
Remember, little things make big things happen.
Ten years ago, an incredible person came into my life, changing it forever from that day onwards.
It hasn’t always been easy. We’ve had to give everything and more just to make it work, and for a lot of the time it hasn’t worked all that well. We’ve had to learn, both individually and as a couple, what’s right and wrong for us. We’ve made amazing memories and had epic showdowns along the way.
But we’re well on our way to making this last forever. We’re figuring things out as we go, growing stronger together by the day.
And that’s a truly incredible feat.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to always go with the flow. You’re riding the rollercoaster of love: prepare to feel highs, lows, excitement, and terror like you’ve never felt before.
It’s one hell of a ride, but love is always a ride worth taking.