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Admit it – some of you believe that couples who are truly, madly and deeply devoted to each other just happened to get lucky. The truth is, behind that blissful happiness is a whole lot of hard work. 

All couples experience ups and downs in their relationships. But unlike unhappy couples, the happy ones work at resolving their conflicts by developing ways of relating to each other that kindle and sustain their intimacy. 

Here are tips on how to make your relationship a loving, lasting one. 

A relationship usually evolves from lust or attraction to attachment. At times, couples may regard each other as baffling, boring or, worse, repugnant.

Sharon Breen of the UK marriage and partnership research organisation One Plus One explains: “Relationships go through phases. Once the feeling of elation is gone and you realise your partner isn’t perfect, you need to be able to accept both his good and bad points, instead of expecting everything to be picture-perfect forever. In the face of arguments, you have to learn to listen.” 

Many couples say their biggest love struggle – and ultimate victory – was readjusting their (rosy and naive) expectations of love. 

“I used to think that being in love meant I’d never feel lonely, scared, dissatisfied or unhappy ever again,” says Hannah, 28, with a laugh. “What a fairy tale. My partner Jon and I experience occasional disharmony, but it’s part of the rich texture of our relationship. And that attitude has helped us develop the patience, trust and emotional self-reliance to get through rough patches.” 

Loving someone also means appreciating him. Little things like saying “please” and “thank you” or even “I understand you” can make him feel appreciated. 

Dr William Nagler, a psychiatrist who co-wrote The Dirty Half Dozen: Six Radical Rules to Make Relationships Last, says that a relationship can “survive major calamity such as disaster and death”, but it’ll not survive the “little things” that occur on
a daily basis – think leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube, leaving the toilet seat up or leaving that pile of clothes on the floor.

So start appreciating your man and show him you love him with gestures of love, no matter how small.

Many couples seem to think that to be happily in love means being joined at the hip. Well, researchers from the University of California in the US have found that this is not necessarily true. In a study of 50-year-old marriages, they found that the secret to loving, long-lasting marriages was that the couples have lives outside of their relationships. 

So while happy lovers spend time together, enjoy shared activities and have similar interests – the glue that holds their relationship together – they also spend time apart. Couplehood is, after all, the union of two individuals with their own unique identities. 

Ever heard of the saying, “Couples who laugh together stay together”? Well, take heed, for a relationship can become boring and stifled without humour – and it’ll run out of steam soon. A shared sense of humour, on the other hand, not only injects fun into a relationship, but can also highlight the similarities between both parties, strengthening the bond between them.

Good-humoured communication also creates a casual atmosphere and is a sure-fire way to relieve any tension or anxiety during inevitable arguments.   

Fact: All couples will argue. The difference between couples who have a loving, lasting relationship and those who don’t? The way conflict is resolved. 

Dr Howard Markman, psychology professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver in the US, who has just concluded a 10-year study of 150 couples and how they handle conflict, says: “Research shows that what keeps couples together or breaks them up is not how much they love each other, but how they handle their problems. Happy couples use emotional friction as a form of communication. They work as a team. They don’t get stuck in ‘it’s-my-way-or-no-way’ ruts. They find an ‘our way’.”

So instead of insisting that your partner sees things your way, accept the differences in opinion and find a way to reach a compromise.

Daniel, 29, a teacher, says: “When we argue sometimes, we just accept our differences and find a way to solve the issue. For instance, we could be fighting about what music to play in the car – I like listening to my own playlist while Carla prefers tuning in to the radio. So we toss a coin to decide who wins.”

This seems impossible, but to be happy, it’s necessary for couples to forgive each other for – and forget – whatever mistakes they’ve made. If you have done something wrong, an apology is in order. And if you apologise sincerely, chances are, your partner will forgive you and move on from the incident. 

“If you can say to your partner, ‘I’m really sorry for that fight’, for instance, it shows that you are taking a step towards dealing with whatever the problem was,” says Julia Cole, a UK-based psychosexual therapist and author of Crunch Points for Couples.

Sandra, 29, agrees. When her lover admitted to flirting heavily with a woman at a party, she forgave him. “I was hurt, but what was the point of staying angry? The only thing to do was move on.” They did, and now they’re talking about getting married.

And the mantra “Forgive and forget” doesn’t only apply to major issues; couples also need to let go of minor grievances. Take Jan, 28, for instance. She knows that Scott will forget to switch off the lights before leaving the house, be late for most appointments, never clean the bath and eat the last chocolate in the box.

“But I hog the duvet, lock us out of the house regularly and also would eat the last chocolate in the box – if he didn’t get to it first,” she says. “We could bicker over these things, but it’s too exhausting. Besides, the good stuff outweighs the bad.”

We all say that honesty is the best policy, but it’s hard for most people to handle the complete truth. Which is why relationship experts preach selective honesty. 

Your intention behind the reveal is important, says Dr Bonnie Jacobson, founder of the New York Institute for Psychological Change in the US. “Are you baring your soul to hurt the other person, or are you doing so because you genuinely believe that being honest will strengthen your bond?” 

Also, will telling your partner the whole truth, and nothing but, hurt him? If it will, then being discerning when divulging might be the better way to go.

Says Lara, 29, an office manager: “In previous relationships, I would lie about how I felt and this eventually led to break-ups. Now, I’ll never lie about my feelings, including my ambivalence about getting married or things I don’t like sexually.” However, Lara says that she’ll also practise selective honesty, and “wouldn’t tell my partner that I met my ex for lunch. It has nothing to do with my feelings for him and would only hurt him.” 

Sharing private information that no one else knows about can help build intimacy between couples. Gill Coleman of the UK’s Women’s Therapy Centre says: “Telling your partner things that you don’t tell anyone else strengthens a relationship. Besides, there are always some things in a relationship you should never reveal to anyone else, so having mutual confidences is important.” 

A happy, lasting relationship requires both parties to have respect for each other. This means that you must give due regard to your partner’s feelings, wishes and rights.  

For instance, you should never “gossip about your partner as it shows a lack of respect for him,” says Julia.  

This isn’t about how to charge up your bedroom sessions. Rather, it’s about being emotionally closer to your partner. 

To foster intimacy, couples can put in more effort to connect with each other on a deeper level – make time for meaningful conversations, or go for an evening stroll more often, says Dr Ernest Rossi, a US-based psychobiologist and author of The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis. These activities can also help to reduce the stress of everyday life – which is always good for a relationship. 

These loving intervals needn’t be a prelude to lovemaking – a deep conversation can be as liberating to the soul as sexual release is to the physical body.

“(My partner and I) make an effort to connect every day,” says Michael, 27, a marketing executive. “We kiss each other whenever we leave or arrive at a place. We even take baths together, and never go to sleep without cuddling each other.” 

Source: Universal Publishing Services